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7 Common Causes of Homelessness

Over 9,200 individuals are homeless in  Toronto every night. This doesn’t even begin to reflect the true number of people without an address that live in the GTA and the province of Ontario.

Many of those people end up living in shelters, in vehicles, on friend’s sofas and hopping from one temporary roof to another. In fact, over 3 million Canadians are precariously housed at any given time.

The causes of homelessness and poverty are complicated. A person’s situation can’t be pinned down to one specific cause or event. It is a complex issue that requires a network of resources and a multi-faceted approach if we want to end homelessness.

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1. Cost of Living

More than 53% of Canadians live paycheque to paycheque. This means all it takes is one or two changes in circumstances for more than half of Canadians to face possible homelessness.

The loss of a job, health crisis, mental illness, divorce, or death in the family would cause many Canadians to fall behind on their bills and leave them unable to make ends meet.

The cost of living in Toronto is very high. Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is over $1,200 not including utilities. Apartments in desirable neighbourhoods being close to $2400 for the bare minimum.

Add the cost of a phone, transportation, and groceries and a single person needs to earn more than $38,000 a year just to survive.

2. Violence and Abuse

Family violence is one of the main factors that lead to homelessness, especially among women, children, and youth. Many homeless individuals across Canada are youth running from an abusive home.

Often unable to access resources and services due to being underage or overcrowding, youth are particularly vulnerable to being homeless without support.

Children within the foster care system or involved with Child and Family Services are more likely to eventually end up on the street due to unstable or unhappy living arrangements.

They are also more prone to violence once they leave home. Leaving them vulnerable to human trafficking, addictions, violence and abuse.

3. Mental Illness

Mental illness is believed to affect more than 75% of all those dealing with homelessness. A lack of resources, long waiting lists for public or subsidized housing, insufficient treatment options, and complex mental health issues that make it difficult to find stable employment can make it nearly impossible for some to find secure and permanent housing.

Life on the streets is dangerous. Individuals often develop mental health issues like fear, anxiety, depression, and PTSD after becoming homeless. Living on the streets and not knowing where your next meal is coming from can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Others, who were struggling with mental health issues prior to ending up homeless, have difficulty finding medical and psychiatric care that can successfully follow and monitor their care.

Those dealing with mental illness are more vulnerable and likely to become the victim of violence or crime. This complicates their already fragile state and can increase their difficulties.

homeless person on the street

4. Unemployment

Part of the vicious circle of homelessness starts with one’s employment situation. Losing a job can land someone on the streets because they can’t afford their apartment anymore.

Once on the streets it can be nearly impossible to get a job because they have:

  • No address for on their resume
  • No phone to connect with prospective employers
  • No resources to create resumes
  • No clothing for interviews
  • Lack of proper nutrition to function and think properly
  • Lack of transportation
  • Often minimal experience or recent job history

All of these issues can exasperate the situation for someone who is living in poverty.

Social assistance is often insufficient to meet the needs of individuals. They are left unable to get their feet on the ground because of a lack of proper support emotionally, physically, and financially.

5. Lack of Awareness and Resources

There can be a lot of red tape and bureaucracy around housing for people experiencing homelessness. People end up frustrated and may even walk away from attempting to get help because they are treated with a lack of respect and unable to get the assistance they need.

Individuals seeking help are often told they need an address to get money for rent but they can’t get a place to live without money. Lack of identification is often a barrier between resources and the person in need.

It is also very common that those in need often don’t know where to turn for help or what resources are available. As a result, outreach teams and homeless advocates may not be able to make contact with those individuals.

6. Health and Safety

Even though we are very fortunate to be able to access emergency and preventative care under OHIP at no cost, there are many who are financially devastated by a health crisis in the family. Whether it is a father who loses his job after a back injury or a mother who must now stay home to care for a sick child, the bills add up.

Prescription costs and home care can run into thousands of dollars and leave individuals choosing between housing and health. Some individuals end up living on the streets because they just simply can’t afford a home.

7. A Vicious Cycle

Once someone ends up in an unstable housing situation it can be difficult to climb out of it. Securing housing can be difficult without current landlord references, credit checks, and verified income.

The cost of first and last month’s rent, turning on utilities, getting a phone and furnishing an apartment can seem like insurmountable issues to someone trying to secure their next meal.

A lack of basic life necessities leads to further difficulties. Lack of proper nutrition and medical attention can lead to major physical and mental health issues.

a homeless person sleeping outdoors

Housing First: Understanding the Causes of Homelessness

While there are many causes of homelessness, the key driver of homelessness in Toronto is the economy and the housing market. Rental costs have increased dramatically over the past 10 years and a lack of affordable housing has increased to record high numbers. Majority of shelter users receive Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support, however social assistance rates don’t respond to local economic factors contribute to the growing affordability gap.

Affordability is the most significant challenge in helping move people out of shelters.

We believe in Housing First approach. Once people have a roof over their head and their basic life needs met, they are more able to cope with the activities of daily living that will help them thrive and reach their full potential.


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