Homelessness in Canada

In 2007, the Government of Canada estimated 150,000 Canadians were homeless (in shelters or sleeping outside). Other estimates place the number as high as 300,000.

There are several factors behind the rise of homelessness in Canada.

Federal government budget cuts in the 1990s resulted in deep cuts to provincial transfer payments and the cancellation of the federal affordable housing program. Faced with federal transfer payments cuts and their own debt problems, the provinces were forced to make sweeping cuts in everything from health care to welfare that impacted vulnerable Canadians. Provincial reductions in welfare payments not only reduced the amount of support but the number of people that could receive it.

At the same time, investments in affordable housing stopped or slowed in many provinces. With insufficient affordable housing in the system, vulnerable Canadians were forced to rely on the private rental market. Incomes afforded by social assistance were, and still are, nowhere near sufficient to support private rental housing.

Further compounding these problems are public systems like child welfare, health care and corrections that can inadvertently contribute to homelessness either by directly discharging people into homelessness or allowing people to fall through the gaps.

Another major contributing factor to homelessness in Canada is deep poverty, substandard housing and the lingering impact of residential schools on Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal people are dramatically over-represented among homeless populations in Canadian cities.

Additional Resources

The Homeless Hub
Canadian Homelessness Research Network

Shelter: Homelessness in a Growth Economy
Gordon Laird, Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership

Precarious Housing in Canada
Wellesley Institute