Research Matters Blog

Justice for Children and Youth
September 24, 2013

A key component of my work is providing legal options to homeless youth ages 16-24 in order to find safety and security to stabilize their lives. Unfortunately, what I’ve realized over the years is that there is a glaring lack of legal options for safety and security available to our most vulnerable youth. Youth needing care for the first time after they turn 16 are left with few choices to sustain their safety and security, often leaving them with no option but the shelter system or the streets. Their only options for financial support are to apply for welfare or sue their parents for support. Many of my clients have fled an unsafe home environment. Most have experienced crisis and trauma linked to their childhood or current situation of homelessness. They are trying to support themselves, live on a welfare allowance of $600/month, and get through high school.

Ontario remained the only jurisdiction in Canada that significantly restricted first-time entry into the child welfare system for 16 and 17 year oldsMany of my clients are forced out of home because of their sexual identity, are newcomers to Ontario, or are suffering first onset of mental health problems. Homeless Hub research highlights the vulnerable demographic and rising numbers of homeless youth. Research also outlines the challenges a homeless youth faces, including the experience of shocking levels of violence and harm.

Working closely with the Canadian Homelessness Research Network and Raising the Roof, we at Justice for Children and Youth (“JFCY”) undertook a research agenda to identify gaps in the law with the goal of preventing youth homelessness. Concerned that 43% of homeless youth had previous experiences with a Children’s Aid Society, we were equally concerned that 57% of homeless youth had no contact with child welfare services. In our research, JFCY found that Ontario remained the only jurisdiction in Canada that significantly restricted first-time entry into the child welfare system for 16 and 17 year olds. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (“UN Convention”) defines a child as being under 18 years of age. Our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”) provides rights to safety, security, and equality in our society. We were concerned that Ontario is in breach of both the UN Convention and our Charter.

The Provincial Child Advocate’s Youth Leaving Care Hearings gave JFCY an opportunity to present our research and appeal to the Ontario Legislature to change the law. MPP Rod Jackson took up the challenge and created Bill 88: Child and Family Services Amendment Act (Children 16 Years of Age and Older). The Bill makes it possible for 16 and 17 year olds who find themselves without the support of family to voluntarily access child welfare support services. Bill 88 also incorporates the UN Convention into Ontario’s child welfare law, recognizing Canada’s international obligations to provide care for all of Ontario’s children in need. It is a solid step in the right direction to properly care for all children, and a key to reducing youth homelessness.

Group photo

On Thursday, September 19th, a contingent of JFCY staff, volunteers and clients attended Queen’s Park to support the 2nd Reading of Bill 88. At the press conference, JFCY spoke in support of the law. We then watched the debate and vote. It was a great day of success. Not only did the Bill pass onto Committee and 3rd Reading, it passed unanimously in the House! Members of Provincial Parliament from each party strongly supported the Bill, some echoing JFCY’s position that the current law stands as unconstitutional. Our next steps are to support the Bill as it is debated in Committee, and push it towards 3rd Reading and ratification.

One of my clients that was unable to attend the Legislature texted me the next day to ask for an update. I told him the good news, and he texted back, “can I call the Children’s Aid Society and get their services now?” He’s 16, and living at a shelter. The Bill cannot be passed quickly enough.

Johanna MacDonald, B.A. LL.B. is the Street Youth Services Lawyer at Justice for Children and Youth. The service blends legal education, representation, and advocacy to and on behalf of street involved youth in Ontario. Johanna has tailored her practice to serve clients not only by responding to their immediate legal needs, but also by seeking to maximize their safety and security within the relevant legal and administrative systems. Current advocacy projects include policing and child welfare reform. Johanna was called to the bar in British Columbia in 2007, and in Ontario in 2009. She is also currently a student in the LLM Program at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
September 23, 2013

Last week at the Hub:

Our "Ask The Hub" section is still going strong as questions keep coming in. Last week, Tanya Gulliver explored how sexual violence both contributes and is a product of homelessness. To put the issue into perspective, some of the shocking reports Tanya cited estimated that 93% of homeless mothers have experienced sexual violence.

The Calgary Homeless Foundation has been busy crunching numbers. They broke down the cost of housing 72 previously homeless people and compared that with the cost of emergency services to find that housing them saved taxpayers $2.5 million every year. For more information on some of their findings please visit here.

In case you missed it, CBC's Morning North runs a radio show on homelessness called No Fixed Address. On Wednesday they had Annie Boucher, a Ph.D student from Laurentian University on to talk about the lived experiences of homeless women that she is working with in Sudbury. The lack of affordable and quality housing along with horrid housing system rules in the north has driven people into living in the bush.

In Bernie Pauly and Geoff Cross' experiences with the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness they've found that consulting with persons suffering from homelessness about their needs is a huge step on the path of eradicating homelessness. In their Facing Homelessness: Evaluating Systemic Responses to Homelessness post they point to the need for systemic solutions to structural problems that face homeless people. 

Isaac Coplan shed some light on some lesser known urban homelessness trends in Canada with this week's infographic. It shows an intimate link between the recession and homelessness in Waterloo where there has been a 229% increase in families accessing homeless services since  2008. 

For teachers interested in introducing the topic of homelessness into their classes, you can visit our Integrated Unit on Homelessness for Elementary Schools for some lesson plan outlines. Each lesson is designed to stand alone so you can pick one of the many we have to incorporate into your class.

On the research end of things a new study is out that links project based Housing First initiatives, which work to house chronically homeless people, with overall reductions in jail time and police bookings.

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University
September 20, 2013
Categories: Ask the Hub

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at, contact us through Facebook or even Tweet us your questions and we will provide a research-based answer.

Does sexualized violence contribute to homelessness?

Absolutely! In fact, many studies have found violence generally — including sexualized violence — to be a leading factor contributing to homelessness.

The National Center on Family Homelessness makes a strong claim about this in “A Long Journey Home: A Guide for Creating Trauma–Informed Services for Mothers and Children Experiencing Homelessness,” stating “Violence is a critical ingredient in the recipe for homelessness.” They add:

There is no reason to assume that the experience of Canadian women experiencing homelessness is any different.

A 2006 study of immigrant women experiencing family violence in Halifax, Calgary and Winnipeg showed that most of the women “were abused by an intimate partner, usually a spouse. Several women were abused by other members of their family or their partner’s family. Women reported physical abuse (i.e., slapping, kicking, punching, choking, physical abuse while pregnant, use of weapons), sexual abuse (i.e., sexual control, sexual assault), verbal abuse (i.e., insults, namecalling, swearing), emotional or psychological abuse (i.e., harassment, manipulation, stalking, threats of violence or death threats towards the woman and/or the children), social abuse (i.e., social isolation, control of social contact), spiritual abuse (i.e., restricting access to religious services), and financial abuse (i.e., abuser controlling all finances).”

Sexual violence — or violence generally — is both a contributor to homelessness and a factor resulting from homelessness.

The research from “Surviving Crime and Violence” found that street youth are very vulnerable to crime and violence and are victimized frequently. Almost three quarters (72.8%) street youth interviewed in Toronto reported multiple incidents of victimization and only 16% reported telling social workers or counsellors about their worst recent experience. Many of these young people are fleeing family backgrounds characterized by abuse, violence and addictions.

A 2003 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine looking at people in San Francisco who were homeless or marginally housed found that “Overall, 32.3% of women, 27.1% of men, and 38.1% of transgendered persons reported a history of either sexual or physical assault in the previous year; 9.4% of women, 1.4% of men, and 11.9% of transgendered persons reported sexual assault…”

In reflecting on the death of Bly Markis in 2007, Michael Shapcott of the Wellesley Institute published “Physical and sexual violence rates for homeless many times higher than housed” Backgrounder. He writes about several different studies in various countries that have identified the increased risk of violence people experiencing homelessness face.

A great resource is the Runaway & Homeless Youth and Relationship Violence Tool-Kit developed by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. They also report that, “Another study found that 60% of homeless female youth and 25% of males had reported being sexually assaulted prior to leaving home.”

The National Center on Family Homelessness also has a valuable tool-kit Closing the Gap: Integrating Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence Experiencing Homelessness: A Toolkit for Transitional Housing Programs.

We’ve shared this infographic before but I’m ending with it today because it again is extremely relevant to this topic.

Homeless Mother history of trauma

Facing homelessness is a reality in urban and rural centres across Canada. It is a reality for those experiencing it and for those who care deeply about ending it. Even if we don’t think homelessness is a concern, it affects our lives and points to the thinness of the fabric that holds us together as a society. We often confuse personal circumstances in which people find themselves homeless with the broader conditions in society in which anyone can become homeless. For example, many people often hold the view that substance use and mental illness are the root causes of homelessness but this kind of thinking doesn’t recognize the conditions in which many people become homeless.

Facing homelessness Book cover

Listening to the voices of people who are experiencing homelessness is a significant and important aspect of understanding homelessness. This year, while preparing the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homeless 2012/2013 report for Greater Victoria, we talked with people who had experienced homelessness to get their perspectives on the conditions that contribute to homelessness. Even before seeing the current year’s data, their observations clearly pointed to the drivers of homelessness that are beyond an individuals’ control but directly impact personal situations and experiences of homelessness.

There are many good programs aimed at alleviating homelessness but no single program can end homelessness. Ending homelessness requires systemic changes. In our report, we focus on the structural conditions in order to evaluate systemic progress towards ending homelessness. These structural drivers include the supply of housing and the adequacy of incomes needed for a decent quality of life. There are also systemic failures that drive homelessness such as stigma of drug use and racism as well as systemic gaps when people are discharged from hospitals, prisons and foster care into homelessness. However, availability of adequate housing and income are fundamental starting points for addressing what is a national disaster and a national disgrace in a country as wealthy as Canada.

Ending homelessness is both simple and complex. It is simple in that we need an adequate supply of affordable housing that is accessible to people on very, very low incomes. In our most recent report we analyzed the availability of low end market suites, those that cost less than $700/month, and found there was a shrinking supply of bachelor and one bedroom suites in this rent range even though the overall number of suites has remained constant. Vacancy rates for bachelor and one bedroom suites that cost less than $700/month were approximately 1% even though overall vacancy rates were 2.8% for Victoria CMA. This highlights that it is not simply overall vacancy but vacancy rates for specific types of market housing that matter. It is complex in that it requires action by municipal, provincial and federal governments.

This year, no new subsidized housing units or rental supplements available for people experiencing homelessness were added in the Greater Victoria region. There are still 1,477 households on the waiting list for subsidized housing and the unique number of individuals using emergency shelter has remained approximately the same at 1,659 people, with shelters running at 112% occupancy due to additional mats being added on the floor.

One important learning this year has been that a comprehensive systems evaluation of progress in addressing homelessness must include the voices of individuals who have experience of homelessness. We urge you to read their views and hope to see this type of inclusive reporting take root in other areas of the country.

Bernie Pauly RN, Ph. D Associate Professor, School of Nursing and Scientist, Centre for Addictions Research of BC

Geoff Cross, MA candidate, Center for Addictions Research of BC

Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association
September 17, 2013

While some communities have been applauding a decline in homelessness over the past several years across Canada, not all cities have had the same trends. As this infographic demonstrates, Kitchener-Waterloo saw an increased need for the use of services for homelessness between 2008-2012. The Homeless to Housing Stability Reports found that part of the increase in homelessness in Kitchener-Waterloo was due to the lingering effects of the 2008 economic recession. This is an example of how accurate, repeated and statistics on homelessness can inform policy. This was one of the limitations stated in the ‘State of Homelessness in Canada Report’. It is easier to track the progress of ending homelessness in Canada when it is possible to draw on data from a variety of different municipalities.

In the State of Homelessness in Canada Report, it was found that homelessness has been decreasing in other large urban centers (including Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton), Alberta’s provincial plan also contributed to a provincial decrease. Due to the complexities of homelessness, responses must vary to fit the needs of different communities. It is also important to recognize that cities require different funding based on their unique circumstances. One of these local circumstances in Kitchener-Waterloo was the hard-hitting nature of the latest 2008 recession. Not only are there more people using shelters, (24% increase from 2008), but those people are also staying for more time (45% increase in number of nights from 2008).

 The Homelessness to Housing Stability Reports found that people typically exhausted all of their resources 2-3 years after losing their jobs. Since shelter use is frequently seen as a ‘last resort’, the effects of the recession could not be connected to immediate homelessness. This is also seen as a challenge with using shelter usage statistics, as they do not accurate show the ‘hidden homeless’ populations. In addition to job loss from the recession, the report highlighted several other areas that have contributed to an increase in shelter usage:  a lack of affordable housing, low minimum wage, low rental availability and insufficient supportive housing. These findings have triggered a response by government in Kitchener-Waterloo. There will be an additional 500 affordable housing units, and an increase in 100 supportive housing units (both from 2008 numbers). Despite this positive step, there is still a lot needed to support over 3400 individuals who used service in 2012.


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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.