Results from Toronto’s ‘street census’: The 2013 Street Needs Assessment

Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association
September 25, 2013

In Toronto, the Street Needs Assessment (SNA) began in 2006 as a form of ‘street census’ to attempt a point in time count to estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness. A second Street Needs Assessment was taken in 2009. The SNA are surveys that are mainly carried out by trained volunteers. The goal of the SNA is to provide a basic estimate, and some information on service utilization. The SNA is basically a detailed point in time count, which attempt to be representative of how many people were experiencing homeless on a particular day (this year it was April 17, 2013). This can present challenges with having a representative count, depending on weather and other factors people may be harder to contact. The Toronto SNA attempts to overcome this challenge by surveying at different locations including outdoors, city-administered shelters (family and non-family), violence against women shelters, health & treatment facilities and correctional facilities.

Toronto’s 2013 Street Needs Assessment Report was released this previous week (September 18). This year’s SNA had over 2,000 participants, making it the best response that Toronto has seen. The SNA was expanded to include 13 questions and this year was the first year that included an option to self identify as LGBTQ.

Some of the other important findings include:

  • The average length of homelessness for those surveyed is 3.1 years (7.5 years for those who live outdoors). 
  • 1 out of 3 people experiencing homelessness who sleep outdoors identified as Aboriginal, this is an 18% increase from 2009. In contrast, 16% of the overall homeless population identified as Aboriginal, this increased from 15% in 2009. 
  • 15.6% of the outdoor homeless population reported that they had served in the military.  
  • 10% of those experiencing homelessness are 61 or older (this is over 2 times higher than in 2009). 
  • 47.8% visited a hospital in the past 6 months prior to April 17. 
  • 48.7% indicated that they are on a waiting list for subsidized housing. 
  • 4 out of 5 individuals have lived in Toronto for over a year. 

This year’s SNA shows that there is still a lot of work to be done. A huge percentage of those experiencing homelessness want housing and almost half are on the waiting list for subsidized housing. Though there has been progress since 2006, it is disheartening to see an increase over the previous 4 years.

Homelessness in Toronto


Isaac Coplan is an instructor of Homelessness in Canadian Society at Ryerson University and an Education Coordinator at the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association. In the past, Isaac worked the Homeless Hub on Knowledge Mobilization, communications and infographic design. Isaac’s main research interests are in homelessness with a focus on community based research.

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