Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
September 03, 2013

It’s back to school time for many students and educators out there. Last week’s “Ask the Hub” blog post covered some important information for going back to school: "Where can teachers and students find resources for school using the Homeless Hub?" This post outlines how the Homeless Hub can be a resource for students (and teachers) who are returning to school and looking for some extra information on teaching, researching or studying homelessness.

Last week's "Infographic of the Week" can be an important resource for organizations that are looking to broaden their reach through the use of social media. The document outlines the way that hashtags can be used effectively (and ineffectively). This information can be a great resource, and important to keep in mind when trying to reach people with content that is relevant to them.

This article by Iryn Tushabe outlines a couple of the challenges faced by those experiencing homelessness in Regina. One of the individuals in the report is living with both HIV and Hepatitis C. For more information on hepatitis and homelessness see this previous Homeless Hub post for World Hepatitis Day.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Alberta released their progress report on their 10 year plan to end homelessness. Wood Buffalo has been successfully using a Housing First approach in order to end homelessness. The document outlines goals that have contributed to a 40.6% decrease in homelessness between 2008-2012.

Cindy Chan, from the Winnipeg Free Press, wrote this piece on Housing First, discussing how the program has helped house those experiencing homelessness who have a mental illness. The article interviews Housing First participant Joe Hatch. To learn more about Joe’s story you can take a look at this 2012 piece featured on the Here at Home blog.

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
August 30, 2013
Categories: Ask the Hub

It’s #BTS time!

That’s “Back to School” for those not up on their acronyms. We’re often asked how teachers and students can make use of the Homeless Hub for their work and studies. So this week’s Ask the Hub isn’t a response to a formal question but rather one that is raised often with us.

  • Use the Homeless Hub library. With over 30,000 resources, the Homeless Hub is the largest repository of homelessness information in the world. And much of it is Canadian.
  • Research the Topics sections. These topics — which will be going through a revamp this year — provide a summary of key points of information and link to articles that can be used for further information.

  • Get geographical information through the Community Profiles. The 61 CABs that receive funding from the federal government each have a profile on the Hub which lists current stats and reports related to that community.
  • Explore our Curriculums. We have ideas for elementary and secondary schools and useful factsheets for students. Next week we will be releasing updated curriculum units and later on this year we will be working on a resource for post-secondary institutions and students as well. Keep a look-out for those!

We are here to help. Don’t forget to send your questions to the Hub for our Friday Ask the Hub series.

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
August 28, 2013

Today's infographic is on using hashtags, which comes from a blog post directly by Twitter. Hashtags, almost synonymous with Twitter, can work to enhance a marketing strategy or a campaign. "The brands that create the most effective ones and employ them well reap the benefits on Twitter. Those who haven’t invested the time and thought carefully about their hashtag(s) and how they are going to be used get predictable results."

This step-by-step graphic follows the process of using a hashtag in your tweets. It leads you through various paths that can help evaluate whether the hashtag will be important to your audience or not. Choosing one hashtag over another can increase a tweet's influence and bring new followers who will continue the conversation on your chosen topic. An important thing to remember is that hashtags have to be memorable, so your participants will be inclined to use it. Promoting your hashtag can increase its memorability or you might want to use one that is already in use, as long as you're adding valuable content to the conversation.

The infographic below can help you decide whether your hashtag is worth pursuing or what further steps to take once you have decided. Click the image to enlarge.

Choosing a #

The Homeless Hub is quite active on twitter and we have seen great success in using it to get our content out to a wider audience. We also use a variety of hashtags in our daily tweets and have even created our own for events and special report releases.

Our most successful one was #sohc2013 which was used extensively by our account and others for the launch of our State of Homelessness in Canada 2013 report.  We attribute its success to our early promotion leading up to the release and making sure to encourage others to use that hashtag when mentioning the report. With Facebook now also using hashtags we were able to promote its use there as well. It's hard to calculate whether using the hashtag itself made a difference, but it did create a connector word for the coversation about the report.

We are always learning new techniques and ways to use social media and we have seen our campaigns not turn out the way we predicted. We used the hashtag #PROOF to promote the release of Household Food Insecurity in Canada 2011 which didn't really circulate through Twitter. We used that hashtag because it represented the name of the organization (PROOF) that authored and released the report. The trouble was, it didn't seem to work with the current conversation that was happening with that hashtag, it seemed that #foodinsecurity was actually favoured by the audience. It was a lesson learned and showed us that choosing the right hashtag takes thought and consideration.

Using a hashtag can help you get the message out about your research to a wider audience and even connect you to researchers working on the same topic. With these benefits in sight it's surely worth a try. Next time you are looking to use a hashtag in your tweets consider using the above infographic for tips.

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
August 26, 2013

Last week at the Homeless Hub:

Happily, we’re still getting lots of hits on two of our “Ask the Hub” questions. The mental health and homelessness infographic that Isaac Coplan, an FES grad student, created for us is still circulating regularly, as is Tanya's answer to a question on giving money to panhandlers. We’d love to answer your questions as well. Please email us at if you’d like your question to be given to one of our team.

Homelessness and Mental Health
Media Folder: 

Our colleagues at Europe’s FEANSTA (European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless) just released the summer edition of their “Homeless in Europe” magazine focused on mental health and homelessness. From the description:

“Much has been written on the interrelatedness of mental health and homelessness, some arguing that mental health problems lead to homelessness, while others claiming that homelessness is a stress factor which provokes mental ill health. Although the direction of causality is not straightforward, the link clearly shows how mental health cannot be treated in isolation and how its wider social context, e.g. social status, poverty or social relations, has to be considered.”

The 25 Myths of Homelessness – previously published by Christine Schanes in Huffington Post – are a big hit. Our communications staff are promoting different myths daily. These myths include: “Homeless People Just Rest All Day”, “The Police Will Solve It” and “They Make Millions”.

Here at the Homeless Hub we love our social media almost as much as we love research. It’s always exciting when the two combine. We were happy to see the release of the paper “Blurring the Boundaries? New Social Media, New Social Research: Developing a network to explore the issues faced by researchers negotiating the new research landscape of online social media platforms.” The paper stems from a series of activities including workshops and various social media activities that explored whether or not social science researchers should use social media and what it means for them to do so.

Lastly, we want to invite any interested York University students to a workshop we are putting together with ResearchImpact of Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York. The "Write for the Reader: Introduction to Clear Language" workshop will teach you how to improve your written communication and will allow you to produce two clear language research summaries for us on your topic of interest. You can find examples of these in our research summaries section of the site. Make sure to register by e-mailing us at as spaces are limited.

Introduction to clear language
Media Folder: 
Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University
August 23, 2013
Categories: Ask the Hub

After last week’s Ask the Hub question on panhandling we’ve had a lot of discussion on Twitter, Facebook and the blog about the issue. Our next question comes from Twitter follower @PurpleSaxifrage who tweeted the following:

How could a homeless person pay a fine?

The Ottawa Sun picture it refers to (below) is from the print edition; there are other pictures available online as well as the story.

Two homeless on the sidewalk holding a fine they have been issued

While the online and print text is a little different, the basic gist is the same. Police conducted a two hour panhandling blitz targeting panhandlers who moved away from the Lowertown area of Ottawa. They moved away because they were being targeted by the crime and disorder foot patrol which handed out 460 tickets in its first month.

In my work with people who are homeless the issue of ticketing comes up frequently. Sometimes, when I’ve had to ask for ID I’m given a ticket as proof of identity. Most people living on or frequenting the streets have a pocket full of tickets. They also have very few ideas on how to pay them. Jail instead of payment seems like a good alternative to some people who are homeless (at least they’ll get meals for a couple of nights and know where they will sleep). But a lack of discharge planning and the impact of spending time in jail just helps to re-create the cycle of homelessness.

“Put ‘em in jail” seems to be an answer that works for many Canadians as well. A Leger Marketing poll conducted in August 2011 found that “Almost half of Canadians — 48% — feel there needs to be more done to solve the panhandling problem, while 31% feel people who beg for change are simply victims of a tough society and economy.”

Putting people in jail is an acceptable option for aggressive panhandling according to the poll. But, tickets aren’t just for aggressive panhandling as an Ottawa Sun opinion piece suggested awhile ago. They are for erecting tents, sleeping in public, urinating in public, jaywalking, being drunk and disorderly and loitering (amongst many other charges). The tickets are being targeted at people whose home is on the streets.

We’re not talking about a small handful of tickets either, or a measly amount of money. Last year, John Bonnar wrote about Louis Quinn, a formerly homeless man who had died just after receiving housing. Louis died with a debt of $20,000-30,000 hanging over his head; in unpaid tickets.

In Montreal, a National Post article about ticketing shares the case of a 51-year old homeless man who had 374 infractions which added up to $88,0742.19. “There was never the slightest chance of him paying a single cent, and yet the city kept mindlessly charging him.”

In “Can I See Your ID? The Policing of Youth Homelessness in Toronto” we reported that Safe Streets Act (SSA) tickets in Toronto alone had risen from “from 710 tickets in 2000, to 3,646 in 2005, and again to 15,224 in 2010, an increase of 2,147%.”

The SSA permits tickets up to $500 for a first offence but the average is $60/ticket. Over the 11 year period from 2000-2010 Toronto police issued 67,388 tickets at an estimated 16.847 hours of police time and a police cost of nearly $1 million (that doesn’t include court time, processing time or follow-up for unpaid tickets.)

The value of those tickets (if paid) would be $4,043, 280. The actual amount collected by the city? $8,086.56. Nope, that’s not a printing error: 0.2% of the ticket value has been paid.

Homeless Hub’s director Steve Gaetz wrote a blog post in November 2011 on criminalization of homelessness when the above report and “La judiciarisation des personnes en situation d’itinérance à Québec : point de vue des acteurs socio-judiciaires et analyse du phénomène” were released. Very little has improved since then; in fact, it’s gotten worse.

Earlier this year, Vancouver city council was considering increasing street-activity fines by 400% including sleeping in parks, doorways etc. In some cases, these fines could have been as much as $10,000. The decision was deferred while a constitutional challenge by Pivot Legal Society is awaiting a decision. I’d be hard-pressed as a full-time, wage earner to pay a $10,000 fine. How do we expect someone who is panhandling for survival to afford it?

This issue, as with many topics we discuss, isn’t the one it appears to be on the surface. The issue is homelessness and a lack of safe, secure and affordable housing. Steve Gaetz said in an article on panhandlers a couple of years ago “If you want to deal with panhandling as a problem, you have to make homelessness not a problem. It’s a manifestation of something else.”

For further reading:

City of Saskatoon has a very impressive baseline study on street activity – focused on panhandling though incorporating other issues – that looks at how panhandling can impact a community.

Let’s end with a video opinion about ticketing panhandling. While I love this guy’s style and most of his point of view, I cringe at some of the terms he uses to describe homeless people and panhandlers. Understanding the impact of language may be a post for another day (it’s talked about briefly in this mythbuster). In the meantime, he has some good points and communicating in a way most people can relate to is a key technique for changing the public’s understanding of the issue.


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