Sunday, February 12, 2017

The State of Homelessness in Canada

There was an interesting report that came out a couple of years ago, that looked at “The State of Homelessness in Canada”. It was published in 2013. It is the first extensive Canadian report card on homelessness published in 2013. This report examines what we know about homelessness, the historical, social and economic context in which it has emerged, demographic features of the problem, and potential solutions. The State of Homelessness provides a starting point to inform the development of a consistent, evidence-based approach towards ending homelessness.

The report was written by Stephen Gaetz, Jesse Donaldson, Tim Richter, & Tanya Gulliver (2013): The State of Homelessness in Canada 2013. Toronto: Canadian Homelessness Research Network Press.

The Homeless Hub ( ) is a web-based research library and resource centre, supported by the Canadian Homelessness Research Network
In 2012, a new Canadian Definition of Homelessness was released by the Canadian Homelessness Research
“Homelessness describes the situation of an individual or family without stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it. It is the result of systemic or societal barriers, a lack of affordable and appropriate housing, the individual/household’s financial, mental, cognitive, behavioural or physical challenges, and/or racism and discrimination.

Most people do not choose to be homeless, and the experience is generally negative, unpleasant, stressful and distressing.” (CHRN, 2012: 1)

When we talk about homelessness there are many different types, according to the report there is a range of housing and shelter circumstances:
1) UNSHELTERED - living on the streets or in places not intended for human habitation
2) EMERGENCY SHELTERED - staying in overnight emergency shelters designed for people who are homeless
3) PROVISIONALLY ACCOMMODATED – people who are homeless whose accommodation is temporary or lacks security of tenure, including interim (or transitional) housing, people living temporarily with others (couch surfing), or living in institutional contexts (hospital, prison) without permanent housing arrangements.
4) AT RISK OF HOMELESSNESS - people who are not homeless, but whose current economic and/or housing situation is precarious or does not meet public health and safety standards.

Recent data from a March 2013 Ipsos Reid poll suggests that as many as 1.3 million Canadians have experienced homelessness or extremely insecure housing at some point during the past five years.

The number of Canadians who experience homelessness on any given night in Canada is estimated to be approximately 30,000 individuals. This is the best estimate of homelessness developed in Canada to date, and includes people who are:

I. UNSHELTERED (outside in cars, parks, on the street) – 2,880
IV. PROVISIONALLY ACCOMMODATED (homeless but in hospitals, prison or interim housing) – 4,464

Interestingly, those 65 years of age and older comprised just over 1.7 percent of shelter users, which may be explained by the expanded benefits accessible to seniors, but also by the much higher mortality rate of chronically homeless persons (Hwang, et al. 2009

Canada has a long way to go in order to end the homeless crisis, but it has also made some definite steps in the right direction. We can lean on our international partners in the U.S., the UK and Australia and learn from their successes (and failures) rather than reinventing the solution. A focus on Housing First, early intervention and the development of affordable housing are all keys to being able to move away from the emergency response phase of homeless service provision.

We also have a great many promising and best practices within Canada that should be used as examples. The untold stories of successes need to be shared so they can be replicated. The Homeless Hub website contains a wealth of resources, including a follow-up report on the State of Homelessness in Canada 2014 and case studies to help communities learn from one another.

Changes need to occur at all levels of government and commitments of financial resources and political will to end homelessness need to be established. Maintaining people in a state of homelessness is costly; ending homelessness is the goal we should all be seeking for financial and moral reasons.

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