Innovator Spotlight: Riley Hammond


Riley Hammond is a graduate student at the School of Public Health within the College of Health Sciences, working at the Inner City Health and Wellness Program (ICHWP). This program is dedicated to improving outcomes for structurally vulnerable populations, including those experiencing homelessness or using substances. YouAlberta sat down with Riley to learn more about his experiences at the program and how he is making a difference in our community.

Can you tell us more about yourself and your research?

I was born and raised in Treaty 4 territory in the rural municipality of Grassy Creek. I am an artist of multiple mediums, including paint and ink, horticulture and movement and I have been instructing yoga since 2016. Having volunteered and travelled throughout multiple countries, I am a self-learner with a growth mindset and am keenly interested in local and global affairs. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Saskatchewan and a Bachelor of Science in Psychiatric Nursing from Brandon University. I am entering my second year as a Master of Science student at the U of A’s School of Public Health

I am a proud registered psychiatric nurse with community and clinical practice in various rural and urban settings, including intellectual and developmental challenges, forensic psychiatry and restorative justice, addictions medicine and harm reduction and acute stabilization for adults with psychiatric disorders at one of Edmonton’s inner city hospitals. 

My research experience includes behavioural neuroscience with rodent models, rural and urban mental health, intimate partner violence experiences in Manitoba during COVID-19 and urban HIV health and service accessibility in Cape Town, South Africa. These projects fostered my passion for population health policy research and health equity. They informed my current research investigating how the urban built environment impacts the health and harm reduction behaviours and practices of people who use drugs in central business districts. The complex nature of this research examines how physical and social dimensions of the built environment can be modified to promote health and wellness while reducing the risk of toxic drug poisoning events and infectious disease spread.

a shopping cart and various items

What motivates you to work in this area?

As a youth growing up in a rural setting throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, I watched as people in my community affected by mental health and substance use challenges were often ostracized from their peer networks and unable to access the support they needed. Having since worked in a variety of community-based roles that have sought ways to minimize barriers and enhance facilitators to accessing health and social services, I am motivated to identify and advocate for changes to key areas of policy to better promote equity, diversity, and inclusion for equity-seeking populations. 

What is one challenge you want to solve through your work?

Enhance the support available to people who use drugs in public spaces who are at risk of a poisoning event.

naloxone kit

How might this research have a positive effect on our community?

The word community stems from the Latin communis, which relates to that which is shared or common by all. Western society is increasingly fragmented, and a sense of community now tends to relate to areas of interest, common or shared experiences, etc., with less emphasis on community and place. By examining how built urban environments impact health behaviours of marginalized groups who identify as belonging within these shared urban spaces, this research has the potential to enhance solidarity across these communities. In creating space and opportunity for discussion that includes the voices of our community members, we can address those needs while also holding space for individuals to contribute new ideas to promote healthier environments in an effort to create safer spaces within our community. 

Water pump and jugs

While many of us see people who are members of vulnerable populations every day, we may not interact with them. What’s one thing you wish more people understood about these groups?

The people I met through my research have been profoundly interesting, insightful and warm, given their broad range of life experiences and the hurdles they have had to overcome. Despite the many daily challenges they face, their sense of optimism and connection to others is evident as they find ways to care for themselves and each other. As a result, I want to stress that it is our common humanity which binds us and serves as our imperative for why and how we ought to learn to better connect with and empower one another during these challenging times.

bags and a sign

What makes the U of A a great place to do your work and research?

U of A is a highly regarded Canadian post-secondary institution. I remember studying elsewhere and would often hear about the innovation emerging from the U of A; I thought to myself, “I could imagine studying there one day…” What makes the U of A great is not just the heritage and architecture but the people who populate it and their shared commitment to collaboration and staying curious. Moreover, Edmonton’s vibrant river valley along the North Saskatchewan River fosters a truly unique setting for the U of A’s north campus. I am proud to study here and hope to leave a legacy with this research. 

Is there anything else you want to share about your work and research?

My role as a psychiatric nurse in adult acute psychiatry is in a unique tension with my role as a population health researcher with the Inner City Health and Wellness Program lab investigating ways to mitigate the toxic drug poisoning epidemic in urban Canadian settings.

On the one hand, I attempt to understand and support a patient’s world from their perspective and treat that as a microcosm unto itself (perhaps as an embodiment of one’s politico-socio-cultural positionality); on the other hand, my population health research facilitates me the opportunity to investigate the macrocosmic interactions between humans and the systems which they have both organized and defined but also interact with at various levels (individual, community, society, etc.). For me, this tension requires patience, curiosity, and willingness to embrace wicked problems and complex relationships. 

What is one piece of advice you’d offer to other U of A students interested in research?

Stay curious and explore the opportunities available to you. There is tremendous synergy between curiosity, which fuels investigative and systematic research, the innate and embodied wisdom you already possess, the opportunity to apply new knowledge to whatever area you are passionate about, and the capacity to earn a living doing it. Find your Ikigai 生き甲斐. 


YouAlberta is written by students for students.

Jeremy (he/him) is in his final year of a MA in Communications and Technology (MACT) at the U of A. When he's not writing a paper or reading a book, you can find him on some of Edmonton's river valley trails, or trying to get sendy on his skis.