McGill University
December 13, 2017

From my point of view, the Canadian Definition of Homelessness is one of the most important research-to-action initiatives that the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) has undertaken.

In 2012, I undertook a study of the COH’s networking and knowledge mobilization processes. One of the things I sought to talk to people about was the creation of the definition because people at the COH saw it as an important outcome of their work. I couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about, but I was curious to understand. When I started to speak to people across Canada about their involvement with the Canadian Homelessness Research Network (which later became the COH), I was surprised by how many people spoke about the Definition. Defining Homelessness enabled people on the ground to get on the same page about what they understood homelessness to mean or look like in their communities. It was a pivotal first step in enabling communities to enumerate the problem and understand its scale from coast to coast.

Without a common definition, it is impossible to say with certainty whether our efforts are contributing to reductions in the numbers of people experiencing homelessness or not. In research terms, it’s called operationalizing your variables, and it isn’t just about numbers. It is about understanding the nature and scope of the problem. To create the Canadian Definition, a cross-sectoral team of people from across the country drew on all kinds of knowledge (e.g., lived experience knowledge, research knowledge, policy knowledge, and service provider knowledge) to come up with an accessible, inclusive and unambiguous definition of homelessness that would be useful to policy-makers, government, homelessness sector professionals, funders, and academics. For people experiencing homelessness, the definition needed to reflect their experiences and serve as an effective tool to prevent and end homelessness on a pan-Canadian scale. For others, the definition had to be useful in their work and promote better – more just – outcomes for the people they work with and for. 

One of the homelessness sector professionals I interviewed back in 2012 said the following, which speaks to the reasons why people seeking to address homelessness saw (and continue to see) the definition as valuable:

“…by having everybody at least on the same page, there’s opportunity for a broader influence on a policy level so whether its federal governments or provincial governments … if we have an accepted definition, then policies will be drafted in a particular way, funding will flow in a different way to address homelessness from that perspective. (With a Canadian definition) when talk about homelessness, you know we don’t have to identify whether we are talking about those who are at risk of homelessness, are couch surfing, those who are one paycheck away, those absolute homeless, everyone’s got those little qualifiers on it which either include or exclude particular groups of people based upon what that definition is. By having an accepted definition where everyone’s of the same page, when we talk about homelessness, we can be more inclusive … it’s a challenge that we have from an organizational standpoint because depending upon the definition of homelessness, it could be inclusive of everybody that we work with or right down to the people who are using our food banks in various communities or it could be very exclusive and just talk about the people who are in our shelters. But when you look at the people who are coming and going from our treatment programs, that are coming and going from our halfway houses, from the family violence programs, … if there is a broader based definition that is more inclusive and you know all of a sudden has people who are provisionally housed or people who are even in a transitional or supportive housing relationship … suddenly there’s opportunity to do more with people and work with them further down the road so that it’s not a matter of discharging them and seeing them in another month when things didn’t work out.”

This also speaks to the importance of an inclusive and precise understanding of homelessness that captures those who are provisionally sheltered or at risk of homelessness and those who are experiencing absolute homelessness.

Five years later, we continue to track the ways the COH and others are moving research into equitable and just changes across this country, and people still mention the role that shared language and concepts play in coordinating effective responses to this complex problem. Pragmatically and conceptually a Canadian Definition of Homelessness was the first step in a series of important changes that shifted the conversation about homelessness and housing in this country as well as the ways that we seek to address homelessness through policy, funding, programs and supports. 

But definitions of complex social problems like homelessness can’t be treated like immutable laws. They need to change, as our understanding of the problem of homelessness changes and as people’s experiences of homelessness continue to change. I realized this when I was asked to join an emerging team of researchers in the area of homelessness prevention for youth in 2017. The meetings happen in French and my capacity for French is still weak. But I use meetings with Francophone colleagues as an immersion experience, and my understanding is improving. During an early meeting, when we were defining terms for a research proposal, the Canadian Definition of Homelessness came up. It was squarely rejected by everyone on the team. I asked why, explaining that I didn’t see the difference – in spirit – between the Quebec definition and the Canadian one. I was advised that the centrepiece of the Quebec definition was missing from Canada’s. In the Canadian Definition, homelessness has not historically been presented as a rupture in the social contract – a key political and ethical distinction made by the province of Quebec: “l’itinérance se définit comme étant la combinaison de facteurs structurels, institutionnels et individuels inscrits dans le parcours de vie des personnes menant à un processus de rupture sociale qui se manifeste entre autres par la difficulté d’obtenir ou de maintenir un domicile stable, sécuritaire, adéquat et salubre” According to the National Policy to Combat Homelessness (Gouvernement du Québec, 2014, p.30).

This distinction – that homelessness is a breach or rupture of the social contract – struck me as politically and ethically important. And so this past fall, I brought the idea forward during the annual executive meeting of the COH, when the conversation turned to the subject of a revised definition. When the new definition was released later in the fall, this change was incorporated: “The problem of homelessness and housing exclusion is the outcome of our broken social contract; the failure of society to ensure that adequate systems, funding and supports are in place so that all people, even in crisis situations, have access to housing and the supports they need.”

The range of physical living situations – what the definition describes as Typology of Homelessness – has not changed; but this important ethical and political dimension has been added. For this, I thank my new Francophone colleagues who generously invited me to sit at the table with them, listen in French and speak in English, in an effort to work together for outcomes that demand humble collaboration from all of us. 


Summary of Updates to the Definition


Based on national consultation, the Canadian Definition of Homelessness was updated in 2017. Notable updates include:


  • Recognizing the overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples amongst the Canadian homeless population resulting from colonization and cultural genocide. 
  • Acknowledging community responses to homelessness must take into account the diversity of the homeless population, with special consideration for the unique needs of youth, women, families, people with mental health and/or addictions issues, people impacted by violence, seniors, veterans, immigrants, refugees, ethno-racial and racialized people, and members of LGBTQ2S communities.
  • Affirming homelessness and housing exclusion is the outcome of our broken social contract; the failure of society to ensure that adequate systems, funding and supports are in place so that all people, even in crisis situations, have access to housing and the supports they need. 


Eva’s Initiatives for Homeless Youth
December 11, 2017

“Why don't homeless youth just go home?” 

In our work with youth experiencing homelessness, this question keeps coming up. Public knowledge about the barriers to “home” is low and there’s no shortage of stereotypes that get in the way. So Eva’s and Elemental Inc. decided to team up and launch a public awareness campaign this December.

As part of our efforts, we peppered busy Toronto streets with “unwelcome mats” in the hopes that they’d spark a lively conversation about youth homelessness and what we can do about it. We brought cameras to film reactions of passers-by over a couple of days, anticipating double-takes, furrowed brows, shaking heads, and maybe even some news stories.

The problem is ... no one seemed to notice.

People walked and rolled right over and around our mats. Nobody slowed to give them even fleeting attention. The footage we captured was banal, just everyday people in a busy city getting on with their daily lives.

This was a failed youth homelessness awareness campaign if there ever was one. And it spoke volumes.

Sometimes, we “pass by” the reality that thousands of young people don’t have places to call home because we don’t know what to do about it. It seems so overwhelming that we bow our heads and move on.

But could our avoidance go deeper than that? Could it also be that don't really want to see youth homelessness for what it is? Are we too complacent, too quick to distance ourselves?

It’s simple to judge other people for homelessness—maybe youth, maybe their families. It’s harder to admit that something is profoundly wrong, that in a generally well-resourced country like Canada, some youth slip through cracks to land on couches and the streets, at risk of chronic homelessness. It’s difficult to acknowledge that some youth face even higher risks of homelessness because of experiences of institutionalization, discrimination, and marginalization. And it’s especially difficult to come to terms with the fact that the average age of someone who is homeless in Canada is just 39.

But we can’t sit in that bleak place. We have to step up and prioritize youth to turn things around, reducing youth homelessness today and cutting it off entirely tomorrow. 

That’s why we decided to release our failed campaign video anyway. With national discussions about housing in full force and a standing question mark about what it all really means for young people experiencing homelessness, it’s the right time to break through the veneer and do something. 

Please help us spread Eva’s “failed campaign” by sharing our video with your contacts. Sometimes, failures can reveal hard truths, and hard truths can lead to powerful, game-changing action.

PART ONE: Pre-Amble

Part One of this article was written by Stephen Gaetz, President & CEO, Canadian Observatory on Homelessnes; Melanie Redman, President & CEO, A Way Home Canada; Alina Turner, Principal, Turner Strategies

In light of the recently launched National Housing Strategy with a clear recognition of housing as a human right and commitment to ending homelessness, we want to ensure that measurable targets and goals drive towards the elimination of homelessness; however, without a clear sense of what homelessness actually means, how will we ever know where we stand on progress towards this objective?

From 2015-2017, the School of Public Policy, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness supported a collaborative process to develop a national definition of an end to homelessness (Turner, Albanese, & Pakeman, 2016). Through this process, we also proposed key measures and indicators that can be used to track progress. The final paper proposes a definition and key measures regarding measuring an end to homelessness, which will be used as a springboard for consultations over the coming months with service providers, policy makers, funders, researchers and those with lived experience.

Dimensions of Functional and Absolute Zero End to Homelessness

Dimensions of Functional and Absolute Zero End to Homelessness
Media Folder: 

We heard loud and clear from consultations with lived experience and sector partners that as efficient as our Homeless-Serving System is, if the experience on the ground is not aligned with what our measures are telling us, then we are missing something. But what exactly does this mean? Why do we need to pay such close attention to the Lived Experience lens in this work? Can’t we just assume that if we have an optimal homeless-serving system that places people into housing quickly, the rest will fall into place?

The Making Zero Count project, led by the COH, focuses on supporting communities engaged in systems planning to consider planning and performance in a more expansive and supportive way than simply whether people are housed or not.  This project will place the voice of people with lived experience at the centre of this work.


PART TWO: A Lived Experience View of Functional & Absolute Zero

To honour the lived experience, Ange Neil, who is an Indigenous youth from Calgary, AB has graciously offered this blog to further our understanding and dialogue on defining an end to homelessness in Canada.

When asked what ending homelessness means to me, a lot comes to mind. I wonder: is my experience of homelessness valid enough? I question if I can contribute to this discussion. My experience of homelessness isn’t the only version of homelessness and it is not the end to this conversation. But if I’ve learned anything about life so far, it is that vulnerability matters, and challenging systematic oppression is only possible when voices come together. So I hope you read my story and that it brings something to the conversation regarding the eradication of homelessness in our nation.


June 2016 was the last time I left home, carrying a backpack; I was finally able to empty my car of the accumulated clothing pile. That was the last time I felt homeless. I came home and told my roommate: “Today I left the house with every intention and desire of coming home. I had no clothes or basic-necessities with me!” And I’ve come home everyday since that day, knowing this house is home. This home is safety, community, and it’s not going anywhere.

Jesse Thistle (2017) recently published a document describing Indigenous homelessness. I am Indigenous & part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, and when I read the definition of homelessness defined from Indigenous worldviews, and not a euro-centric view, I felt validation for my experience. When it speaks about the isolation from things like “…place, family … each other …identities” (2017, p. 6), I resonate with this. It’s vital to understand that homelessness goes beyond having or not having four walls around you. Further themes have emerged in various research regarding the homeless experience; and from what I’ve found, every data collection presents the theme that homelessness includes a lack of community. If we are going to define the end of homelessness we need to decide and agree on what homelessness is.

Are we ending House-lessness or Home-lessness?


The beginning of my homelessness journey is hard to pinpoint. As a child, I grew up in poverty and at a young age faced the risk of homelessness due to my father’s addiction. Then when I was 12 years old, the dysfunction in my home led me to running away for periods of time and crashing at friends’ houses.

I think the age of 12 is when I began my decade of backpack living. When I was 17 years old, I finally completely ran away and was housed by a family friend for 6 months. My quickly declining mental health, addictions, and trauma led to the breakdown of this placement and I was faced with hitting the streets and dropping out of high school. At 18, I was housed at a Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary foyer model transitional housing program. I lived there for three years and found much healing during that time. But my risk for homelessness was still a reality.

From the BGCC program I had gained enough stability to enter community housing and found a bachelor apartment suite with Calgary Housing. I was now in university and bettering my life. I was in recovery for addictions and mental health disorders. Life was supposed to be okay now. I was housed. I had been housed for the past 3 years and was contributing to society now.

But my story isn’t so simple.

I lacked safety in this community placement and was forced to move out, due to dangerous neighbours. I lived in 2 basement suites after this and still lacked the feeling of safety, belonging, and stability. I had four walls this time but was struggling so much; I spent most of 2014-2016 couch surfing and living out of my car. I still accessed emergency rental programs, food bank and grocery donation programs, and debated paying rent or buying food multiple times. I would spend my days on school campus and drive around late at night until I couldn’t stay awake anymore. On paper, I was housed now. I couldn’t possibly still feel homeless. And to some reading this, they may argue there is a difference between physically being homeless and feeling homeless. And maybe they’re right. But I also think once you’ve experienced physical homelessness, it takes a lot more than having four walls in your name to feel like you belong, and that home is safe.

More than housing.

By giving you context to some of my story, I hope to describe the common themes that ending homelessness needs to include making sustainable change in Canada. We need to go beyond housing people and just expecting them to figure the rest out. There is a lot more that goes into solving homelessness versus houselessness. We need to create community, security, and affordability.

When did backpack living and homelessness end for me?

I was connected to a community that helped me treat my mental health disorders. This led to stability. I learned how to build a community, which led me to finding two safe, healthy friends that I could move in with in 2016. Having these friends to move in with allowed me to find secure and affordable housing. I’ve had financial difficulties living in the home I found with these two friends, but the community I had assisted with food when I could only afford rent and utilities.

After years of support, skill building, and encouragement, I’m at a place of emotional, financial, and physical security. I don’t attribute this place I’m currently in solely because I “pulled up my boot-straps and worked hard.” I attribute it to my resiliency and strength, but also the community and resources that surrounded me.

I reflect on my journey so far and question: was I homeless during this time or was I living in poverty? I think both. At times I was homeless, other times at-risk of homelessness, and near the end living in poverty. All are not okay. All lead to risk of poorer physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health outcomes. All lead to my life costing our country more. All lead to me struggling to live my best life. If my story can challenge the systemic institutions and people in power to create change for those young people who come after me, then all those sleepless nights and hungry days are worth it.



Calgary Homeless Foundation
December 05, 2017

The opinions expressed are the author’s and not those of the COH. For details on the COH’s position on the NHS announcement, please see  

On November 22, the Trudeau government unveiled its much-anticipated National Housing Strategy. While much of the Strategy’s content and funding levels had already been broadly outlined in the most recent federal budget, the Strategy provides further detail on the content of a renewed federal role in affordable housing.

Here are 10 things to know:

  1. The Strategy aims to reduce chronic homelessness by 50% over 10 years. According to the federal government’s Homelessness Partnering Strategy Directives: “Chronically homeless refers to individuals, often with disabling conditions (e.g. chronic physical or mental illness, substance abuse problems), who are currently homeless and have been homeless for six months or more in the past year (i.e., have spent more than 180 cumulative nights in a shelter or place not fit for human habitation).” Setting targets is certainly a positive, however, in the absence of a clearly defined implementation framework it’s very challenging for researchers to accurately assess how realistic this target is vis-à-vis various spending commitments.
  2. A key feature of the Strategy is the announcement of the government’s intent to create a Canada Housing Benefit. This benefit will consist of financial assistance[1] to help low-income households afford the rent in both private and social housing units. The Trudeau government estimates that this will cost $400 million over seven years beginning in 2020, and that the average beneficiary will receive $2,500 in support per year. It is expected that half of this money will come from the federal government, and the other half from provinces and territories. Certain subgroups will be prioritized—however, it’s not clear which subgroups of households will be targeted. This benefit program will be designed by 2020, in partnership with provinces and territories.  It’s therefore unclear how this new benefit program will interact with the rest of Canada’s income assistance framework. For example, will a social assistance recipient who receives this new benefit be allowed to keep the full value of both the new benefit and their existing social assistance benefits? What about a household that’s already receiving a provincially-administered rent supplement? And what will this look like on reserve?
  1. A new National Housing Co-Investment Fund will create up to 60,000 units of new housing and repair up to 240,000 units of existing housing. Over 10 years, this federally-managed initiative will be worth $15.9 billion (including $4.7 billion in capital grants and $11.2B in low-interest loans from CMHC). About half of the grant funding will fund repair, while the other half will fund new builds. This will assist both with social housing and housing that’s owned and operated by for-profit landlords. This large fund will consist of several programs that target different groups; it will include grants and loans. The federal government anticipates 6,000 new housing units annually will be created, in addition to repairs. At least 7,000 shelter spaces will be created or repaired for survivors of family violence. There will also be 12,000 new units created for seniors. At least 2,400 new units for persons with developmental disabilities will be created. This is a unilateral federal program; dollar-for-dollar cost-sharing will not be required from provincial and territorial governments (however, some assistance from provincial and territorial governments may be required). Among other things, this is a demonstration of the Trudeau government’s interest in getting back into the direct delivery of housing programs. Quebec has alreadysaid that it does not want direct federal involvement in the housing sector and expects to negotiate an arrangement whereby the government of Quebec will remain solely responsible for the development of its housing sector.
  1. The Canada Community Housing Initiative will focus on preserving existing units of social housing. This will entail $4.3 billion of federal funding over a decade and will require cost-matching from provinces and territories. Note that this is precisely the amount of federal funding set to expire over the next decade on existing social housing units (ergo: this is about expiring operating agreements). Canada’s approximately 500,000 social housing units that are both administered by either provincial or territorial authorities, and have rent-geared-to-income (RGI) subsidies, are eligible for this. This fund will assist with repairs, help keep rents affordable and provide mortgage assistance for the operators. This means the issue of ‘expiring operating agreements’ is fixed for the next 10 years…provided the provinces and territories agree to cost-match. (The Federal Community Housing Initiative will do essentially the same thing for social housing units that are federally-administered; this will include co-op units. This will entail $500 million in federal funding over 10 years. No cost matching will be required here.)[2]
  1. The Trudeau government appears to want to shift traditional ‘social housing’ models toward mixed-income developments. Developments that are 100% RGI will be discouraged; likewise, current 100% RGI will be encouraged to be redeveloped with income mix.[3] This will be done through the National Housing Co-Investment Fund and through the Canada Community Housing Initiative (both of which are discussed above).
  1. An assortment of additional new initiatives were announced. A new Federal Housing Advocate will be created. A new National Housing Council will be created, it will be an advisory body that will provide ongoing input to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). It will begin its work in 2018. A new Community Based-Tenant Initiative will be created; it will foster participation by people with lived experience. A new public engagement campaign (with an anti-stigma focus) will be created.
  1. The Strategy discusses a National Housing Strategy Research Agenda. Worth $241 million over 10 years, the Strategy says this Agenda will embrace open data. Some of this funding will go to Statistics Canada; some will go to CMHC. According to the Strategy, the Trudeau government wants to increase funding for housing research “both inside and outside government and enhance the channels available to communicate research results.” Also according to the Strategy: “Solution Labs will be funded to bring experts and a range of housing stakeholders together to rapidly incubate and scale potential solutions to housing affordability pressures. Through open competitive processes, teams from the housing sector will be invited to identify housing challenges in key National Housing Strategy priority areas and propose strategies to develop new, world-leading solutions.”[4]
  1. The Strategy refers to this as “Canada’s first ever National Housing Strategy,” but that may not be accurate. In in the mid-1980s, Canada’s federal government released a document titled A National Direction for Housing Solutions, which many housing policy experts considered to be a form of a strategy. This had a transformative impact on affordable housing policy in Canada—specifically, it got the provinces and territories more engaged in affordable housing (that document can be accessed online, free of charge, at this link). Also, while the new Strategy contains some language pertaining to home ownership, the Strategy is very heavily focused on the rental sector.[5]
  1. The Strategy may overstate a few points. As indicated above, the Trudeau government may be stretching things when it says this is Canada’s “first ever” National Housing Strategy. Likewise, the Strategy vows to create four times as many housing units annually as were created from 2005 to 2015. However, according to Greg Suttor’s new book about the history of Canadian social housing policy, approximately 7,900 affordable rental housing units (not counting on reserve housing) were created annually during the 2005-2013 period.[6] Since the Strategy claims it will create 100,000 new units over 10 years, it would be more accurate to say that it will result in a modest increase in new builds annually (indeed, it’s quite unlikely that there will even be a doubling of annual new builds under the Strategy). Further, CMHC has not published good data on numbers of new units created annually over the past several decades, so this makes it challenging for researchers to ‘fact check’ any such claim with any level of precision.
  1. There will be lots to monitor over the next several years, and there are many unresolved questions. For example, beginning in 2020, there will be reports to Parliament every three years on housing targets and outcomes. But who will do that reporting, who will set the metrics for the reporting and who will calculate the figures? Also, the federal government says it’s working with First Nations, Métis and Inuit organizations to develop separate housing plans, but what will they look like and will they involve new funding? The Strategy vows to take a “rights-based approach to housing” and this will require new legislation; but it’s not clear what such an approach actually means. Finally, what happens if some provinces or territories refuse to ‘cost match’ some of the initiatives?

In Sum. This Strategy’s unveiling is arguably the most positive development in federal housing policy since the early 1970s. It signals that the Trudeau government is serious about federal housing policy. But while the government’s intent is clear, we’ll now see how well they can actually deliver.

I wish to thank Tim Aubry, Victoria Ballance, Janice Chan, George Fallis, Martina Jileckova, Marc Lee, Lindsay Lenny, David Macdonald, Michael Mendelson, Jeff Morrison, Geoffrey Nelson, Chidom Otogwu, Steve Pomeroy, Tim Richter, Joel Sinclair, Marion Steele, Greg Suttor, John Sylvestre and one anonymous reviewer for invaluable assistance with this blog post. Any errors are mine.

[1] For more on what such a benefit structure might look like, see this March 2016 report by Michael Mendelson.

[2] This funding for expiring operating agreements (i.e. the $4.3 billion + $500 million) was the only ‘new money’ announced in the Strategy. Though the 2017 federal budget had announced the intent to reinstate funding for expiring operating agreements, the actual amount was not spelled out. It will now take a supplemental vote in Parliament to formalize this additional funding.

[3] Adam Vaughan (a Toronto Member of Parliament) is believed to be the chief architect of this piece of the Strategy.

[4] Both of the quotes used in this paragraph are taken from p. 21 of the Strategy.

[5] Thus, it would probably be more accurate to call this an ‘affordable housing strategy’ than a ‘comprehensive housing strategy.’

[6] Dr. Suttor had to impute this figure, based on multiple sources. He presents the results in Table 8.5


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

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
November 30, 2017

Traditionally, policy and programming targeting homelessness has been based on the perception that homelessness was largely an issue among older, single men. However, as the population of those experiencing homelessness diversifies, the development of policy and programming requires the consideration of needs specific to these distinct populations.  

Many women who are experiencing homelessness feel that the programs they access are more responsive to their funders than to the unique needs of the individuals using the programs. They are calling for direct involvement of women and transwomen in the creation of policy and programming which will affect them.

Input from women is especially important with the rise of poverty and homelessness among female populations. A literature review found that women were more likely than men to experience poverty. The same review revealed that women earn only 71% of the average male income.

When speaking of unique experiences of homelessness among women, it is important to highlight that some women face additional challenges; these unique experiences can be understood by considering their intersectionality.

Intersectionality is a way of understanding an individual’s unique experience by considering various dimensions of their lives. Due to various trauma or difficulties they may face (such as experiencing domestic violence or living with a disability) or their unique identities (such as being an Indigenous woman, transwoman, or a mother), individuals face discrimination or oppression that is unique. As a result, their needs are unique as well. 

Life Experience, Homelessness and Poverty

Domestic Violence

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that domestic violence is the primary cause of homelessness for women and their families.

The ACLU highlighted that an abused woman will likely be financially dependent and not have access to a stable income. In addition, she will often have a limited social support network as violent partners use social isolation as a method of control.

If a women experiencing domestic violence leaves her partner, she will have little access to resources. One study found that 38% of women experience homelessness immediately after they leave their partners due to violence.

Further evidence of the role of violence was shown in a homelessness study in Ireland. It was found that 92% of homeless women surveyed had experienced some form of violence in their lives. 67% had experienced violence specifically from a partner. Women are four times more likely than men to be victims of violence by their partner.

These women require resources that would allow them to escape violence quickly. They need adequate financial and social support systems to enable a life of independence and to eliminate returning to their abuser out of necessity for housing and other resources. They also require protection from their abuser; a guarantee for their safety.

Living with Disability

It has been found that 15% of individuals with a disability are impoverished; 59% of those individuals are women, while only 55% of individuals experiencing a disability are female. Meanwhile, 55.4% of those living in poverty without a disability are female.

Another study discovered that women with disabilities face food insecurity, housing instability, and inadequate healthcare at higher rates than those without a disability.

In general, there is a higher rate of those living with disabilities (physical or mental) among the homeless population than among the general population. It has also been uncovered that potential landlords are less likely to rent a space to someone with a disability.

When considering policy and programming for women with disabilities who are also experiencing homelessness, these intersections of experience must be considered to tackle discrimination and meet their needs. Examples of unique needs for this population include accessible and affordable mental health services for those living with a mental disorder, and accessible housing units for those experiencing physical disability.

Identity, Homelessness and Poverty

Indigenous Women in Canada

In Canada, Indigenous women are 2.5 times as likely to experience violence compared to non-Indigenous women. This is a by-product of intergenerational trauma at the hands of colonization.

If an individual is perceived to identify as a female, they are already at a higher risk of violence because they are part of a group that faces larger rates of violence. However, if an individual is a female, and Indigenous, they must face both the oppression imposed on the female, and on Indigenous Peoples. Their oppression is compounded by every part of their identity that is marginalized.

Additionally, history of trauma and abuse imposed on Indigenous Peoples, by European settlers in Canada, needs to be explored and acknowledged by policy makers and program facilitators. It needs to be acknowledged that this history has increased risk of homelessness and poverty among Indigenous Peoples in order to facilitate healing.

Also, Indigenous practices may be helpful in the healing of Indigenous women who have experienced homelessness due to violence or other trauma. The Wellesley Institute had found that Aboriginal women who have experienced homelessness request Aboriginal-led services to better support their needs.

Policies and programs must take into consideration the Indigenous culture, the wants and needs of this population, and avoid the continuous impositions of Euro-centric ideals which are only a reminder of the harms against their people rather than a source of improvement in their lives. 


Transwomen face discrimination and oppression that is different from those faced by cisgender women. Transwomen who experience homelessness are at a higher risk of violence. This violence was not only found to be a cause of homelessness, but it also occurred at a higher rate throughout their lives and during their experience of homelessness.

Additionally, transwomen face transphobia. They may be rejected from their family, friends, and society in general. In the book, Where Am I Going to Go?,  it is reported that family conflict, after an individual comes out, is the most common reason for homelessness among trans youth. Transwomen are found to be at a higher risk of mental disorders than the general population because of the discrimination they face.

Oftentimes, transgender or non-binary individuals are left out of research. When checking off intake forms, staff tend check off which gender they perceive the individual to be, or group them into other, which leaves some individuals underrepresented.

Programming and policy, should address the higher incidence of violence against transwomen, by creating safer environments. Additionally, the research that informs policy and programming, must take into consideration the need for social supports or counselling, which results from societal rejection. To do this, they must include trans populations as a unique group within their research.


Women across the globe are significantly more likely to be single parents than men. While they require more of an income due to extra dependents, they tend to be financially insecure instead. In Canada, a family headed by a lone-female, on average, has only about 50% of the income of a family headed by a lone-male.

It was revealed, by Vlemenickx and Smeeding, that the rates of impoverishment among single mothers in Canada is 2.37 times the rates among single fathers. Connected to this discovery, a study by the Homelessness Partnering Strategy found that about 7% of single parent males in Canada experience homelessness compared to 21% of single parent females.

The Pew Research Centre found that Mothers are more likely to sacrifice work advancement for family matters such as child-rearing. They are more likely than fathers to quit their jobs or take significant time off work for family reasons.  In addition, mothers, more often than fathers, report that being a parent has made it difficult to advance in their careers; leaving them at a financial disadvantage.   

Policy and programming efforts to increase opportunities within the workplace, equal pay for equal work, and accessible childcare would be ideal to prevent poverty and homelessness among mothers. 

Final Note

Women who experience homelessness and additionally: experience violence, are living with disabilities, or those who are transwomen, mothers or Indigenous, all require different programs and policies to support their needs and breakout of homelessness and poverty. 

While we only touched on a small portion of possible identities and obstacles, this overview illustrates the uniqueness of individual needs and experiences. The experience of homelessness is not universal, therefore policy and programming targeted at ending homelessness cannot be universal.



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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.