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Homeless in Canada: Important Facts About Homelessness You Need to Know

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There are many reasons why people become homeless in Canada – loss of employment, family break-up, family violence, mental illness, poor physical health, substance use, physical, sexual or emotional abuse and lack of affordable housing. 

Sadly, the number has increased in recent years and many Canadian communities are in the midst of a homelessness crisis. This is especially true for Toronto, the country’s most populous city.

Who Is Homeless in Canada?

Here are five things to know about it:

1. Women

The number of women who are experiencing poverty and homelessness is on the rise. 27% of shelter users are women. 16% of senior women live in poverty. And across Canada, 1.9 million+ women are living on a low income – dangerously close to homelessness.

Women are much more likely to be victims of violence and assault on the streets. In fact, many women will stay in unhealthy (sometimes violent) relationships instead of putting themselves on the streets.

Homeless Woman Sitting on the street

2. 1 in 4 Are Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous Peoples are over-represented in the homeless population—despite making up 5% of Canada’s population. In fact, Indigenous Peoples are 8 times more likely to experience homelessness. This is especially true in urban areas such as Toronto and Metro Vancouver.

This can be attributed to historical trauma, discrimination and racism, which translates to limited opportunities. Extreme poverty and lack of adequate housing and supports also put them at higher risk for homelessness.

Portrait of Native Indian man taken during annual Squamish Nation Pow Wow

3. Children and Youth

Child and youth homelessness is growing at an alarming rate. To give you a better idea, 1 in every 7 living in a homeless shelter is a child. Approximately 20% of people experiencing homelessness are between ages the of 13-25.

Not having a home is particularly challenging for young individuals as it impacts their education and healthcare. As a result, there are extremely high rates of school drop-outs, involvement in crime and victims of human trafficking. Homelessness can have a lifelong impact on their mental and physical health.

Young boy sitting out doors and holding a teddy bear.

4. The Number of Homeless Veterans is Growing

The number of homeless veterans is growing year by year—the highest being in Ontario and British Columbia. As it is, veterans face unique challenges and difficulty in transitioning back to civilian life after military service.

These individuals experience high rates of mental health issues such as anxiety,  post-traumatic stress disorder or addictions. Due to the lack of support programs, many veterans end up on the streets.

A homeless veteran holds a sign.

5. Many Experience Hidden Homelessness

Hidden homelessness refers to those who are homeless but not out on the streets. For example, they might be living in their car or staying with friends or family members.

According to Statistics Canada, 1 in 5 will stay in the situation for at least one year. People with a history of childhood abuse as well as people with disabilities are more likely to experience hidden homelessness than others.

Young, black male with a backpack with all his belongings.

What Can We Do?

Homelessness in Canada is a complex problem that demands a response from governments, service providers, service recipients and the community at large. We need to support each and every person that is on a journey out of homelessness. Whether it is providing safe and affordable housing units, addressing issues around mental health and addiction, or connecting individuals and families to other support services, we are there to provide tangible solutions that lead to positive outcomes.

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