Alexandra Collins, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Health Sciences, is the recipient of a 2018 Vanier Scholarship and is studying the impact single-room accommodation housing has on the health of women who use drugs.


SFU’s 2018 Vanier Scholar explores impact of Vancouver’s housing and overdose crises on women

November 01, 2018

Does single room accommodation housing shape women’s drug- and health-related outcomes, including their risk of overdose?

Alexandra Collins, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Health Sciences, recently won a 2018 Vanier Scholarship to address this question. She is among 167 graduate students Canada-wide to receive a Vanier Scholarship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The scholarships, awarded annually, recognize graduate students who demonstrate leadership skills and exemplary scholarly achievement.

“When I found out I was one of the recipients, I was extremely ecstatic,” says Collins. “But I was also relieved to get funding for a project I care so much about. It was really great to see that this research is valued.”

With a background in medical anthropology, Collins enjoys learning how social and structural factors can shape health and well-being.

During her MSc health sciences studies at SFU, she worked on a project with professor Susan Erikson, studying international funding impacts on HIV programs in Sierra Leone. Later, she worked at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and BC Centre on Substance Use where she developed an interest in pursuing research around drug use, especially in women.

Remaining at SFU for her doctoral studies lets her continue collaborating with leading researchers in HIV and substance use, such as professors Robert Hogg and Kanna Hayashi.

“I appreciate and enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of the Faculty of Health Sciences, which has been important in shaping my approach to research,” says Collins.

Her current research focuses on how space and place relate to drug use. She’s also using an ethnographic approach to determine how Vancouver’s housing and overdose crises are impacting women who use drugs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

While still collecting follow-up data from study participants, Collins is beginning to discover the complex lives of the women who are living in single-room accommodations in Vancouver.

“Given that this research focuses on overdose risks for women, and how housing shapes potential health and drug harms, it has implications for housing providers, service organizations, local health authorities, and other organizations working with women who use drugs.”

Once the data collection is finished at the end of this year, Collins will work on analysis and community presentations. Because it is a community-engaged research project, she says it is important that findings are reported back to the community in a timely manner.

Following her PhD, Collins plans to continue examining urban housing environments and housing models, and the ways these can shape health and well-being, particularly for women. As urban areas continue to develop and redevelop rapidly, she says it will be increasingly important to understand how these changes contribute to health outcomes for low-income populations, in order to better inform housing policies.