Research Matters Blog

Calgary Homeless Foundation
July 06, 2017

On May 18, 2017, the Second Annual Canadian Homelessness Data Sharing Initiative took place in Calgary (all slide presentations, as well as photos from the event, are available here). The event was organized by the Calgary Homeless Foundation and the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, and the participants included:  people who build datasets (about persons experiencing homelessness); researchers who use that data; persons with lived experience; and public servants.

Here are 10 things to know about this year’s event:

  1. For the second year in a row, there was strong representation from Canada’s federal government. Five officials from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) participated, three of whom had formal speaking roles at the event. Aaron Segaert (from ESDC) presented data from more than 200 homeless shelters between 2005 and 2014, showing that:
  • the occupancy rate (i.e. % of beds filled each night) across these shelters rose from 83% in 2010 to 92% in 2014;
  • the average ‘duration of stay’ by households using these shelters is increasing, especially for families and seniors;
  • the number of seniors using homeless shelters annually nearly doubled across Canada between 2005 and 2014.
  1. This year’s event had strong Quebec representation. Research presented by Annie Duchesne, for example, finds that certain subgroups of persons in Montreal’s largest homeless shelter are more likely to experience chronic homelessness (i.e. long-term homelessness) than others—those subgroups include persons over the age of 50, persons with mental health problems and persons with disabilities.
  1. Indigenous perspectives were presented. Bonnie Healy’s presentation focused on the work of the Alberta First Nations Information Governance Centre. Topics raised in her presentation included First Nations OCAP principles, a publication titled First Nations – Health Trends Alberta, the First Nations health status report for the Alberta region, the work of the Alberta First Nations Governance Centre, and Indigenous logic models.
  1. Several data-sharing advocates actively participated in this year’s event. Michael Lenczner, a data-sharing champion in Canada’s social sector, attended and spoke at this year’s event. He stated that, in terms of data sharing, he’s not aware of any other subsector of Canada’s non-profit sector that has an annual forum to discuss the importance of data. He also cited Alberta as a leader in data sharing, making reference mostly to PolicyWise, who’ve worked with government to link client administrative data from multiple ministries. They’re the leaders of this kind of data-linking in Canada, and possibly the world.
  1. Difficulties with researchers accessing federal homelessness data were raised. Tracey Lauriault is a Carleton University professor who described her past difficulties in trying to access HIFIS data for research. When she did, she was told that her data requests must be sent to community coordinators; yet, federal officials were never able to provide her with a list of community coordinators.
  1. One of the event highlights was a panel discussion on moving towards increased national integration of Homelessness Management Information Systems (HMIS). As I’ve written before, there are multiple software systems across Canada that keep data on persons experiencing homelessness; many people would like to see increased integration of these systems (possibly into one very large system, or at least the sharing of data among these systems so that researchers can have larger samples for their work). Henry Dagher (ESDC) discussed the evolution of the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) software system (which is one type of HMIS system). This federally-administered HIFIS system is now operating in more than 100 communities. HIFIS 4 is now web-based and gaining strong momentum; BC Housing is now implementing HIFIS province-wide (spanning approximately 200 service providers). Several panel members suggest that community members need to gain more control of HIFIS (via a stakeholder advisory body with some clout that includes persons with lived experience). As Michael Lenczner puts it: “The tail shouldn’t wag the dog.” Jenn Legate (Calgary Homeless Foundation) raised several operational concerns that need to be kept in mind as we move forward on increased national integration of HIMIS systems—namely, the ongoing costs a server, the cost of migrating data from an old database system to a new system, challenges pertaining to customer service provided by software vendors, and legal barriers to data sharing.
  1. Important findings were presented from Canada’s recent nationally-coordinated Point in Time Count of homeless persons. Patrick Hunter’s presentation noted that more than 25% of homeless persons enumerated during the 2016 count did not use an emergency shelter during the previous year—I think this speaks in part to conditions in emergency shelters, about which there’s virtually no research.[1] Hunter also reported that Indigenous peoples are nine times more likely to experience homelessness than the rest of Canada’s population; what’s more, more likely to experience longer homeless spells than non-Indigenous people.
  1. One of the event highlights was a “review of the day” by Stephen Metraux. Metraux, the Director of the Health Policy Program at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, gave a ‘wrap up’ presentation that included a short slide presentation. He subsequently wrote a blog post in which he reflected on his experience at the event.
  1. Several suggestions were made about a ‘way forward.’ Topics that need to be tackled in the future include:
  1. This will continue to be an annual event that we expect to be held each year in (or near) Calgary. It may also evolve into a two-day format, with one day focusing on the operational aspects associated with building, maintaining and improving HMIS systems. All of these operational matters are the focus of this biannual event in the United States; yet, no Canadian equivalent currently exists.

In Sum. We hope this annual event will help communities across Canada get closer to ending homelessness. The event web page—with slide presentations and minutes from the event—can be found here.

A blog post written about the First Annual Canadian Homelessness Data Sharing Initiative can be found here.

The author wishes to thank the following individuals for invaluable assistance with this blog post: Vicki Ballance, Ron Kneebone, Eric Latimer, Tracey Lauriault, Kara Layher, Michael Lenczner, Lindsay Lenny, Stephen Metraux and one anonymous source. Any errors lie with the author.

[1] This 2016 report on conditions inside Out of the Cold facilities and Warming Centres is worth reading. However, it should be noted that the facilities that are the focus of this report are not “homeless shelters” as defined by City of Toronto officials; rather, they operate separately from the formal shelter system.

This blog post has been republished with permission from the Calgary Homeless Foundation website.

Calgary Homeless Foundation
June 20, 2017

Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF) recently unveiled new key performance indicators (KPIs) for programs they fund.[1] These new indicators were developed after nine months of community consultation and have been piloted over the course of the past year. A May 2017 slide presentation on the development of some of these KPIs can be found here, while a seven-page guide for staff in the sector who do data entry can be found here.

Here are 10 things to know.

  1. Once a client is referred to a housing program, staff who work for that program are expected to locate the client and move them into housing ASAP. Calgary’s Homeless-Serving System of Care uses a triage system called Coordinated Access and Assessment (CAA). On a weekly basis, staff from the sector meet to discuss persons who are experiencing homelessness and who need to be housed, available housing units and ‘who fits where.’ Program referrals are based on conversations that take place at that table. Once a referral is made, CHF makes sure program entry occurs in the shortest possible time. CHF’s KPIs also monitor the percentage of referrals that never materialize (possible reasons for a referral not materializing include: the referral was declined by the funded program or by the client, or the referral didn’t happen because the client couldn’t be located).[2]
  1. Funded programs are encouraged to provide staff only as required (i.e. to not ‘over support’). CHF takes the position that while some tenants will always need case management support (i.e., ongoing professional staff support) many tenants won’t require such support (and some never require it). CHF therefore encourages funded programs to remove unnecessary professional support and promote independence. In that way, CHF creates a smoother ‘flow’ through the system.
  1. Programs funded by CHF are encouraged to persevere in keeping challenging tenants housed. Programs in the single adults and families sector are encouraged to keep people housed for at least nine months (i.e., three consecutive quarters); whereas those in the youth sector are expected to keep a person housed for at least six months (i.e., two consecutive quarters). In all sectors, maintaining housing can include moving people to a new unit in cases where a specific tenancy hasn’t worked well. In effect, programs are encouraged to take on challenging clients and to not give up on them.
  1. Once a person is successfully housed, CHF encourages program staff to be mindful of ‘missing tenants.’ This incentivizes funded programs to track down clients who are missing and to go back to the ‘CAA table’ to offer the vacated spaces to a future tenant within a short time frame.
  1. CHF-funded programs are encouraged (and generally want) to beat the average score for their cohort. On most of the above measures, a cohort average figure (based on the previous year) is calculated for all programs in a specific category (for more on the different categories of programs funded by CHF, see this recent blog post on CHF’s System Planning Framework). CHF sets a benchmark score 10% above the average. Funded programs in that category are then encouraged to score at or better than that benchmark (i.e. at or better than 10% above the cohort average of the previous year).
  1. All of this data is tracked through Calgary’s HMIS systemEach quarter, CHF staff use HMIS data to calculate KPI results for all CHF-funded programs. KPI results are then emailed to funded programs each quarter. No follow-up is required for programs that perform well in their KPIs. However, if CHF staff finds a program’s KPIs to be problematic, they may contact the program for clarification. CHF recognizes that a problem may be simply technical in nature (e.g., a new staff person isn’t entering data into HMIS properly). Other times, it may be a performance issue.
  1. An accreditation process helps ensure accurate data entry. Programs funded by CHF go through an accreditation process with an external accrediting body called the Canadian Accreditation Council (CAC). This service is paid for by CHF. CHF has its own standards that it has developed with help from CAC, and CHF-funded programs are expected to meet these standards. This process involves client file review, staff interviews and client interviews. Detailed reports are then provided to both CHF and the funded program. Among other things, this process helps ensure accurate data entry. Client case notes and files are reviewed during each accreditation by the CAC team.
  1. HMIS training also helps ensure accurate data entry. This training, provided free of charge, is provided to programs by CHF staff on a regular basis. Follow-up HMIS technical support is offered throughout the year.
  1. The Government of Alberta (GoA) is a strong supporter of the CHF’s KPIs. The GoA continues to show very strong interest in CHF’s KPIs. GoA plans to report on similar KPIs for the 2018/19 Ministry of Community and Social Services Business Plan which will include results from across the homeless serving system. According to one GoA source: “We have drawn heavily on CHF work to inform this thinking.”
  1. CHF will soon unveil new KPIs for programs that specifically serve Indigenous peoples. These KPIs have been developed in collaboration with key members of Calgary’s Indigenous community. This will be the subject of a future blog post.

The author wishes to thank Brian Bechtel, Jennifer Eyford, Geoff Gillard, Chantal Hansen, Sarah Knopp, Friney Labranche, Kara Layher, Sara Mikhail, Angela Pye, Jaime Rogers, Ken Swift, Alina Turner and two anonymous reviewers for invaluable assistance with this blog post. Any errors lie with the author.

[1] For a general overview of the programs funded by CHF, see this previous blog post.

[2] It has recently come to light that, in Toronto, officials have trouble locating clients after they’re referred to subsidized housing (and, meanwhile, the units sit vacant).

This blog post has been republished with permission from the Calgary Homeless Foundation website.


Eva’s Phoenix
June 15, 2017

Ramadan Mubarak!

We’re in the heart of the month of Ramadan, a time of prayer, fasting, reflection, and community for many Muslims. Within youth-serving environments, there’s a lot we can do to take a proactive approach and better support young people who are observing Ramadan. It is critical that youth are not always required to do the asking for accommodations and supports; we should plan to offer it first.

Tip 1: We can avoid assumptions.

We’re in a context where Christian traditions are considered a norm and other spiritual and faith traditions don’t get the same attention and support. That in and of itself can make it difficult for youth accessing community services to disclose that they’re observing or want to observe Ramadan.

At the same time, making an assumption that a young person is observing Ramadan is also a problem. Youth in precarious situations are not usually required to fast. And some youth may find this to be a triggering time of year in general, as many people struggle during holiday, celebration, or holy seasons. There may be many reasons behind this struggle. For example, young people may be feeling mixed emotions during Ramadan because their homelessness may make them feel far from family and community practices that are important to them.

This is why it’s so important to be conscious of and put aside our assumptions. 

Tip 2: We can open space for observance.

It takes intentional effort to create a welcoming environment where youth can disclose their observance of Ramadan and feel assured that they will be supported. Here are practical things we can do to get there.

  • Offer young people a substantial snack after sunset hours. When Ramadan happens in the spring and summer months, sunset can be late in the day and food practices in youth-serving spaces may have to adjust accordingly.
  • Provide takeout containers at mealtimes for youth to be able to store some food for later.
  • Put together some portable food packages for people to take whenever they need it during the month.

Lots of youth may take advantage of these helpful offerings during the month of Ramadan, observing or not, and that’s a good thing!

Tip 3: We can have culturally appropriate foods on hand.

When it’s time to break their fasts, many people do it with something sweet. Dates and coconut water are both common items people consume. But these are not necessarily everyday snacks in youth spaces, including shelter and transitional housing spaces. Having these items on hand and creating some flexibility around purchasing specific items youth may ask for can go a long way!

Tip 4: We can host Iftar opportunities for youth.

Iftar is a time for people to get together and break their fasts in community. Creating opportunities for youth to do this together and share what Ramadan is about can be an amazing way of building community connection.

This blog post has been republished with permission from the Eva's website.

Portions of this content originally appeared in Parity Magazine, a publication of the Council to Homeless Persons (Australia)

Over the last months we’ve discussed Collective Impact at length here on the Hub. A Way Home as a coalition and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (a founding coalition member) support communities to have the tools they need to develop and implement targeted strategies to prevent and end youth homelessness. We encourage communities to take a Collective Impact approach in this work, which requires working across the systems that drive young people into homelessness, but that can also be part of the solutions. Just a quick refresher – there are five conditions of Collective Impact: Common Agenda, Shared Measurement, Mutually Reinforcing Activities, Continuous Communication and Backbone Organization(s)/Functions. So where do communities get stuck? One of the main challenges is understanding the roles of various forms of data and how to get to shared measurement.

For a long time in Canada, there was little consensus about the role and use of research and data in responding to homelessness. In some quarters there was even deep resistance and hostility to the notion, commonly expressed by the statement: “We don’t need research – we know what the problems and the solutions are.” In recent years, the situation has improved significantly, as those in policy and practice now generally see the value of research and data and researchers have become much more adept at engaging communities in this work. 

All of this raises the question of what the role of quality research and data should be in the development and implementation of homelessness policies, programs and services?  What sort of collaborations are necessary to ensure quality and utility, and ultimately to contribute to more effective programs and services?

To support this process, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) is working in collaboration with A Way Home Canada (AWHC) and the National Learning Community on Youth Homelessness (NLCYH) to design and implement a vision for a national youth homelessness “Data Dashboard” that will be a resource to support people in communities and all levels of government in their work to prevent and end youth homelessness. The goal of this work is to generate new and useful knowledge that impacts on policy and practice, standard tools and resources to support communities, programs and services in their efforts to get to a place of shared measurement. The values that guide our work include:

  1. We address the problem of youth homelessness from a human rights perspective
  2. All tools and resources must be consistent with a “positive youth development” orientation (focusing not just on risk and vulnerability but also assets)
  3. Young people with lived experience must be meaningfully engaged in the development of these resources
  4. Service providers and government staff have valuable knowledge to contribute to the development of these resources
  5. Data resources must embrace diversity, especially the needs and experiences of Indigenous youth and LGBTQ2S youth
  6. Shared measurement is both effective and central to a Collective Impact approach for community/systems planning
  7. All tools and resources developed are free and open access to help ensure accessibility and wide adoption across the system

On a practical level, our work to support policy making, community planning and program delivery requires us to deepen our understanding of the needs that exist within the youth homelessness sector and government, and to make the case for the benefits of consistent and shared measurement and data collection. To get there, we need to review the strengths and weaknesses of existing tools and resources both within Canada and internationally. We also need to understand the barriers and opportunities for a more coordinated, consistent and shared approach to measurement, program outcomes and data collection, to make the case for why this is important and ensure this vision is communicated clearly. 

The Youth Homelessness Data Dashboard consists of four pillars, which work in an integrated way.

four pillars of the data dashboard
Media Folder: 

1)    Understanding – Research on the causes, conditions and responses to youth homelessness

There is currently a growing knowledge base about the causes and conditions of youth homelessness in Canada and elsewhere in the world. This research can and should have an important contribution to make in terms of conceptual (re)framing of the underlying issues that produce and sustain homelessness, instrumental research that evaluates and assesses programs, policies and strategies, and through the production of solid evidence that frames public debates. If our goal is to engage in research that has an impact on policy and practice, we need to be mindful of the factors that enhance the social impact of research endeavours. What is clear from this scholarship is that research impact is both a process and an outcome of relationship building, collaboration and meaningful processes of interaction between researchers, policy makers, community partners and people facing homelessness. A key example of this kind of work is the recent (and first) national study on youth homelessness, a collaboration between the COH, AWHC and NLCYH. The final report, titled “Without a Home” produced results that have contributed to a national conversation on the role of, and need for homelessness prevention. It has also led to the development of several policy briefs focusing on mental health, child protection (in press) and Indigenous youth (forthcoming). A more ambitious collaborative project we’ve embarked on called the Making the Shift Youth Homelessness Social Innovation Lab involves a series of demonstration projects on prevention interventions as well as the Housing First for Youth framework produced in Canada. Our efforts to develop “proof of concept” for key policy and program models will support taking this knowledge to scale. We will also continue to review the larger research landscape and shine the spotlight on those bodies of work that provide additional insights into the causes, conditions and responses to youth homelessness. 

2) Enumeration – Assessing the current situation (scale and scope of the problem)

To end youth homelessness, we must first understand the extent of the problem and then measure the efficacy of our response. Traditionally, youth have been underrepresented in efforts to enumerate homelessness, largely because these efforts are designed to measure unsheltered and sheltered populations. Fortunately, communities across Canada have started to make strides in developing strategies to better measure youth homelessness. Collectively, our next challenge is to continue to align our enumeration methods, regionally and nationally, to develop a baseline of youth homelessness, a point from which we can measure our progress. 

Integrated Point-in-Time Counts

In 2018, Canada will embark on a truly national Point-in-Time (PiT) count strategy, with a common methodology (and a youth specific strategy) that has been developed in a partnership between the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Government of Canada.  As mentioned, we are exploring the idea of combining a second round of the National Youth Homelessness Survey with the national PiT count. 

In previous PiT counts, there is reason to believe that we are undercounting youth (a comparison to shelter data studies suggests as much). This could be due to the methodological challenges of working with volunteers who may not recognize or prioritize youth in their efforts, concerns about approaching young people, and that youth experiencing homelessness may not frequent places traditionally associated with homelessness. We will use the updated Point-in-Time Count Toolkit to encourage communities to conduct integrated PiT/Youth Counts in 2018. Developing the integrated approach is a process of continuous learning; we expect the methodology to evolve as we learn with and from communities. The integrated methodology, detailed in the toolkit, contains youth count strategies including: magnet events, youth service counts, expanding the definition of homelessness and partnering with youth with lived experience to improve the representation of youth. These new resources can help Community Entities, Service Managers and service providers be more engaged and effective in the PiT Count. In each section of the toolkit, there's guidance on enumerating youth at the end. 

  • A Youth Count Readiness Assessment 
  • module about supporting youth to take leadership roles in the count and/or using the count to initiate youth leadership groups (such as a YLC)
  • module that details how to create a successful youth magnet event, based on the experience of the experience of End Homelessness St. John’s, Choices for Youth and the YLC. 

data tools for shared measurement
Media Folder: 

Complementary Enumeration Methods

Additional enumeration methods such as Registry Weeks, Period Prevalence Counts (and other sanctioned count methodologies) can be used in combination with PiT Counts to provide more robust data. We will work with our partners and communities to determine the extent to which these methods accurately capture the experiences of youth and contribute to our understanding of the scope of the issue. We will also continue to examine the role of By-Name Lists and efforts to collect “real time” data in our efforts on youth homelessness.

Shelter Study Data

The shelter data remains one of the largest datasets on homelessness in Canada. We will continue to use the shelter data to monitor trends in shelter use among youth and contextualize the data with other sources such as PiT Counts and the National Youth Survey. 

Hidden Homelessness

Despite improvements, there are inevitable limitations to our current enumeration methods. PiT Counts, Registry Weeks and Period Prevalence counts cannot accurately enumerate youth who are staying temporarily with friends and family. Accurately measuring hidden homelessness requires a much broader data collection strategy; we will look internationally to identify promising strategies. 

3) Data Management Tools and Shared Measurement – Program level resources

Effective data management begins with clarity about organizational goals and objectives – what is the problem one is trying to solve and what are the outcomes we want to see?  As part of our work towards a data management dashboard system, we will be working with community agencies, policy makers and funders to identify and develop key data management tools to support communities to do their work, and to collect relevant data to measure progress and contribute to continuous improvement. No single tool can do all of the work, as there are a number of points of intervention from screening and assessment, to case management, to program and service level indicators.

Assessment Tools – These are key resources to help determine the needs of youth, program eligibility and priority setting. We will be recommending the Youth Assessment Protocol (which includes both a ‘screener’ and a more extensive assessment tool), which unlike others currently being used is strengths-based, evidence informed and relies on the knowledge of both the young person and the worker. This has been field tested in Canada and will be validated and released more broadly in the coming year.

Case Management Tools – Effective case management is best served by an approach to data that focuses on clear program objectives and outcomes which then drive the service delivery model. A positive youth development perspective (focusing on risks and assets) should likewise guide this approach. Strengths-based tools that incorporate a client-driven ‘stages of change’ approach will be supported. Good case management data tools support outcomes measurement at the individual, worker, program and organization level.

Underlying our approach to data management at the program and organization level is shared measurement, which is key to broader social change. Having agencies and services use common assessment, case management and outcomes measures requires not only agreement within the sector but cooperation from funders. All of this works most effectively if there is some form of data sharing agreement and platform. While respecting privacy, data sharing means that young people can be tracked as they move through the system, and that they don’t have to repeat an intensive (and potentially intrusive) intake every time they encounter a service. The benefits here are many. First, it can support the alignment of program philosophies, activities and outcomes across the sector. Second, it can contribute to enhanced collaboration, systems integration and a rethinking of how to collectively respond to the problem of youth homelessness through Collective Impact. Third, and most importantly, it can potentially lead to better outcomes for youth, as they get access to the services that are most appropriate, enables more effective flow through the system, and holds the sector accountable for better outcomes for youth. 

4)  Demonstrating Progress: Performance Management supporting the prevention and ending of Youth Homelessness

Preventing and ending youth homelessness requires an integrated systems approach. In order to measure progress and the effectiveness of these systems approaches, performance indicators and milestones at the community, provincial/territorial and national levels. It is important to note that integrated systems work necessarily requires a broad cross-sectoral approach and working with key stakeholders that are outside the traditional homelessness sector. Turner identifies that the goal of such a systems-focused performance management process is to help the local community or government:

• Evaluate system’s impact on priority populations;

• Articulate what the system aims to achieve;

• Illustrate the level of performance expected of all services;

• Facilitate client participation in quality assurance activities at program and system-levels; and

• Promote service integration across sector and with mainstream systems.

(Turner, 2015)

Developing and implementing efficient performance measurement processes begins with a collective understanding of performance measures and targets, and that systems and processes (including data management tools and shared measurement discussed above) be in place and supported. 

The key challenges for communities to engage in this important work comes down to resources, training and capacity to collect and manage data and to engage in data analysis and reporting that can contribute to a better understanding of their client base, service level performance, and can lead to continuous improvement. Here, higher levels of government need to fund and support communities to do this work if they want to see outcomes.

In conclusion, the development and implementation of the Canadian Youth Homelessness Data Dashboard will necessarily rely on deep and ongoing partnerships and collaboration between researchers and the users of research and will inform how we think about data for all populations impacted by homelessness. Collaboratively, we explore some bigger questions about the role of knowledge and data collection and the values of different methodologies and approaches to measurement and evaluation. We also need to be realistic about what data can and cannot do. While data is important, we cannot oversell it as a magical solution to the challenges of working to support youth experiencing homelessness. Our desire for evidence-based decision making should not preclude the consideration of innovation in policy and practice for which the current state of evidence for effectiveness may not yet be robust.

Upcoming webinars:

June 28, 1-2:30 p.m. Understanding and Enumerating our Efforts to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness

July 12, 2-3:30 p.m. Research for Data Management and Measuring our Progress at the Systems Level in Preventing and Ending Youth Homelessness

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
June 08, 2017

Having a valid piece of identification is a necessity that many of us take for granted.

In Canada, a parent or a legal guardian must go through the process of securing documentation and identification for their dependants at a very young age, including the birth certificate. For many adults, the responsibilities of renewing one’s health card, driver’s licence or filling out a SIN number for a job application are often overlooked as some of the many miniscule chores they must do as an integrated member of society.

On the other hand, the reality for someone who is experiencing homelessness may be much more complicated, when it comes to the issue of obtaining and keeping identification safe. A number of systemic barriers, including service costs and a lack of affordable housing,often prevent these individuals from having a valid ID. Their unique sets of circumstances such as not having stable housing or being unemployed also make the process of obtaining an ID extremely difficult.

Different provinces have different sets of requirements for the application process that add to these challenges.

In Ontario, the following is required:

To obtain a birth certificate you need:

  • Your first and last name
  • The legal information that will be placed on the birth certificate including: first name, middle name, last name, date of birth, city of birth
  • If applicable, the previous legal names that the applicant had
  • A guarantor (i.e. someone who can verify the validity of the information on the birth certificate. This person has to meet certain requirements, such as having known the person for a minimum of two years and being of a particular occupation.)

To obtain your SIN card, you need one of:

  • A birth certificate (the original document and NOT a photocopy)
  • (If you are a citizen): a certificate of Canadian Citizenship
  • Certificate of Registration of Birth Abroad

More documentation is needed to acquire a health card (OHIP)—you must have three pieces of identification proving citizenship or residency. This means you need a permanent address and an additional piece of ID with both your name and signature to support your identity, as well as another mailing item that proves your residency at the given address.

An illustration of John Doe's ID
Media Folder: 
This highlights a common dilemma that Canadians without IDs face, as the process of obtaining ID requires possession of ID. In fact, many cases require multiple pieces of ID.

Without a stable place to call “home,” someone who is experiencing homelessness may not have the means to complete forms such as birth certificates for several reasons, such as not having the necessary parental information or difficulties with reading and writing. Even if such resources are available to them, they also may not have the transportation necessary to travel to a Service Ontario location to apply for their ID.

And for those frequently moving from one location to the next, there may not be the social connections to obtain a guarantor necessary to vouch for their identity. Some may also have their identification lost or stolen. Moreover, even if they do get through this process, there is the additional issue of not having a permanent address where their identification can be mailed to them.

These factors may discourage persons experiencing homelessness from even trying to begin the application process, leaving them unable to verify who they are, thus forcing them to live in a state of systemic invisibility. The invisibility that results from not being able to verify one’s identity can lead to barriers in accessing crucial services, such as the health care system.

What Can Be Done?

While there are “ID clinics” across Canada, other efforts can resolve some of the identification challenges the homeless population face.

To remove some of the service accessibility barriers that homeless individuals deal with, one of the solutions is to offer financial assistance or waive ID fees for individuals who do not meet the low-income cut off. And for those who are leaving the correctional system, it may be helpful to provide them with at least a single piece of ID.

A lack of identification is a symptom rather than a cause of homelessness. In other words, conditions of homelessness such as lacking secure housing, and not having a job and dealing with the everyday realities of extreme poverty, make it difficult to keep and obtain pieces of identification.

There are projects that take this into account. For example, Partners for Access and Identification (PAID) is a program that recognizes the barriers a lack of identification presents for those who are not permanently housed. There are more than 40 locations across the Greater Toronto Area, which provide assistance to individuals without permanent addresses to obtaining identification.

Who Can Help?

Supports are available to assist with the application process and storage of ID:


Partners for Access and Identification Program (PAID): a program that includes over 40 locations across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), dedicated to helping individuals acquire identification.

The ID Project” at Ottawa Mission: Individuals who are a part of the homeless population and have had their IDs lost or stolen can access the help of lawyers and law students through this clinic.  Services are free-of-charge and assistance is provided with health cards, birth certificates, SIN cards and photo ID cards.

Street Health:  Offers I.D replacement clinics and I.D storage in the Dundas and Sherbourne Toronto area.

I.D Safe: Program that operates on weekdays, providing ID storage. To access, you must call 416-921-8668 ext. 234.

Service Canada Centres: (Various locations across provinces and cities). Provides general information regarding how to replace identification, such as passports and SIN cards.

St. John’s Kitchen: offers free ID clinics provided by the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre on Tuesdays, between 10 AM - 1PM.  Located at 97 Victoria St. S, in Kitchener, Ontario.


Personal Identification Certified Agency List: List includes four sites in Alberta for ID assistance, including: the Sheldon M Chumir Health Centre in Calgary, CSC Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat Regional Hospital in Medicine Hat.

AHS ID Program: Includes the four above mentioned Alberta ID assistance locations, with the additional Grande Prairie Aberdeen Centre.

British Columbia:

BC Housing Homeless Outreach Program: Provides those who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness with a variety of services. An outreach worker meets the person who requires assistance where they are. One of the services offered is assistance with obtaining identification.


Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon Inner City (CLASSIC) Project ID:
Program set up to address community need for getting and replacing ID, in locations across Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Know any other resources in Canada? Leave them in the comments below.



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