The Ethics of Conducting Community-Engaged Homelessness Research

  • Vivien Runnels
  • Elizabeth Hay
  • Elyse Sevigny
  • Paddi O’Hara


This paper focuses on some of the ethical issues which may arise when conducting research in the context of homelessness. These issues are considered from the viewpoints of researchers, research coordinators and interviewers, drawing from their extensive real world experience. In addition to negotiating the complex context of homelessness, community-based homelessness researchers need to address a number of ethical issues in research conception, design, implementation and dissemination. Although these issues are commonly considered in community-engaged research, research with people who are homeless may raise exceptional challenges. Such challenges include determining the nature of informed consent; protecting research participants and researchers, and determining appropriate compensation for participation. Understanding the context of homelessness to conduct ethical research will require sharing information and joint decision-making, processes that must include members of communities within which the research participants live. Furthermore, researchers should be sensitive to the changing context of homelessness, and vigilant for new ethical challenges.


Ethics Homeless Community-based Vulnerable populations Consent Interviews 



Vivien Runnels is supported in part by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Ottawa.

The authors would like to acknowledge the support and assistance of Tim Aubry, Centre for Research on Educational and Community Services, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Principal Investigator of the “Panel Study on Homelessness”, and Manal Guirguis-Younger, Saint Paul University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Principal Investigator of “A Study of the Deaths of Persons who are Homeless in Ottawa—A Social and Health Investigation”. These studies were funded by the City of Ottawa through the federal Supporting Community Partnerships Initiative of Human Resources Development Canada. The “Panel Study on Homelessness” study, received additional funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. “A longitudinal study of the health of homeless and vulnerably housed adults in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa” is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Conflict of interest

None declared.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vivien Runnels
    • 1
  • Elizabeth Hay
    • 2
  • Elyse Sevigny
    • 3
  • Paddi O’Hara
    • 4
  1. 1.Globalization and Health Equity Research Unit, Institute of Population HealthUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Health and Housing in Transition Research Project, Centre for Research on Educational and Community ServicesUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  3. 3.Centre for Research on Educational and Community ServicesUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  4. 4.O’Hara Consulting and Clinical Research Associate at the Ottawa Health Research InstituteOttawaCanada

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