Research Matters Blog

The Wellesley Institute
August 07, 2013

Toronto’s homeless population continues to grow, according to the interim findings of the city’s Street Needs Assessment 2013. Toronto reports 5,219 people who were homeless in 2013, up slightly from the 5,169 in 2009 and up 5% from the 4,969 people reported homeless in 2006.

In percentage terms, the biggest increase in homelessness is in violence against women shelters (an increase of 108% since 2006); correctional facilities (up 51% since 2006) and city homeless shelters (up 8.7% since 2006).

Toronto’s Street Needs Assessment uses a method to count homeless that is challenged by some academic and other experts. However, it represents perhaps the most comprehensive snapshot of homelessness in Toronto, and – since the same methods have now been used for three separate counts – it provides information on trends over time in homelessness.

Among the key findings reported in the interim report:

  • People who are homeless on Toronto’s streets are outside for an average of 7.5 years, far longer than any other category of homelessness.
  • The number of street homeless in Toronto is up 24% since 2009, but down 39.1% from 2006. This suggests that the social and economic impact of the post-2009 recession may have had an impact in boosting street homelessness.
  • More than one-third of street homeless are Aboriginal, even though Aboriginal people represent a tiny fraction of the overall Toronto population.
  • More than 15% of street homeless claim military service.
  • Almost one-in-five homeless youth identify as gay/lesbian/bi/trans/queer, and about one-on-ten of the overall homeless population identify as LGBT.
  • The share of seniors in Toronto’s homeless population has more than doubled since 2009.
  • Virtually all homeless people (93%) want permanent housing – shattering the persistent myth that people who are homeless ‘choose’ to be homeless.
  • About half the homeless population are on the city’s record-breaking wait list for affordable housing.
  • Fully 81% of homeless people have lived in Toronto for more than a year – shattering another persistent myth that Canada’s largest city is a “magnet” for homeless people.

While overall homeless numbers are trending up in Toronto, recent homeless counts in Calgary – which has adopted an effective 10-year plan to end homelessness – show that the growth in homelessness in that city has stopped. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has reported that preliminary results from the latest Vancouver homeless count show a significant drop in the number of street homeless.

Reposted with permission from The Wellesley Institute.

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
August 06, 2013

A new Homeless Hub blog feature, running usually on Mondays (it will run Tuesdays when there is a holiday or breaking news story) will be our weekly round-up. It’s our attempt at synthesizing and capturing some of our stories from the past week. We’ll share those that seemed to attract the most attention, as well as those that we think were overlooked. As always, follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay informed on a daily basis.

Here are some highlights (good and bad) from the past week:


  • The City of Toronto released the interim results of their 2013 Street Needs Assessment on Wednesday. Watch this space tomorrow for a blog from Michael Shapcott, of the Wellesley Institute, analysing the results. Some key points: 

      1. Outdoor homelessness has increased 24% since 2009 and overall homelessness has increased by 1%.
      2. 15.6% of the outdoor homeless population claim Canadian military service. This is twice that of the total homeless population (7.2%).
      3. Nearly 20% of homeless youth identify as a part of the LGBQT community, more than twice the rate for all age groups. 9.5% of the total homeless population identify as being part of the LGBTQ community.
      4. The share of seniors in the homeless population has more than doubled since 2009. 10% of the homeless population is 61 or older, compared to 4.7% in 2009. A further indication of the aging trend is the fact that those aged 51 and above represent 29.1% of the homeless population, compared to 19.6% four years ago.

    1.6 million Canadian households experienced food insecurity in 2011
    Media Folder: 
    • The PROOF report about food insecurity in Canada continues to get a lot of attention. The numbers, while not surprising to those of us in the field, are certainly scary. One of the researchers, Naomi Dachner, wrote a blog for us about the topic that highlights some of the issues. The report received a great deal of media attention as well. In an interview with the Vancouver Sun Valerie Tarasuk said, “In 2007 [Newfoundland’s] household food insecurity rate totalled more than 15 per cent, and now it touts the lowest rate in the country at just over 10 per cent. They're the only province that has shown a steady decline." CBC New Brunswick also has a great summary video about the report.


    • In related news, the Canadian Medical Association released a report on Tuesday “Health Care in Canada: What Makes Us Sick?” This report based on a series of town halls with more than 1000 participants found that poverty was the main issue affecting health inequality in the country. 


    • We released five research summaries on Monday related to Hepatitis in recognition of World Hepatitis Day on July 28th. An interesting stat: Homeless people in Toronto are 29 times more likely to have Hepatitis C. The five research summaries were further summarized in a blog written by Faculty of Environmental Studies MES student Isaac Coplan. The one that seemed to get the most traction was The Tragedy of Dying Homeless.” This study found that:
      1. Deaths among homeless people occur at higher than average rates.
      2. There are higher rates of AIDS, cancer and Hepatitis amongst the homeless population.Homeless people often face barriers to healthcare treatment including poverty, substance us, lack of a phone, address and transportation. 
    • The Wellesley Institute also released a health-related report, “Rising Inequality, Declining Health: Health Outcomes and the Working Poor”. This research found that there is a strong correlation between health, income and employment. Those who are better off financially and more job secure have better health overall.


    Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University
    August 02, 2013
    Categories: Ask the Hub

    This is our first instalment of the Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at and we will provide a research-based answer.

    Dear Homeless Hub

    I saw an article in NOW Magazine last week that said the city was going to redevelop Seaton House and make more of the beds permanent instead of shelter beds. The City of Toronto just released its findings for the 2013 Street Needs Assessment and the number of people sleeping on the streets has gone up! Shouldn’t we be adding more shelter beds instead of taking them away?

    ~Confused in Toronto

    Dear Confused,

    You’re right, it’s very important to understand the math behind homelessness. Too often, politicians and policy makers get focused on the solutions –building safe, secure and affordable housing with needed supports—and forget about the current state of affairs. While the housing is important, so is making sure the needs of people who are currently homeless get met.

    As our recent State of Homelessness in Canada: 2013 report pointed out many people are homeless for only one night and 29% are homeless for less than a month. But, at least 200,000 people are homeless every year and across the country at least 30,000 are homeless every night. That means, as a country, we need to provide 30,000 beds a night until we have sufficient housing to meet demand AND we’re able to stem the flow of people into homelessness.

    That’s the key point really. It's not as if we have a finite group of homeless people and once enough housing is built to house them, homelessness is over. New people become homeless every day. We need to address the upstream issues that are leading people to become homeless. Prevention is a big topic and one that we will be focusing a lot on over the next while here at the Hub.

    But let’s look at the Seaton House numbers and the new Street Needs assessment numbers the City of Toronto just released. The city’s early report on numbers of the 2013 Street Needs Assessment show that both overall and street homelessness have gone up in the past 4 years. 24% more people are sleeping outside and 1% more people are homeless in Toronto, according to the count. Unlike most Alberta cities, and many others across the country, which are seeing significant drops in both categories, Toronto is seeing an increase.

      2006 2009 2013
    Location Count Share of total Count Share of total Count Share of total
    Outdoors 735 14.8% 362 7.0% 447 8.6%
    City-administered shelters 3,649 73.4% 3,990 77.2% 3,970 76.1%
    Violence Against Women (VAW) shelters 171 3.4% 306 5.9% 356 6.8%
    Health & treatement facilities 275 5.5% 223 4.3% 236 4.5%
    Correctional facilities 139 2.8% 288 5.6% 210 4.0%
    Total 4,969 100.0% 5,169 100.0% 5,219 100.0%

    Source: City of Toronto, Street Needs Assessment Interim Report

    Shelter operators have told me that they are running at almost full capacity, especially since July 2012. Another report in NOW magazine from March of this year, showed that, “shelters are operating closer to 100 per cent capacity than was previously thought, and are using beds on a daily basis that are supposed to be reserved for emergencies.”

    According to the NOW article you mentioned, Seaton House has “543 beds, 240 are used as emergency shelter, and the rest are part of long-term care, harm reduction and infirmary programs.”

    Since the goal of the redevelopment is to create more permanent housing, NOW points out, “emergency beds would be reduced from 240 to roughly 96. According to the report approved by council, the 140 men left over would be ‘absorbed into transitional housing programs or the emergency shelter system.’”

    So, this is where we run into fuzzy logic and faulty math. Tonight, there will be close to 240 men using Seaton House. Tomorrow night there will be close to 240 men using Seaton House, and a few of them will be different. Next month, there will be close to 240 men using Seaton House and a significant percentage of them will be different. So there won’t be “140 men left over” as the report says, there may be several hundred.

    The city’s move to build transitional and permanent housing units is important and a key step in solving homelessness, but there won’t be as stark a decrease in need as the city is predicting, unless significant prevention and homelessness reduction strategies are established in the interim. There is time; the ground-breaking isn’t until 2017 after all.

    York University, OrgCode
    August 01, 2013

    Every summer, for almost a decade now, the Conference on Ending Homelessness put together by the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, DC has been a highlight for me. It has become a tradition. It reinvigorates me. It teaches me. It reminds me why we do this work – day in and day out.

    There is no way to fully capture in this blog everything that was discussed at the conference. If you search the hash tag #naeh13 you can see the thread of some of the most dominant themes by some rather prolific tweeters.

    In this blog, I wanted to reflect on the top three things that I took away from the conference this year – which may also be of interest to those unable to attend:

    1. Success is possible.

    It is inspiring to see the success of communities like New Orleans on track to end chronic homelessness. It is invigorating to see the results of the 100K Homes campaign, especially the 43 communities in the 2.5% club. It is refreshing to hear how communities like Grand Rapids and Cleveland made the necessary, but difficult, decisions to properly coordinate access into their homeless service delivery system. It is awesome to hear how organizations like UMOM in Phoenix transformed their resources to focus on serving people with higher acuity and many barriers to housing stability.

    And I could go on. For anyone who feels that the job of working to end homelessness is an impossible task, take the time to look at those that are seeing success. But I should point out that each of these communities had to make tough choices to not provide business as usual. Success came from doing things differently – not doing the same things but expecting different results.

    2. There is still confusion of some key concepts and terms

    It is unfortunate – but an opportunity for improvement – to help people get greater clarity on several key concepts and terms: Housing First; Rapid Re-Housing; Prevention; Diversion; Acuity; Assessment; Collaboration; Case Management; Permanent Supportive Housing. For each of these, I encountered it used incorrectly on more than one occasion. If we are going to move forward collectively in the pursuit of ending homelessness, I think it will be important to all get on the same page when it comes to the concepts and terms used quite frequently. If we aren’t all on the same page, chances are we will think we are talking about the same things when we are not, or drawing upon a body of evidence and data in an incomplete or incorrect manner.

    While I have addressed many of these in blogs and videos on our website, I think a consolidated glossary would probably be helpful too. I should really get on that.

    3. Good data results in good decisions

    The conference reinforced the importance of data many, many times. Data will only continue to become more important for decision-making as funding remains stagnant or decreases. And it is becoming more and more important for philanthropic investments.

    It was encouraging to see communities like Tulsa use data so effectively for increasing the housing stock while also demonstrating social return on investment. It was excellent to see the likes of San Francisco demonstrate, through data, the relationship between the child welfare system and homelessness – and when the support intervention may work best. It was helpful to see how USICH and HUD both shared data to demonstrate where there has been effectiveness, and where improvements still need to be made.

    It is a real delight to attend the Alliance conferences and learn. The next conference focuses on homeless youth and families and is being held in New Orleans in February. Stay tuned to to get more information – it is time and scarce money well invested!

    Reposted with permission from OrgCode Consulting.

    Iain De Jong works with OrgCode Consulting and also holds a part-time Faculty position in the Graduate Planning Programme in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. Iain has worked in senior management and held professional positions in government, non-profits and the private sector, as well as considerable frontline and supervisory work with people experiencing co-occurring complex issues in their life such as chronically homeless people, persons with compromised mental wellness, community residents experiencing economic poverty, persons involved with sex work, and individuals experiencing addictions.

    Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University
    July 31, 2013

    I’m a qualitative sociologist and while I sometimes like to play with numbers and images I’m often very limited in what I’m able to do myself. I was very excited to learn recently of a tool created by researchers from the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania.

    Called Homelessness Analytics, the tool allows users to “explore maps, create customized tables, generate charts and funnel data into spreadsheets or databases to conduct independent analysis” according to the University of Pennsylvania, University Communications office.

    They add, “Other functions include modeling and forecasting features that allow users to simulate expected changes in homelessness given changes in underlying indicators at the community level. As an example, a user can create a model of the relationship between median rent costs and the rates of homelessness in a specific region to better understand how changes in the housing market could impact homelessness.”

    The tool was created by researchers Dennis Culhane and Tom Byrne, who also work with the National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans.

    In the school’s press release Culhane says “This technology provides a new way to examine the problem of homelessness and is a terrific example of what can be achieved through collaborative efforts between academic and government partners.”

    It’s a very easy tool to use. I queried the trends in homelessness between New Orleans and Houston (thinking back to the blog on New Orleans recovery) and was easily able to generate a chart that tracked changes over several years.

    Total homeless persons 2006-2012

    The website is full of information compiled from dozens of sources, including the American Community Survey, the Centers for Disease Control’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, HUD’s Fair Market Rents, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service Program.

    Homelessness Analytics was built by Azavea, a development firm in Philadelphia that specializes in the creation of location-based Web and mobile software. In 2011, Azavea also worked with the City of Toronto to develop Toronto Wellbeing, a web application used to measure, monitor and map community wellbeing across 140 neighbourhoods.

    See the full report from University of Pennsylvania, University Communications office.


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