How many people are homeless in Canada?

How many people are homeless in Canada?

Estimating the number of homeless persons in Canada has been a source of debate for years. The Homelessness Partnering Secretariat (HPS) has regularly used the estimate that between 150,000 and 300,000 individuals experience homelessness in Canada in a given year, with advocates often employing the higher number. However, there has never been a concerted, coordinated or consistent effort to enumerate homelessness in Canada. Until recently we have relied on ball-park estimates, based on unreliable and incomplete data.

Fortunately, things have begun to change. More communities across the country are using point in time counts to determine the number of people who are homeless on a given night, and we are also now accumulating more reliable data on shelter usage.  In 2013 the Government of Canada  released “The National Shelter Study: Emergency Shelter Use in Canada 2005-2009” (Segaert, 2012), which for the first time gives us reliable shelter data to inform a national estimate of homelessness.  That same year, the Canadian Homelessness Research Network (CHRN) in partnership with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, released the State of Homelessness in Canada 2013 report.  Finally, we have reliable data to estimate the number of people who experience homelessness.

How many people are homeless in a given year?

In the State of Homelessness in Canada 2013 report, it was estimated that at least 200,000 Canadians access homeless emergency services or sleep outside in a given year. The actual number is potentially much higher, given that many people who become homeless live with friends or relatives, and do not come into contact with emergency shelters. 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.

How many people are homeless on a given day?

The number of Canadians who experience homelessness on any given night in Canada is estimated to be minimally 28,500 individuals. The reader should be cautioned that this is only a rough estimate (for more details on our methodology for calculating this figure, see the endnotes section of the full report). Nevertheless, this is the best estimate of homelessness developed in Canada to date, and includes people who are:

I. Staying in Emergency Homelessness Shelters (14,400). There are approximately 15,467 permanent shelter beds, and in 2009 an average of 14,400 were occupied (Segaert, 2012:27)

II. Staying in Violence Against Women shelters (7,350). In 2010, there were 9,961 beds for women and children fleeing violence and abuse. This includes not only emergency shelters, but also transitional and second stage housing. In a Point in Time count on April 15, 2010, 7,362 beds were occupied by women and children (Burczycka & Cotter, 2011).

III. Unsheltered (2,880). If one draws from the data comparing homelessness in Canadian cities, one can estimate the unsheltered population. On average, for every one hundred people in the shelter system, there are 20 people who are unsheltered.

IV. Temporary institutional accommodation (4,464). Of those communities that count some portion of the provisionally accommodated, there are 31 people in this category for every 100 staying in emergency shelters.

There may be as many as 50,000 “hidden homeless” Canadians on a given night

Often referred to as couch surfing, this includes people who are temporarily staying with friends, relatives or others because they have nowhere else to live and no immediate prospect of permanent housing.  There is no reliable data on hidden homelessness in Canada at the national level and very little at the community level.  One Canadian study in Vancouver (Eberle, et al., 2009) estimated 3.5 people were considered to be hidden homeless for every one who was homeless.  While the methodology of this study is sound, it was conducted in only one city, and the differences between cities, their infrastructure to support homelessness and their homeless population are quite profound. Applied nationally with a more conservative 3:1 ratio, as many as 50,000 people could be estimated to be hidden homeless on any given night in Canada.

Chronic Homelessness – How long do people stay homeless?

For the vast majority of people who become homeless, the experience is rather short.  In Canada, though the median length of stay in emergency shelter is approximately 50 days, most people are homeless for less than a month (29% stay only one night), and manage to leave homelessness on their own, usually with little support.  For these people homelessness is a one-time only event.  People who are chronically homeless (long-term) or episodically homeless (moving in and out of homelessness), form a smaller percentage of the overall homeless population, but at the same time use more than half the emergency shelter space in Canada and are most often the highest users of public systems.

Based on our estimate of the total number of homeless people who use shelters on an annual basis (200,000), we can project the following numbers of chronic, episodic and transitionally homeless persons in Canada:

Chronic homeless: 4,000 to 8,000

Episodic homeless: 6,000 to 22,000

Transitionally homeless: 176,000 to 188,000

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