Research Matters Blog

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 thehub@edu.yorku.ca, 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.

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University
September 13, 2013

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

Last week we received this question via Twitter :

Why don't governements LISTEN? Social housing is cheap compared to jail, hospitals

Thanks for a great question. Multiple answers come to mind.

  1. Sometimes they DO listen. The Province of Alberta is miles ahead of every other government in Canada in terms of showing strong leadership and commitment to end homelessness. In 2009, they became the very first province/territory in the country to actually pledge to end homelessness. For three years their work was overseen by the Alberta Secretariat for Action on Homelessness which released a 3 year progress report card in 2012 on the goal of ending homelessness. In early 2013, the Secretariat was replaced by the Alberta Interagency Council on Homelessness. This council brings together several different arms of government, as well as other stakeholders, to ensure that there is a systems-wide response and commitment to the plan. There are seven cities in the province — CalgaryEdmontonLethbridgeMedicine HatWood BuffaloRed Deer and Grand Prairie — who have developed multi-year plans to end homelessness. Alberta also has a strategy to reduce child poverty.

  2. The NIMBY syndrome — Not In My Backyard — is a huge problem in getting governments onside. Many politicians tend to listen to those people who a) have power and b) have money. As a result, home owners and neighbourhood associations often hold more sway than tenant groups and homeless advocates. Affordability and Choice Today has a great powerpoint presentation “Housing in My Backyard: A Municipal Guide for Responding to NIMBY.” While it’s geared towards politicians and municipal staff and politicians it can help anyone learn about overcoming NIMBYism. In a research report, “The Homeless Crisis in Canada: If Not in My Backyard, Then Whose? Overcoming Community Opposition to Homelessness Sheltering Projects Through the Use of Conflict Theory” Jeannine E. Wynne-Edwards looks at a variety of case studies to understand the roots of NIMBY opposition and suggests recommendations for countering it. Even governmental agencies have developed anti-NIMBY work. “Gaining Community Acceptance of Affordable Housing Projects and Homeless Shelters” is a report on workshops developed through a partnership between the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and and the Housing and Homelessness Branch of Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) to work with communities in addressing NIMBYism.

  3. Political advocacy is multi-layered process. You have to make the right case, to the right people, at the right time. Using a variety of different techniques and tools often has the greatest impact. It isn’t an easy battle but it is winnable. It is possible to end, or at least extremely reduce, homelessness in Canada.
  • Write, email or call your politician. Since so many people don’t speak up your voice has power. You can find contact info for MPs here. Don’t forget, no postage is required to send a letter to your federal Member of Parliament. Ask them where they stand on the issue and what they plan to do to end homelessness.

  • Build an alliance of like-minded people to share a similar message. Many cities — like Greater Victoria and Ottawa — already have coalitions to end homelessness or similar groups that are active and engaged. Join their mailing lists or volunteer with one of these groups to learn more.

  • Stay informed so that you can speak about the issue using facts and figures. Both the Homeless Hub and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness have newsletters that provide great information and resources. Share these with your colleagues, friends and family.
  • Use social media to your advantage. State the facts. Clearly. Repeatedly. Politicians can get overwhelmed with the barrage of information that comes at them daily. Here at the Homeless Hub we love sharing infographics and simple facts on Facebook and Twitter to make our points. In talking to politicians here are some resources and statements you can use:

a. Homelessness costs $7 billion annually.

Homelessness cost Canadian 7 billion annually

b. More than 30,000 people are homeless any given night. (Pick a city near to your politician’s hometown that is close to that size and say “Imagine if everyone in XX city was homeless.” (As an example, Stratford, ON; West Kelowna, BC and Moose Jaw, SK are all very close to the 30,000 mark).

30000 people are homeless on any given night

c. It is much cheaper to house people than it is to keep them in shelters, hospitals or jail.

The average montly cost of housing people while they are homeless

Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association
September 11, 2013

It seems to be pretty common for my generation to worry about graduating into the labour force without an abundant supply of good, stable employment. As the infographic below points out, the price of housing is also increasing and it becomes a challenge to live in some major cities. For some of those who graduate from post secondary institutions, there can be some risk once they are unable to access loans that supported their ability to live on their own. Some people adjust to this change by moving back in with family, others may be forced to temporarily “couch surf” with friends (becoming part of the hidden homeless population).

Despite this worry, it can be problematic to think that everyone is being affected equally by these economic conditions. Overall, businesses are still more likely to hire people with a university education (as mentioned in this Huffington Post article). This still creates a greater advantage to those who are emerging with a degree.

Youth who are experiencing homelessness face additional barriers that prevent them from immediately getting a job. At times youth may be accessing multiple support services to survive, while also trying to find a job that requires them to compete with others who have more education and experience. This scenario makes finding employment even more daunting.

There are organizations such as those that partner with Raising the Roof that are working hard to create better jobs for young people experiencing homelessness. Organizations have helped youth gain employment skills and experience by providing necessary support and building relationships with businesses. There are great examples and models that have been established for designing these programs throughout each province in Canada.

Despite the frustration of long job searches after graduating post-secondary education, Canadian youth who have a degree also have the potential to access better jobs than those without (that is not to say that all graduates have equal access to good jobs). Therefore, it is important to call for the creation of jobs for those with the highest levels education however, it is also important to address the lack of stable jobs for those with barriers to the labour market.

A snapshot of the financial realities facing millennials

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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.