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Pivot Legal Society - Equality Lifts Everyone

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Housing Justice Project turns research into social change

What do an engineer who spent 20 years designing therapeutic robotics for the US Department of Veterans Affairs, afterschool care providers from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, rural funeral directors, and the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries have in common?  They are all part of a three-year experiment undertaken by the Peter Wall Foundation aimed at connecting UBC professors with the broader community in order to more effectively use academic knowledge to address pressing social, health and environmental issues.

The brand new "Peter Wall Solutions Initiative" supports UBC researchers from across disciplines to engage community partners to develop practical solutions for societal problems. The criteria was, on the surface, pretty straightforward: “projects must actively involve a partner from a community organization or end-user group to develop a measurable, research-based approach to a defined problem.” The selection committee also wanted to be convinced that the project would yield tangible results within three years.

In the end, 92 proposals were submitted. The Housing Justice Project - a collaboration between Margot Young of the UBC Faculty of Law, Penny Gurstein of the School of Community and Regional Planning, Pivot Legal Society and the Rental Supply Coalition, was one of 12 selected to be part of the pilot program.

Earlier this week, I got to go out to UBC and hear about the other 11 projects that made the final cut. It was a pretty inspiring couple of hours that opened my eyes to the interesting and innovative work taking place across disciplines. A nursing professor interested in creating the infrastructure needed to offer comfort, dignity and autonomy to rural people who don’t want to leave their communities at the end of their lives, a health science professor working with marijuana dispensaries to address barriers to access among people with profound health issues, an engineer looking at innovative ways for addressing energy poverty in First Nations communities.

The event was also a great chance to talk about our project to a room full of knowledgeable and engaged people.  The Housing Justice Project has three streams:

·      civil society engagement and education

·      policy development

·      social change litigation

Because the Peter Wall Solutions Initiative is focused on taking action on existing researcher rather than generating new research it has challenged us to bring together faculty from across the University who have been looking at housing and homelessness from through their various academic lenses and to use that work to help us identify policy and law reform issues, potential legal cases and places where public education is needed.  We’re looking forward to seeing where the project takes us in the coming three years.

Want to find out more? Visit www.housingjustice.ca

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