Research Matters Blog

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/The Homeless Hub
November 30, 2010

How to make friends using social media

When I started working on the Homeless Hub website just over a year ago, one of the main goals the Homeless Hub Team had set in place was to grow its audience and thereby its contents’ reach. The website was only 6 months old at the time and already it housed thousands of resources (today it’s over 30,000), many of them Homeless Hub originals. These originals range from personal stories from those who’ve experienced homelessness to Q&A videos with experts in the field. There are also plenty of resources for teachers, students, service providers and researchers – truly something for everyone!

The Team was adding new content on a daily basis to ensure the homepage was constantly new. The content was fantastic but it wasn’t getting out to those who needed it. 

We decided to switch gears. 

Instead of waiting for folks to find the Homeless Hub on their own, we took the Homeless Hub to them through social media. This approach, while somewhat experimental in nature, has allowed us to showcase specific pieces of content in attempt to pique our readers’ interest with the hopes of leading them to the Homeless Hub website for more.

And what a change it has made! Using social media has allowed us to hook more visitors and grow our audience in a way we had never imagined.

How did we do it?


Twitter – What a concept! 

I had to start somewhere, and while it was a mystery to me as to what exactly Twitter was, it didn’t take long to see how it worked and what the benefits of it were. I began “tweeting” links to our newest resources on a daily basis and I started “following” homelessness-related organizations across the country.  Soon enough, people and organizations began to “follow” me back, re-tweet (share) the content I’d been posting and our network quickly began to grow. To my surprise, Twitter not only helped showcase our content, but it also provided me new content to showcase on the Homeless Hub. Suddenly I was coming across dozens of new resources because others were tweeting their content, too.


Tip: Tweet often to keep your audience engaged. One tweet a day is easy to do, and it’ll keep your followers interested. Get your entire office on board – the more tweeters, the better!



Building a community through Facebook

This was the next step. While Twitter encourages you to grab ideals in short snippets, Facebook is better suited to display more detailed posts, complete with images and links. It also acts as a forum, where users can ask questions and leave feedback. The best part is, you can customize your page to showcase your YouTube videos, Twitter tweets and RSS feeds from your website so that the page can maintain itself with little effort on your part. 

Tip: Take a look at these five essential apps for your organization’s Facebook page.


Show off your expertise by blogging about it

Blogging allows us to share our knowledge and personal experiences in the field, and it invites our readers to share their own opinions on the subjects in question. By using plain language in posts, our readers are essentially given a Coles Notes version of an academic article which would otherwise be inaccessible to them, either because of its intimidating academic language or due to a paid subscription requirement for accessing the original content, or both.


We’ve also been fortunate enough to have several guest bloggers blog about issues they’re experts in to give us new perspective. Blogging is also a good way to gauge what types of content intrigues your audience, judging by their comments (or lack thereof).  Our experience so far is that blogging on a recently released report or controversial issue can draw quite a bit of attention.

Tip: Take a look at this video blog on why researchers should blog, though it can be applied to many professions.


Let's not forget about e-mail

The Homeless Hub’s monthly e-newsletter has been a great success!  It’s kept our content in front of our users and reminded them that we’re constantly growing. Our audience is unique in that it covers not only an entire nation, but a vast set of professions all working to eradicate homelessness and poverty. The content of our newsletter keeps this in mind so that there’s always something of interest for everyone. 

Tip: Make the subject of your emails catchy. “Newsletter Issue 5” doesn’t sound half as interesting as “Should we give money to panhandlers?” Remember, it’s about the content not the tool that delivers the content.


Of course there are many other social media avenues to test and some are more successful than others, depending on the type and purpose of your organization.


So, should I tweet? Let's look at the numbers

The numbers say it all. As a result of the above-mentioned efforts, the Homeless Hub's visitor count has more than tripled since November '09, jumping from 2,350 to 8,900 
unique visitors/mo. This leap didn't happen overnight. The numbers rose as the days went on, with each new Tweet we wrote, Facebook friend we made, every newsletter we mailed and with each blog post we wrote. I think it's safe to say this social media experiment was a success!


I hope these tips have been helpful in terms of developing your own social media strategy. Let us know what’s worked for you!

Stephanie Szakall is the Homeless Hub Coordinator. She's been working in the social justice field for over 5 years as a multimedia/web and graphic designer. She has an HonBA from McMaster University. Upon graduation, she spent 2 years working in the Communications department for a human rights NGO in Geneva, Switzerland.

November 19, 2010

By Stephen Hwang & Emily Holton

For the first time in Canada, we have the numbers to show that people who are vulnerably housed face the same severe health problems - and danger of assault - as people who are homeless. This means that the number of people experiencing the devastating health outcomes associated with inadequate housing could be staggering. There are about 17,000 shelter beds available across Canada every night, but almost 400,000 Canadians are vulnerably housed. This means that for each person who is homeless in Canada, there are more than 20 other low-income individuals who are vulnerably housed - paying more than half of their monthly income for rent, and living with substantial risk of becoming homeless. We’ve shed light on a hidden emergency.

For the Health and Housing in Transition (HHiT) study, we interviewed 1200 vulnerably housed and homeless single adults in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa. The results were disturbing. People who don’t have a healthy place to live - regardless of whether they’re vulnerably housed or homeless - are at high risk of serious physical and mental health problems and major problems accessing the health care they need. Many end up hospitalized or in the emergency department. Almost half (40%) of people who don’t have a healthy place to live have been assaulted at least once in the past year, and 1 in 3 (33%) have trouble getting enough to eat.

Housing vulnerability and Health: Canada's Hidden Emergency cover
Media Folder: 

Check out the report on our early findings here: Housing Vulnerability and Health: Canada’s Hidden Emergency. We’re presenting it today at National Housing Day in Ottawa. Over the next two years, the HHiT study will continue to track the health and housing status of our participants. The results will help us better understand how changes in housing status can affect health. They will also help us to identify factors that help people achieve stable, healthy housing.

Having a roof over one’s head is not enough. The HHiT results showed us that the real gulf in health outcomes doesn’t lie between people who are homeless and people who aren’t homeless. It’s between those who have continued access to healthy housing, and those who don’t. To support health, housing must be decent (i.e. good quality), stable (i.e. affordable), and appropriate to its residents’ needs. We’re calling for the federal government to respond by setting national housing standards that ensure universal, timely access to healthyhousing. The need is overwhelming.


Stephen Hwang's primary appointment is in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto, with cross-appointments in the Departments of Public Health Sciences and Health Policy, Management and Evaluation. His research focuses on deepening our understanding of the relationship between homelessness, housing, and health through epidemiologic studies, health services research, and longitudinal cohort studies. His current research projects include a study of predictors of health care utilization in a representative sample of 1,200 homeless men, women, and families in Toronto, a study of the barriers to the management of chronic pain among homeless people, and an evaluation of the effects of a supportive housing program on health and health care utilization among homeless and hard-to-house individuals.

Emily Holton is a research writer and knowledge transfer specialist at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health, St. Michael's Hospital.

York University
October 25, 2010

When we talk about the Canadian response to homelessness, we usually refer to things like emergency shelters, charitable food programs, drop ins and other supports.  One of the things we don’t talk about enough is the relationship between homelessness and criminal justice. That is, one of the central features of our response is the use of policing, courts and jails as a way of dealing with homelessness.

A recently released report by the John Howard society presents a powerful indictment (if I can use court language) of this situation.  In their study, Homeless and Jailed, Jailed and Homeless, the JHS research team interviewed 363 sentenced prisoners, and they uncovered some disturbing findings.  For instance, I think that many Canadians would be surprised to learn that roughly one in every five prisoners was homeless immediately prior to winding up in jail.  

What about when they are to be released?  What these reseachers found was that 85.5% of those who were formerly homeless anticipated being homeless upon release.  Worse still, 16.4% of those who were housed before serving jail time anticipated being homeless upon release.  In other words, incarceration is likely producing homelessness.

The writers argue: "Homeless prisoners are a vulnerable group – they tend to be older, 22.3 percent are 50 years of age or older. A high proportion of them, 43.3 percent, have severe health impairments. Most of them rely on income support programs, whose benefits they lose while in jail; in many cases, they must re-apply for these benefits after they are discharged."

So what can we learn from all this?  Here are some key things to think about:

First, our reliance on using "emergency services" as our key response to homelessness in Canada (as opposed to preventing people from becoming homeless, or rapidly rehousing them) puts homeless people in harms way, and leads to a cycle of homelessness / prison / homelessness.

Second, we need to acknowledge that a central feature of our response to homelessness is the criminalization of the homeless. Whether through ticketing, special laws like the Safe Streets Act, or local efforts to ‘clean up the streets’, we use the justice system as a central strategy to deal with homelessness and extreme poverty.  We need to ask, ‘why are we putting so many homeless people in jail?”  This is a pretty expensive way to deal with the problem.

Finally, we need to some serious reforms in corrections if we want to address the problem of homelessness.  One of the outcomes of the ‘get tough on crime’ movement has been a set of reforms that reduce in-prison rehabilitation programs, and undermine effective discharge planning.  Discharge planning helps prepare prisoners for release from prision (and the vast majority do get released!) and should include ensuring people have a safe place to stay.

We know from other research (here, here and here) that inadequate discharge planning often leads to homelessness, and that ex-prisoners who become homeless do less well than those who are able to secure housing.  In a sense, the lack of effective discharge planning becomes a ‘crime production’ policy and practice.

The cycle between prison and jail is one that we must address, and can stop.

For additional reading, see the Homeless Hub's Legal and Justice Issues topic:

- Criminalization of homelessness
- Corrections and rehabilitation programs

Also see the Safe Streets Act, 1999, of Ontario.

By Tim Richter & Katrina Milaney 

In the year 2000, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released a report calling for communities across the U.S. to develop and implement 10 year plans to end homelessness. The shift from managing homelessness to ending it became a priority and by 2010, over 300 communities in the U.S. have developed 10 year plans to end homelessness.

The question is do they work? Are cities with plans to end homelessness actually ending homelessness?  While specifics vary across communities, the following are three examples:

Denver, CO:
The Denver plan was implemented in 2005. In the first two years, they had reduced over all homelessness by 11% and chronic homelessness by 36%. They further assisted over 3,600 homeless people to find employment and developed over 1,500 new housing units for homeless people.

Sacramento, CA:
Despite the downturn in the economy, in a two year period from 2007 to 2009, chronic homelessness was reduced by 35%. This was largely because 320 people were housed and 298 supportive housing units were created. Core strategies within the Sacramento plan include adopting the ‘housing first’ approach and creating permanent supportive housing for individuals with disabilities.

Portland, OR:
Within four and half years, over 2,000 people received housing. In 2009, 757 people received discharge planning upon release from health, psychiatric and correctional facilities to prevent homelessness. Since 2005, more than 3,643 households received rental assistance and avoided eviction into homelessness. Of those who were contacted 12 months later, 81% were still in housing 3 . 

Currently, ending homelessness efforts are happening internationally and in 2008 Calgary became the first Canadian city to implement its own 10 year plan. Challenges were many. Any successful plan would need to build on international successes but be locally relevant. A paradigm shift was necessary, that is, shifting the thinking of politicians, policy makers, service providers and people experiencing homelessness that ending homelessness was not only necessary, but possible. As well, success required building multi-sector support for the plan, ensuring the plan was community led and sustainably funded.

Despite these challenges, in the first two years of Calgary’s plan there have been numerous successes


  • more than 3,000 affordable housing units have been funded through partnerships with all three levels of government
  • more than 1,500 people have received housing with support
  • the number of people accessing Housing & Urban Affairs shelters has stabilized on a monthly basis after years of continuous growth
  • the allocation of more than $70 million dollars in funding  towards best practices for ending homelessness including priority to ‘housing first’ programs
  • development of a policy agenda for municipal, provincial and federal governments to increase the stock of affordable housing, to reduce barriers to access supports and to expand homelessness prevention efforts
  • implementation of Calgary’s Homelessness Management Information System (HMIS) in 25 agencies by December 2010, with a total of 80 participating agencies will be online by 2012.

In addition, a considerable amount of rigorous collaborative research has been done in Calgary and across Canada leading to a clearer understanding of people’s experiences, pathways and patterns of homelessness and the economic and social costs associated with managing instead of ending homelessness. Examples include development of a toolkit for use with the Re-housing Triage Assessment Tool for prioritizing interventions for those most at risk, the Risks and Assets for Homelessness Prevention developed to prevent homelessness, dimensions of promising practice for case management in housing first, an ethnographic account of panhandling and informal labour amongst homeless Calgarians, exploratory GIS analysis of vulnerability, and housing challenges for newcomers. Development of best practices for the ‘support’ in ‘housing first’ and local, national and international networks have also been established.

Most important, momentum is building. All seven cities in Alberta have their own plans and Alberta remains the first and only province committed to ending homelessness.  All of this progress is  evidence that government, academics, researchers, service providers and our homeless neighbours are committed to ending homelessness and that comprehensive, collaborative 10 year plans do work.

What’s next?
Several years of learning from around the world and almost three years in Calgary show that ending homelessness is a process that is constantly evolving. We must continue to learn, adapt, and fine tune, to ensure that interventions are appropriate, reflective and relevant and have one definitive goal, ending homelessness.

Link to Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End homelessness

Link to Alberta 10 Year Plan to End homelessness


1.  Denver: Beyond Planning. Here

2. Sacramento City and County: 10 Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness

3. Home Again: a 10 year plan to End Homelessness in Portland and Multnomah County. 2009 Annual Report: Here


Tim Richter is the President and CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation. He was drawn into a new career in the non-profit sector by the opportunity to lead the development of Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness as project manager for the Calgary Committee to End Homelessness. Prior to joining the Calgary Homeless Foundation, Tim was Director of Government Relations at TransAlta Corporation, one of Canada’s largest private power generation and wholesale marketing companies with operations in Canada, the United States and Australia. In addition to his work in the private sector, Tim has a long history of public service including work as a political staffer in Ottawa and seven years service in the Canadian Forces Army Reserve.

Katrina Milaney is the Manager of Community Based Research and Knowledge Mobilization with the Calgary Homeless Foundation. Katrina has been a researcher for several years engaged in numerous collaborative projects that uncover the root causes of social issues and how solutions to those social issues can advance social change. Katrina has a Masters degree in Community Health Sciences and is currently pursing a PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies. She is a regular guest lecturer at the University of Calgary has been with the Calgary Homeless Foundation since June 2009.


York University
September 27, 2010

Would you be outraged if your child was exposed to violence?  Would your community consider this unacceptable? 

That’s what I thought.

Then why do we, as a society, tolerate this when it comes to homeless youth?

In 2009, Bill O’Grady and I interviewed 244 homeless youth in Toronto.  We asked them about their life on the streets and if they’d ever been a victim of crime.  What we found was astounding and we’ve documented it in our report: Surviving Crime and Violence: Street Youth Victimization in Toronto (2010).

People tend to think of homeless youth as trouble makers and delinquents; as perpetrators of crime rather than victims.  But that’s not what we found.  In reality, street youth are often the victims of violent crime.  This is mainly because of the vulnerability they face by not having a home.  To make matters worse, we found that this victimization isn’t really being addressed by the police or the courts. 

Here are some of the Key findings fromour research:

  • When young people become homeless, they are much more likely than youth with homes to be victims of crime and violence.
  • Young women in particular are much more likely to be victimized, and report high levels of sexual assault and partner abuse.
  • The younger you are, and the earlier you leave home, the more vulnerable you are to criminal victimization.
  • The solution to this problem lies in changing the way we address youth homelessness.

If the levels of violence and crime found in our study were experienced by any other group in Canada, there would be immediate public outrage and pressure for the government to take action. Street youth deserve that same level of outrage directed toward their personal safety. They deserve the same response that any other group in Canada is entitled to.

I have written about this subject before, and with this new research, I am even more convinced that our current response to youth homelessness is not working. There is no doubt that being homeless puts young people at a high risk for violence and crime, and that we should be doing anything and everything we can to give young people the safety and support they need to get off the streets.

For street youth to have an opportunity to move forward in life, they need to be safe and protected from all forms of crime. Having a roof over ones head should not be a factor here and we need to press our government to make changes so that young people who become homeless have real options.

Surviving Crime and Violence report cover
Media Folder: 


You can find the report, which includes our findings, recommendations and much more on the Homeless Hub.

Stephen Gaetz talks about street youth as victims of crime. Watch the video

Listen to Stephen's interview with CBC Metro Morning.

Surviving Crime and Violence: Street Youth Victimization in Toronto was created for Justice for Children and Youthand was written by Stephen Gaetz, Bill O’Grady and Kristy Buccieri.


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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.