Research Matters Blog

A Way Home Canada
September 28, 2017

More than 850,000 people turn to food banks to make ends meet every month, according to Food Banks Canada. This means each month, too many Canadians are forced to choose between buying groceries and paying the rent, when no one should have to make such a choice.

When talking about hunger, it’s important to note that “hunger” and “food insecurity” carry two very different meanings. Hunger refers to the physiological state of pain and weakness an individual experiences as a result of a lack of food. On the other hand, food insecurity is a state in which consistent access to adequate food is limited. Food insecurity, whether chronic, seasonal or temporary, leads to serious nutritional consequences and negative health outcomes. The individual-level physiological experience of hunger is closely tied to, and often results from, food insecurity.

There is currently a growing movement to raise awareness about the solvable problem of hunger in Canada. Last week marked Hunger Awareness Week, where food banks across the country host events to tell the stories of their work and of those who use food banks.

Hunger from a global perspective

Deepening poverty is inextricably linked with rising levels of homelessness and food insecurity and hunger; hunger exists because poverty exists.

World hunger, after a decade-long decline, spiked last year. Despite the UN’s goal of eliminating global hunger by 2030, 11 % of the world’s population experienced hunger every day in 2016. This is the first time there has been increase in world hunger since the turn of the century.

According to the UN’s The State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in 2017 report, both conflict and climate change are key drivers of food insecurity. Of the 815 million chronically food-insecure and malnourished people in the world, the vast majority – 489 million people –live in countries affected by conflict

Who uses food banks in Canada? 

Canadians who visit food banks come from all backgrounds. They include families with children, individuals living on social assistance or fixed income, and employed people whose low wages do not cover basic living essentials. The latest Hunger Count captured a snapshot of food bank users in Canada:

  • Across the country, children and youth are overrepresented among people helped by food banks; while people under age 18 account for 19% of the Canadian population, they make up 36% of individuals receiving food assistance.
  • Families with children make up nearly half of households helped by food banks. Lone-parent households and their children are still one of Canada's most economically vulnerable groups. Though they make up only 10% of all Canadian households, they account for 22% of food bank users. 
  • While 7% of households helped by food banks have no income at all, food bank use is high among both working and unemployed Canadians. In fact, 1 in 6 households helped by food banks are currently or recently employed. Additionally, many people are struggling on fixed incomes:
    •   45% of households assisted are on social assistance
    •   18% receive disability-related income supports
    •   8% receive the majority of their income from a pension.
  • Single people make up 28% of all Canadian households, but account for 44% of households helped by food banks, an increase from 39% in 2008.
  • Certain groups are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity; nearly half of food bank clients in Canada receive welfare as welfare rates in Canada fall below the poverty line and do not ensure food security. Additionally, 13% of people helped by food banks are immigrants and refugees.
  • People that receive disability support are another large group of food bank clients, accounting for one in five households helped by food banks as disability support is often not enough to help clients feed themselves.
  • Currently, seniors account for 4.3% of food bank users. Canada has a rapidly aging society and life expectancy is increasing. If current disability programs and rates do not improve there is an expected rise in food insecurity for this demographic. 

food banks Canada infographic: 1 in 6 people assisted by food banks are employed
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It should be noted the national picture of food bank use tends to be strongly influenced by the larger urban centres like Toronto, which can obscure the reality in small towns. Hunger is a reality for tens of thousands of the Canada’s rural residents as well. In small towns and rural areas, people accessing food banks tend to be slightly older and slightly more likely to be living on a pension. Moreover, the proportion of Indigenous Peoples accessing food banks in rural areas, at 29% of the total, is significantly higher than the national average.

Hunger and malnutrition 

As food is one of the most flexible household expenses, and it is often nutrition that suffers when money is tight. When resources for food become scarce and people’s means to access nutritious food diminish, they often rely on less-healthy, denser food choices that can lead to overweight and obesity. Therefore, food insecurity and obesity often co-exist. Many countries still face high levels of undernutrition, but they are now also experiencing an increasing burden of people suffering from obesity and diabetes.

Additionally, food insecurity and poor nutrition during pregnancy and childhood are associated with metabolic adaptations that increase the risk of numerous negative outcomes, including impaired cognitive ability, weakened performance at school and obesity in later life.

Initiatives to reduce the need for food banks

Hunger, as a symptom of poverty, is a structural problem; the world produces enough food to feed everyone. Sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty require a mix of system-based policies aimed at improving the incomes and income security of poor Canadians, such as raising social assistance rates and minimum wages, improving access to employment insurance and developing a national child care system.

To significantly reduce the need for food banks in Canada, the Hunger Count report recommends a national poverty strategy, a basic liveable income and new investments in Northern food security.

The federal government is currently developing the Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy, to reduce poverty and improve the economic well being of all Canadian families. To learn more about the plans, including consultations with Canadians across the country and establishing a Ministerial Advisory Committee on Poverty, visit



Canadian Observatory on Homelessness; York University
September 27, 2017

“I… ended up homeless as a consequence of the Sixties Scoop. Going through the Scoop left me wondering which world or culture I belonged in: white Canadian or First Nations community. I was torn between the two. It has had a very damaging effect on me; society told me you’re brown on the outside and white in the middle (as I was brought up in a white home). I was confused and lost, and it was this path that ultimately led me to my life on the streets. My confusion about my identity… was very damaging.”

Rose Henry

Tle’min Elder from the Sliammon First Nation

Homelessness is Only One Piece of My Puzzle, 28


Rose’s quote speaks to a kind of cultural homelessness endured by Indigenous Peoples that is hard to quantify in current understandings of homelessness as outlined by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness’s Canadian definition of homelessness: unsheltered, emergency sheltered, provisionally sheltered, and at risk of homelessness. This is because she is describing something that isn’t about being without a structure of habitation or brick and mortar home. Rose’s homelessness, rather, is about something much deeper: existing in the world without a meaningful sense of home or identity. Rose’s eventual unsheltered houselessness in adulthood, as she articulates, happened as a result of the cultural homelessness she endured since being placed in a “white” home at age 8. This traumatic childhood dislocation from her Sliammon people left her without Indigenous identity, language, kin, culture, and connection to her traditional lands. If we really listen to her words carefully, then, it is clear that, as Rose understands it, she became homeless in childhood—the houselessness she endured in adulthood was only a symptom of that earlier loss of Indigenous culture and kin.


pull quote from the Indigenous Definition of Homelessness
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Metis Elder Joe “Eagle Eyes” Motuz describes a similar but different kind of dislocation—a disconnection from nature, Creator, and Indigenous spirituality. Joe, like Rose, was torn from his parents at a young age and raised in child welfare. He lived in a series of sexually and physically abusive homes growing up. The abuse was so severe that as a young man, Joe’s mind and spirit “buckled” and shattered and “culminated in a severe nervous breakdown” by the time he was 18. After being housed in a mental health institution for a few years, he was unceremoniously released onto the streets with no family, friends, or institutional support—he had aged out of child care and literally had nowhere to go. He learned quickly to depend on drugs and alcohol to numb his spirit—a poly addiction that persisted for almost two homeless decades. Only through help from mental health specialists and reconnecting with nature and Creator, according to Joe, did he recover, sober up, and stay off the streets. Joe’s story reads, “[I]n 1990… [I] underwent an intense period of introspective learning whereby [I] accepted the idea of a higher power/Creator, understood the power of healing, began to appreciate the power of prayer and incorporated the importance of sharing into [my] life. [I] also credit the Canadian Mental Health Association as a secret to [my] transition from homeless addict to housed citizen. Nature, the Creator and service to [my] fellow street family keep [me] vibrant and alive.” (Homelessness is Only One Piece of My Puzzle, 76). Joe’s homelessness, as with many residential school survivors I’ve spoken with, was really about a total disconnection and destruction of spirit brought to bear by harmful colonial institutions that tried, and failed, to make them into assimilated Canadian citizens.

Here again we see that Joe’s experience digs much deeper than simply having nowhere to live. To him and other Indigenous Peoples, their homelessness began when they lost an Indigenous cosmology and sense of belonging within an Indigenous community. The later houselessness that spawn from this disconnection would not have happened, I theorize, if they had been spiritually grounded since childhood. Further, the dislocation of “spirit” also creates within those who suffer its terrible affects, an imbalance of healthy mental faculties, which later manifests into readable psychological disorders from repeated bouts of trauma, racism, and exclusion. These leave sufferers feeling like they don’t belong anywhere, or can’t navigate society, feeling like they never have the right conditions to survive, or have a mind wracked by traumatic memories, and are never centered and confident in their daily lives. To Joe and others like him, then, their homelessness was also about mental imbalance, loss of kin, no meaningful connection to land, and having nowhere to go after aging out of the “system.” It’s not, according to Joe, simply about being unhoused.


Cree Althea Guiboche (the Bannock Lady of Winnipeg), is the pride of her community and of many Indigenous Nations. She goes out weekly with her organization Got Bannock and feeds Winnipeg’s homeless population. She and her “Bannock Army” whip up thousands of sandwiches, soups, juice boxes, fruits and veggies, and of course bannock and hand them out to lines of homeless that sometimes stretch around three city blocks! She does this to reclaim the Village Indigenous Peoples once had before the harmful effects of colonialism; she does it to build community relations. What many do not know, however, is that Althea herself suffered a bout of homelessness in 2011 after she and her five children were flooded out of their home in Ochre River after the province of Manitoba built a levee in an effort to prevent the flooding of the city of Winnipeg. The levee caused water levels to rise in the Dauphin Lake region. Left homeless in the aftermath of the flood, Althea’s family petitioned the provincial government and various emergency service providers for housing but were left out in the cold—they were all homeless. These agencies, it seems, did not have adequate emergency plans in place to deal with such an immediate crisis, and the different crisis agencies did not communicate effectively with one another. Moreover, the service providers Althea communicated with were, according to her, racist and placed her case at the bottom of a long list of priorities. Guiboche was then passed around like a hot potato, from bureaucracy to bureaucracy while her family’s homelessness worsened. The dual combo of flooding and bureaucratic obstacles, then, caused her homelessness, as it has with many Indigenous Peoples who’ve also tried to access unprepared services after major environmental disasters. Althea’s unique kind of homelessness, sadly, has affected vast swaths of Indigenous Peoples across Canada—from the repeated floods of the James Bay lowlands, to the 2017 summer fires of BC and the 2016 inferno of Fort McMurray in northern Alberta, to the rising sea levels in the North. The “system,” it seems, is not built, or is unwilling, to house large populations of displaced Indigenous Peoples in crisis situations.


The above three examples of homelessness are specific to Indigenous Peoples in that they fall outside the scale of unhoused homelessness as defined by the COH’s Canadian definition of homelessness. Rose endured cultural homelessness since youth, Joe was spiritually homelessness after being separated from Creator through abuse, and Althea suffered emergency crisis homelessness caused by bureaucratic confusion and internal racism latent in emergency service providers.


These examples, and many more like them, have appeared again and again in the work I’ve done with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities over the past 22 months of consultation in building the National Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada for the COH. In many ways, my own understanding of homeless has broadened after hearing them. I am now convinced that from an Indigenous perspective, Indigenous homelessness is not about not having a structure to live in; it runs much deeper than that—it’s about not having healthy social, physical, spiritual, and emotional relationships. It’s about not having one’s indigeneity. And these relationships—known in the Anishinabek worldviews as All My Relations—have been eroded and/or destroyed by processes of colonization since Euro-style settlement began on Turtle Island in the 1600s. But I reveal too much, too soon, and for some, it will be a total “game changer” in the way that we think, look at, and treat, not only Indigenous homelessness, but also how we understand elder homelessness, youth homelessness, veteran’s homelessness, and homelessness in general. It will, from the little feedback I’ve received thus far, reframe the discussion of homelessness itself.

If you are interested in knowing more, please join me at the CAEH conference in Winnipeg on Thursday October 26, 2017 where I, along with the COH, will launch the new Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada during my keynote address. One last thought before I go, please know that the information I’ve shared with you here comes, not for me, but directly from Indigenous Peoples themselves—they’ve always known the kinds of homelessness they’ve had to endure, I simply asked them what they believed Indigenous Homelessness to be, and they told me.

To join us in Winnipeg on Oct. 27 for an Indigenous Roundtable on defining an end to homelessness, please apply here by Sept. 29:


CBC News. (2011, June 7). Flooding forces evacuations in Dauphin Lake. CBC News, Retrieved from

Homeward Trust Edmonton, Blue Quills First Nations College, & IRM Research and Evaluation. (2015). Research on the Intergenerational Impact of Colonialism: Aboriginal Homelessness in Edmonton – Towards a Deeper Understanding of the Indigenous Experience of Urban Homelessness. Edmonton: Homeward Trust.

Memmott, P., Long, S., & Chambers, C. (2003). Categories of Indigenous' homelessness' people and good practice responses to their needs. Retrieved from

Rose Henry, “My Life Story, My Youth,” pp. 25-34 and Joseph R. A. Motuz, “Anatomy of A Hero,” 65-72 in Homelessness is Only One Piece of My Puzzle. Toronto: York University Press, 2014.

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. (2012). Canadian Definition of Homelessness. Retrieved from


Today, A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness are releasing a revised version of our federal youth homelessness policy brief. Opportunities to influence public policy and investment concerning youth homelessness abound.

As described in previous blog posts, A Way Home Canada and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness take a “solutions-focused advocacy” approach to working with government. This approach necessitates a rich process of engagement that foregrounds youth with lived experience and other key stakeholders, both within and outside of government. It means mining innovations in both policy and practice from around the world, as well as here at home. Most importantly, it is an exercise in deep listening that enables us to craft a vision for our collective role in preventing and ending youth homelessness. We believe that the Government of Canada, through the renewal of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS), has an opportunity to play a leadership role on the issue of youth homelessness. This policy brief provides a roadmap for the Government of Canada to follow.

If you’ll recall, we released a policy brief in April, 2016 that focused on translating the recently-announced investment in youth homelessness in the U.S. to the Canadian context. At that time, we noted that over the past 16 years, the Government of Canada, through its National Homelessness Initiative and the HPS, has actively supported communities across the country to address homelessness. While many communities have used part of their federal investment to support youth-focused programs and services, there has not been a strategic focus on youth homelessness since the early years of the program.

Quotation from the blog, we believe that the time is now.
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We believe that the time is NOW for the Government of Canada to make Canada’s most vulnerable youth a national priority, and that the process they are currently engaged in with the renewal of the HPS provides a rare opportunity to do just that.

Key components of our federal policy brief refresh include recommendations that expand and enhance HPS with a core component of the strategy focusing on supporting Housing First for Youth and youth homelessness prevention through community systems planning. Youth under the age of 25 require programs and services that address their unique developmental needs and issues. Additionally, the brief outlines that the resources provided at the federal level need to be flexible, meaningful, and timely to be client-driven and meet each young person’s needs within their local context.

Some key points include:

  • Priority must be given to prevention programs that divert and keep young people out of shelters and provide them with appropriate and adequate supports. Youth-specific prevention programs focus upstream to intervene well before a youth becomes homeless.

  • Without proper exit planning and supports, youth leaving corrections, physical/ mental health, and child welfare systems may also find themselves without a home.

  • Adapting Housing First to the needs of youth is critical for their housing success and a healthy transition to adulthood.

The vision of a distinct, youth-focused funding stream through the HPS focuses on four strategies:

  1. Community Planning and Systems Coordination

HPS designated communities must begin to align and organize themselves around the issue of youth homelessness. Communities can’t simply respond to youth homelessness in the same way they respond to homelessness in general. An integrated response to youth engages child welfare, youth justice systems, education and income supports systems which means designated communities must leverage different stakeholders.

  1. Program Interventions

Central to the HPS renewal should be program models that will enable communities to

make the shift to an approach that focuses more on prevention and helping young people exit homelessness. The proposed program interventions are based on research from Canada and elsewhere in the world (the U.S., UK, Australia and Scotland in particular). Many of these program models have a strong evidence base, while others are promising practices. These models can be applied in urban, suburban, rural and remote communities.

  1. Governance and Structure

Federal leadership, direction and investment on the issue of youth homelessness can yield significant policy and practice changes provincially and territorially. This will create the context for greater alignment of policy and funding, sharing of practices and creating a pan-Canadian strategy. The goal of an Federal/Provincial/Territorial (FPT)

Youth Homelessness Committee would be to align mandates across all provinces to promote increased focus and a more integrated response to youth homelessness and collaborate/support initiatives that contribute to the renewed HPS youth specific outcomes, performance measures and data demographics. In addition the FPT Committee would strengthen the ability of existing systems to intervene in a rapid, coordinated manner before youth become entrenched in a homeless lifestyle and bring government and community stakeholders together to support and enable community-driven responses and client-centered approaches to addressing homelessness.

  1. Data Collection and Research

We have a significant opportunity to resolve the information gaps that currently make it challenging to understand and address youth homelessness. Better data and information on the issue of youth homelessness in Canada is a priority, as is evaluating methods of effective implementation, and the effectiveness of services and systems. Improving the collection of information will allow us to better respond to the following questions:

  • What are effective strategies for implementing and scaling evidence based and supported interventions for homeless youth?

  • What systems would support the implementation of common databases and metrics to enhance evaluation efforts nationally?

  • What is the composition and size of the homeless youth population in Canada?

As we’ve shown with the success of A Way Home Canada and the emergence of A Way Home coalitions in countries and communities around the world, Canada can be a world leader concerning youth homelessness. Most importantly, Canada can help ensure that every young person has the support they need to have a healthy transition to adulthood and the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Read more:

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, York University
September 14, 2017

To end homelessness, we have to prevent it from happening in the first place. But how do communities shift to prevention? And how do we engage in prevention consistently and on a national scale for maximum impact?

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) has developed a plan for the federal government to prioritize prevention. This plan, when coupled with the current investment in Housing First, will create positive outcomes for those at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness. Leading the Way: Reimagining Federal Leadership on Preventing Homelessness sets out to describe what prevention is, the federal government’s role in preventing homelessness, and why and how prevention should be made a pillar of a national strategy on homelessness.

quote on homelessness
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The release of the policy brief comes at an important time. The federal government is currently redesigning and expanding the federal body on homelessness – the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (HPS). The federal government has committed to investing $2.1 billion over 11 years dedicated to reducing homelessness for 500,000 Canadians. The government has convened an Advisory Committee on Homelessness, made up of experts on homelessness from across Canada, to advise them as they develop the new strategy. The COH has submitted Leading the Way to the Advisory Committee to inform their thinking on prevention. The brief advises the Committee to position homelessness prevention at the forefront of the redesigned strategy. 

There is precedent for the federal government to take on such a bold initiative. In 2013, the HPS renewal centered around an investment in Housing First, where large communities were directed to use 65% of their funding towards Housing First initiatives. This same ambitious policy shift can be used in 2017, this time to prioritize prevention.

The time is right for a shift to prevention. Not only is the federal government redesigning their homelessness strategy, they are also in the midst of developing the National Housing Strategy and the Poverty Reduction Strategy. Combined, these three new strategies set the tone for a federal government poised to do more than simply manage the homelessness crisis. Shifting to prevention and supporting initiatives that will keep people from experiencing the trauma of homelessness provides the opportunity to do things differently.

The role of the federal government

Homelessness prevention is a fusion policy issue. This means that adequately addressing and preventing homelessness requires multiple sectors to take responsibility and work collaboratively. Housing, child and family services, health care, corrections, income support, education, and employment sectors all have a role to play in preventing homelessness. 

So where does the federal government fit? The Government of Canada should take a leadership role in establishing policies and funding to implement a national prevention strategy. The progress made in adopting Housing First across the country under the guidance of the federal government is testament to the impact of federal leadership on encouraging systems change. The federal government brings to the table its unique ability to invest in long-term strategies and to bring innovative solutions to scale on a national level. 

The homelessness prevention initiative: A four-point plan

Leading the Way offers a national homelessness prevention plan as part of the renewed national strategy on homelessness. The plan will complement the continued focus on Housing First to significantly reduce homelessness in Canada over the next ten years. The plan consists of:

1)    Alignment: As part of a broader homelessness strategy, the homelessness prevention initiative must work alongside other government priorities to create a comprehensive approach to reducing homelessness and promoting equality and prosperity for all Canadians.

2)    Investment: We can expect to see significant results only when policy frameworks are supported by financial investment. A shift to homelessness prevention requires a dedicated Prevention Funding Stream.

3)    Innovation: The homelessness prevention initiative must include funding to support innovation and research to develop cost-efficient and locally contextualized programs.

4)    Partnership: Preventing homelessness requires collaboration and shared responsibility between federal departments, across provinces and territories and in equal partnership with Indigenous communities.

Proof that prevention works

Homelessness prevention can and will reduce homelessness in Canada if adopted by the federal government. We know this to be true because there are examples around the world of state governments taking a stand and moving to prevention.

Wales recently passed legislation that mandated prevention services as a universal right. Already they have seen significant success in preventing individuals and families from experiencing homelessness. Similarly, Finland developed an action plan for preventing homelessness that ensures that anyone who touches the service system has housing. Australia has been at the forefront of preventing youth homelessness for close to twenty years. Back at home, Medicine Hat’s success with the Housing First model has made it clear that prevention is the other side of the coin in efforts to end homelessness. Cities such as St. John’s, Calgary, Edmonton, and Yellowknife have all incorporated prevention into their community plans to reduce and end homelessness. 

With the leadership and financial backing of the federal government, homelessness prevention programs will be developed, expanded, and scaled up across Canada. The redesign of the national homelessness strategy is an opportunity for the Government of Canada to be bold, innovative, and forward-thinking, and to help Canadians access and maintain their homes.

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
August 30, 2017

People experiencing homelessness in Canada include a disproportionate number of individuals from racialized and newcomer communities. Racialized persons are defined as individuals who are non-Caucasian. Factors such as discrimination, language barriers, historical trauma and colonization have a cumulative effect -- they are also linked to experiencing homelessness and being unable to break the cycle of homelessness in Canadian society.

Because the realities experienced by individuals who are part of racialized and newcomer communities are different from that of other communities, it is important to recognize the unique challenges they may face. Connecting individuals to resources that are culturally appropriate makes it possible for their needs to be effectively addressed.

Below are some of the marginalized groups in Canadian society, who are especially at risk for experiencing homelessness for a multitude of reasons:

Indigenous Peoples

While Indigenous Peoples make up a small portion of the general population in urban areas in Canada, they account for a large percentage of those experiencing homelessness. In Toronto, for example, only 0.5% of the general population is Indigenous, and yet they make up about 15% of those who are experiencing homelessness. What is more, Indigenous Peoples make up to 90% of those experiencing homelessness in northern Canadian cities like Whitehorse or Yellowknife, while making up roughly only a sixth of both cities' populations. 

A number of different circumstances can account for this overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples amongst those experiencing homelessness. This includes the historical trauma and oppression faced by Indigenous Peoples, who were subjected tomaltreatment and cultural erosion through the exploitations of colonization, residential schools and the 60s Scoop. The aftermath often includes unstable families and homes, and various issues within Indigenous communities such as substance use, addiction, community violence and health issues.

Addressing these issues is not as simple as connecting individuals and families to social services and general resources. Cultural considerations need to be taken into account in order to properly address the issue of homelessness specific to Indigenous Peoples.

For example, within Indigenous cultures, the conceptualization of “home” and therefore what it means to experience homelessness, is more than simply having or lacking a roof over one’s head. Homelessness also includes variables such as relationships and connections to human kinship, earth, lands, waters and territories, animals, plants, spirits, elements, traditional songs, teachings, ancestors and names.

Furthermore, Indigenous homelessness does not fit neatly into the four Canadian categories of homelessness: unsheltered, emergency sheltered, provisionally sheltered, and at risk of homelessness. A definition that takes these important considerations into account is being worked on, and is set to be released in the fall of 2017.

Racialized Groups and Homelessness

Canada is comprised of a number of racially diverse groups, some of who are at an increased risk for experiencing homelessness:

Refugees and Newcomers to Canada

Many of the challenges faced by refugees and newcomers to Canada parallel those faced by Canadians who are at risk of experiencing homelessness. For example, newcomers frequently struggle with finding good quality, permanent, appropriately located, yet affordable housing.

Refugees to Canada who are not privately sponsored are given help from settlement agencies to find housing arrangements -- but contrary to popular belief, they do not get to jump the waitlists for affordable housing. As a result, settlement agencies often look outside of subsidized housing and to the private housing market, which can be risky due to the chance of finding housing that is too expensive, overcrowded or illegally rented.

In addition to struggling with the need to find suitable housing, many refugees deal with a number of personal problems such as psychological distress, unemployment, a lack of social capital, language barriers, discrimination, lack of access to transportation and lack of credit history.

The barriers that newcomers and refugees to the country face put them at an increased risk for homelessness and core housing need compared to other groups. For example, 10.1% of newcomer youth experience homelessness.

What Can Be Done?

Taking into account the many cultures present in Canada is an important step towards providing effective services. It has been said that homelessness is a culture, and that services delivered by individuals with first-hand experience may contribute to better outcomes. This may mean having more staff with a history of experiencing homelessness, or perhaps hiring more ethnically diverse teams to help administer services in a culturally appropriate way. This will mean taking into account the historical, social, political and economic contributions that have created homelessness for people from various backgrounds.

multicultural hands
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In Canada, the social services and health sector is often criticized for being predominantly white and middle class, although the populations that most frequently access these services tend to be members of various racialized and marginalized communities.

Marginalized groups, which often include non-English speakers, racialized communities, those who are experiencing homelessness and newcomers to the country, tend to deal with more health problems for a number of reasons, including a lack of information and difficulties accessing health care. As the service models offered are more likely to reflect white, middle class values, the needs of racially and ethnically diverse groups may not be adequately met.

Across Canada, a number of culturally diverse services have emerged in hopes of providing services that will address the needs of Canada’s many groups and communities.

Services in Ontario:

Indigenous Housing and Services:

Across Toronto, a number of housing, health, legal, employment and cultural services are available to serve the Indigenous community. Some of them include:

  • Anishnawbe Health Mental Health Crisis Line: Provides mental health services for crises 24/7.
  • Anishnawbe Health Toronto: provides traditional healing, counselling that is culturally appropriate for youth and families involved with the child protection system, teaching and Healing Circles, Spiritual Ceremonies, education regarding diabetes
  • 416-360-0486,
  • Native Child and Family Services of Toronto
    416-969-8510, 655 Bloor St W,,

For more Indigenous Peoples-specific services located in Toronto, visit:

Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services:

This is a registered organization and United Way member agency that serves the community of Toronto, by providing services for immigrants and refugees who are newcomers to the city.

For more information:

Services in British Columbia:

Aboriginal Homeless Outreach Program:

Serving communities in British Columbia and managed by the Aboriginal Housing Management Association (AHMA), this program provides outreach workers for Indigenous Peoples that are19 years and older who have housing and health concerns.

Services are free and outreach workers listen to the health and housing needs of individuals. Connections are made to appropriate services and housing that is available. Services are provided with an Indigenous Peoples specific perspective.

For more information:

ISS of BC: Immigration and Settlement Services:

This organization is focused on providing services and supports to immigrants, including refugees. Services include settlement, education and employment programs. Support programs are offered in over 45 languages in the Metro Vancouver, Squamish and the Okanagan regions.

For more information:

Indigenous Peoples-Specific Support and Programs in Alberta:

Shining Mountains: 

This is an Indigenous Peoples-owned, staffed and operated charity that aims to provide a variety of programs to Indigenous Peoples who may be facing homelessness, domestic violence, living with HIV/AIDS and addictions. This charity also provides culturally-sensitive training, education and referral programs for organizations.

For more information:

Aboriginal Driver's License Initiative:

This program helps Indigenous Peoples with obtaining and maintaining a valid driver’s licence. It recognizes the barriers a lack of transportation can pose to success in employment. The three main areas of the program focus on: bringing awareness to the issue, education and training to help persons who are a part of the Indigenous Peoples community obtain their driver’s licences, and the accessibility of registration services (particularly in remote areas of Alberta).

For more information:

Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY):

This non-profit organization is focused on assisting Indigenousyouth in the urban setting of Calgary, Alberta. They aim to provide urban Indigenousyouth with services and resources such as career planning, business etiquette, personal finance, and Blackfoot teachings.

For more information:


Comments? Questions? Post them on Community Workspace on Homelessness:

The Community Workspace on Homelessness is an interactive, online platform that enables people to share information about and discuss issues related to homelessness. Different communities are able to share their knowledge, collaborate, and provide resources through this space.


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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.