Research Matters Blog

Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association
October 02, 2013

This infographic represents some of the public perspectives on homelessness in Greater Victoria. In this survey, 85% of people felt that affordable housing could help reduce homelessness, however, lack of affordable housing wasn’t listed in the top 5 causes of homelessness.

The high ranking of mental health in the perceived causes made me reflect on my own experiences and perceptions of mental health. As we showed in the earlier infographic on homelessness and mental health, there is certainly a connection. I wondered what conditions would it take for me to lose access to safe housing? If everyone in my household lost their sources of income and loan sources dried up, how long would I have before I couldn’t afford safe housing? Unfortunately, it can be much quicker than some people think.

During my undergraduate degree at Ryerson University I took a course on homelessness in Canadian society that was taught by Tanya Gulliver and Pascal Murphy. During one of the early classes, we were discussing the definitions of homelessness. A few people in the class had ‘couch surfed’ or stayed with friends due to a temporary lack of access to housing. Those who had, didn’t identify themselves as having experienced homelessness. Mental illness is fairly prevalent in Canada; surely some of those students had various hidden disabilities. However, they wouldn’t necessarily have said that their mental illness was the cause of their lack of housing. Other reasons that they were without housing included:

  • low rental vacancy rates
  • having to leave substandard housing
  • they were ‘between places’
  • lack of available affordable housing

It is difficult to explain that there is certainly a connection between homelessness and mental health. However, even if someone has a mental illness it wasn’t necessarily a cause of his or her homelessness.

With social support someone may have access to a temporary place to stay. Without support, those same people may be forced to access emergency services or sleep outside. This infographic does a great job at presenting some of the basic public perceptions of homelessness.

Despite the one major problem with public perception, there are several positive findings:

  • 2 of 3 people surveyed thought it would cost more to provide someone with services when they are experiencing homelessness, than it does to provide housing.
  • 59% believed that homelessness can be ended.
  • 84% agree that affordable housing is the government’s responsibility.

I will end this blog post with another quote from the Coalition to End Homelessness in Greater Victoria.

“Anyone can become homeless in the current economic conditions. Homelessness is not a static state but rather a fluid experience, where one’s shelter circumstances and options may shift and change quite dramatically and with frequency. Experiences of homelessness are unique and each individual or family will have a story about their pathways into and out of homelessness.”

How does Greater Victoria feel about Homelessness

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
September 30, 2013

Last week at the Hub, Results From Toronto's "street census": The 2013 Street Needs Assessment ran some of the more shocking figures from the Toronto 2013 Street Needs Assessment Report. One of the interesting figures was a twofold increase of people aged 61 and over in the Toronto homeless population from 2009 to 2013. 

On a similar note, Natalie Waldbrook's Homelessness, Stable Housing, and Opportunities for Healthy Aging: Exploring The Relationships dissertation tackles the relationship between growing older and leading a healthy lifestyle in the context of housing insecurity. For a country with an aging population her research touches on a few spots that tend to be overlooked in homelessness research. 

Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY) identified gaps in the child welfare law in Ontario, where 16 and 17 year olds currently don't have to access to child welfare services and are therefore left with few choices when it comes with their safety and security once they age out of care. JFCY brought the issue to Queen's Park in the form of Bill 88 to change the existing laws. This bill unanimously passed Second Reading and is on way to become law cutting kids on a street a much needed break. 

In case you missed it, the Wellesley Institute put out a report on how the Ontario government can improve health in the province by reducing poverty. Steven Barnes also looked at this report in the context of the government's five year Poverty Reduction Strategy in his Poverty is a Health Issue: What to look for in the next Poverty Reduction Strategy blog post. 

On the research end of things, a new study came out that was conducted on the housing needs of women leaving situations where they've experienced intimate partner violence. This study works to suggest policy alternatives to address the specific housing needs of abused women in the context of the 2008 US housing crisis and recession.

For anyone working in the homeless sector looking to conduct a program evaluation for their organization, we have an online course to help you through the ins and outs of the process. However, the deadline for registration is today! You still have time to register and learn more here:

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University
September 27, 2013
Categories: Ask the Hub

Buddy, can you spare a dime job?

Dear Homeless Hub,
How can a woman with children who is experiencing homelessness look for work?

Rob Evans

Dear Rob,

With great difficulty. And that’s true for all people dealing with homelessness – or even living in poverty – not just women with children. The emergency shelter system and income support systems as a whole can create barriers to employment. At the same time society holds an expectation that people will find work to remove themselves from dependency upon the system.

As a group, people experiencing homelessness tend to have less access to resources and employment opportunities. Sometimes this results from factors that led them into homelessness including a low level of literacy or education, addictions or mental health issues. They may be suffering from trauma or violence experienced at the hands of a family member or partner. Some people have been released from jail into homelessness and have to combat the stigma of both homelessness and incarceration/criminal record.

Not having a permanent address or having an address that is known to be a shelter can lead to driscrimincation from employers

The challenges to finding work include a lack of access to résumé printing, internet use, transportation and a phone. Not having a permanent address or having an address that is known to be a shelter also can lead to discrimination from employers. Many shelters don’t have enough showers so the ability to look presentable – including good hygiene and appropriate clothing – can be very challenging. As career counsellors always say, “first impressions count for a lot”. For parents with children, as in your question, the ability to find and pay for child-care in both the job search phase and during the first few weeks of employment is often very limited. Having money for transportation, work clothes or a lunch, if successful in finding a job, is also a barrier to full employment.

As a result, some people living in shelters or sleeping rough turn to the “informal economy”. This includes panhandling, busking, squeegeeing, sex work, selling drugs or working under the table in a cash job. When I used to work at a shelter in Oshawa there were often people coming in to hire our residents to help with apple picking and chicken catching.

For more information see our topics on Employment and Employment Training. There are some great tool-kits – the Scottish Homelessness & Employability Tool Kit and Youth Employment: A Practical Tool Kit for Employers and Agencies – that can help organizations improve the odds of someone finding employment. Also, two chapters in our Youth Homelessness in Canada e-book address this topic. In Chapter 15, “Why Don’t You Just Get a Job? Homeless Youth, Social Exclusion and Employment Training”, Steve Gaetz and Bill O’Grady explore the challenges of work for street youth and discuss a framework for developing effective employment programs for youth. In Chapter 17, “It’s Everybody’s Business: Raising the Roof’s Private Sector Engagement Project”, Amanda Noble and Lola Oseni share their strategies for getting the private sector to see the benefits of supporting youth employment.

This post is part of our 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.

Wellesley Institute
September 26, 2013

Living on a low income affects people’s lives in many ways. It can mean having fewer opportunities to fully participate in important day-to-day activities like work and education. But living on a low income can also contribute to having poorer health than those who are better off. Poverty is a health issue, but poverty and poor health are not inevitable.

Ontario is currently working on a new five-year Poverty Reduction Strategy. This provides an excellent opportunity for the province to set out their concrete steps to reduce poverty in the short- and medium-term. A new Wellesley Institute report details how the province can improve the health of all Ontarians by reducing poverty. This is the first in a series of three blogs that set out how to create a Poverty Reduction Strategy that enables good health for all.

Income security

Ensuring that all Ontarians have adequate income is critical to achieving the Poverty Reduction Strategy’s goals. Employment should be a path out of poverty, but we know that many employed Ontarians are unable to afford basic necessities and that this can have negative health impacts.

One area that needs urgent attention is Ontario’s minimum wage. The minimum wage has been frozen at $10.25 since 2010 and there are a growing number of Ontarians who are ‘working poor’. Working poverty can have serious health impacts: Ontario data show that 66 percent of people who were working and made sufficient incomes reported their health as excellent or very good as compared with 49 percent of those who were working poor. Setting the minimum wage at 10 percent above the poverty line and indexing it to inflation will be good for the health of Ontarians.

The Ontario Employment Standards Act sets out the minimum terms and conditions that all employees can expect with regard to wages and other working conditions. These standards are important to all workers, but they are especially so for marginalized workers who are least able to negotiate fair wages and working conditions for themselves. Ensuring that people get paid for the work that they do, and that their pay is in compliance with the law is an effective way to reduce poverty. The Poverty Reduction Strategy should commit to improving enforcement and modernizing the Employment Standards Act.

Increasingly, Ontarians are finding themselves in low-wage work without security or benefits. Precarious forms of employment – like part-time, contract positions that do not offer benefits – are on the rise. Many of these jobs are in the service sector where it is very difficult for employees to choose to unionize and to keep their union once they have decided to join one. Ontario’s Labour Relations Act needs to be updated to reflect the changing structure of the labour market. The Poverty Reduction Strategy should update the Labour Relations Act to protect workers’ collective bargaining rights.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy also needs to address the adequacy of social assistance rates. Social assistance rates are currently set at levels that are too low for recipients to maintain good health. Last year, the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario recommended the creation of a Basic Measure of Adequacy that included the cost of food, clothing and footwear, basic personal and household needs, transportation, and shelter. The Poverty Reduction Strategy should commit to ensuring that social assistance rates are set at a level that allows recipients to afford these basic necessities of life.

These are four areas of action in which policy solutions to improve income security are well-know, actionable and supported by research. The new Poverty Reduction Strategy should take action in these areas to improve the incomes – and health – of all Ontarians.

Stay tuned for the second in this three-part poverty reduction blog series: housing and homelessness.

Reposted with permission from the Wellesley Institute.

Steve Barnes is a Policy Analyst at the Wellesley Institute. He holds a MA in political science from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and has published on political leadership and political socialization. Prior to joining the Wellesley Institute Steve worked as a policy advisor for the Government of Ontario. He has also held positions in the New Zealand public sector and at Victoria University. Steve’s policy interests include understanding how policy decisions made outside of the health sphere affect health outcomes and creating policy solutions that address unequal and unfair health outcomes.

Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association
September 25, 2013

In Toronto, the Street Needs Assessment (SNA) began in 2006 as a form of ‘street census’ to attempt a point in time count to estimate the number of people experiencing homelessness. A second Street Needs Assessment was taken in 2009. The SNA are surveys that are mainly carried out by trained volunteers. The goal of the SNA is to provide a basic estimate, and some information on service utilization. The SNA is basically a detailed point in time count, which attempt to be representative of how many people were experiencing homeless on a particular day (this year it was April 17, 2013). This can present challenges with having a representative count, depending on weather and other factors people may be harder to contact. The Toronto SNA attempts to overcome this challenge by surveying at different locations including outdoors, city-administered shelters (family and non-family), violence against women shelters, health & treatment facilities and correctional facilities.

Toronto’s 2013 Street Needs Assessment Report was released this previous week (September 18). This year’s SNA had over 2,000 participants, making it the best response that Toronto has seen. The SNA was expanded to include 13 questions and this year was the first year that included an option to self identify as LGBTQ.

Some of the other important findings include:

  • The average length of homelessness for those surveyed is 3.1 years (7.5 years for those who live outdoors). 
  • 1 out of 3 people experiencing homelessness who sleep outdoors identified as Aboriginal, this is an 18% increase from 2009. In contrast, 16% of the overall homeless population identified as Aboriginal, this increased from 15% in 2009. 
  • 15.6% of the outdoor homeless population reported that they had served in the military.  
  • 10% of those experiencing homelessness are 61 or older (this is over 2 times higher than in 2009). 
  • 47.8% visited a hospital in the past 6 months prior to April 17. 
  • 48.7% indicated that they are on a waiting list for subsidized housing. 
  • 4 out of 5 individuals have lived in Toronto for over a year. 

This year’s SNA shows that there is still a lot of work to be done. A huge percentage of those experiencing homelessness want housing and almost half are on the waiting list for subsidized housing. Though there has been progress since 2006, it is disheartening to see an increase over the previous 4 years.

Homelessness in Toronto



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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.