The State of Homelessness in Canada 2014

This cannot continue because a lack of affordable housing is affecting all of us. Click here to read the full report or an excerpt below.



To put these numbers in perspective, consider that today 18% of all Canadian renter households (an estimated 733,275 households) experience extreme housing affordability problems, meaning that they have low incomes and are paying more than 50% of their income on rent, putting them at risk of homelessness.

Moreover, homelessness, which emerged as an incredibly visible problem in the 1990s, continues to affect many individuals and families. We now estimate that over 235,000 different Canadians will experience homelessness in a year, with over 35,000 Canadians homeless on any given night. Outside of a few communities that have made real progress in reducing the numbers of people experiencing homelessness, we cannot say that major improvements have been made.

In the last 20 years, over 100,000 housing units have not been built because of the cancellation of programs that support affordable housing. Building new housing is a key component to solving the homelessness crisis.

The inability of many individuals and families in Canada to obtain and pay for housing, and to maintain the housing they have, underlies much of the homelessness problem in Canada.

Who is homeless? The homeless population is diverse. Adult males aged 25-55 (47.5% of the sample) make up the largest group. Other key sub-populations include youth aged 16-24 (20%) and families (4% of all individuals, but accounting for 14% of total bed nights in shelters) (Gaetz et al., 2013). Aboriginal Peoples are over-represented in the homeless population in virtually every community in Canada and this over-representation increases as one moves west or into northern communities (Belanger et al., 2012).

Women fleeing violence, often accompanied by children, are a significant segment of the homeless population. Often transitioning between home, shelters and ‘couch surfing’ this population is often severely under-counted. In some jurisdictions (such as Ontario), children witnessing violence is considered to be child abuse. As a result, there is a prioritization on obtaining safe, permanent housing for these families. Ontario’s social housing waiting lists, although municipally administered, prioritize female-led households exiting violence.23

Moreover, beyond the costs associated with emergency services for homeless people, we must consider that chronically homeless people are more likely to utilize expensive health services (such as more emergency room visits) – because their health becomes extremely compromised while living on the streets (Gaetz, 2012; Hwang and Henderson, 2010; Hwang et al., 2011). In addition, because of law enforcement strategies that essentially criminalize homelessness, considerable resources are spent policing and incarcerating homeless individuals (Kellen et al., 2010; Novac et al., 2006; 2007; Gaetz & O’Grady, 2006; 2009; O’Grady et al., 2011). Keeping people in an ongoing state of homelessness then is not ‘doing things on the cheap’, but rather, is quite expensive.

Does housing chronically homeless persons actually save money? The best evidence for this is, again, the recent At Home/Chez Soi final report (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2014) which found that spending $10 on housing and supports for chronically homeless individuals with the highest needs, resulted in $21.72 in savings related to health care, social supports, housing and involvement in the justice system. As the “Real Cost of Homelessness” report concludes: “Solving homelessness makes sense. Not only are we saving money, we are also doing the right thing” (Gaetz, 2012:15).


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