Homelessness in Canada – History, Stats, Organizations, Future, COVID-19 Impact

There are different reasons why Canadians become homeless, among which family violence, divorce, mental illness, health problems, and loss of job. The fact that more than half of Canadians live paycheck to paycheck and many have loans to repay, coupled with the high cost of living in some areas, also leads to homelessness.


Homelessness became a social problem in Canada in the 1980s because government spending on social housing was discontinued. In contrast since 1973, the government subsidized the construction of some 20,000 housing units. This became possible with amendments made to the National Housing Act to include provisions for cooperative and non-profit housing.


On any given day, at least 35,000 people experience homelessness in Canada. The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016 report prepared by CAEH and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness shows that 235,000 Canadians become homeless every year, 18.7 percent of whom are youth and 27.3 percent are women. Indigenous Canadians are also at risk and make for up to 34 percent of all shelter users. Seniors and people aged 50 – 64 account for 24.4 percent of persons who become homeless and remain in shelters.

Overcoming Homelessness

The 2016 report made a recommendation to develop and implement a National Housing Strategy while the local, indigenous, territorial, and provincial governments must also develop strategies to address homelessness. The focus must be on improved coordination at the local level, data-based decision making, local partnerships, prevention, and prioritizing.


A number of organizations in Canada work to eliminate homelessness, among which Young Parents No Fixed Address, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, and Bissel Centre. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness works to ensure that all people have access to affordable and safe housing. Partners of the alliance include the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, Blue Door Shelters, City of Vancouver, and many others. Built for Zero Canada is one initiative of the alliance that aims to eradicate chronic homelessness. The main focus is on vulnerable groups such as rough sleepers, members of indigenous communities, veterans, women, and youth.

Based in Toronto, Young Parents No Fixed Address is a network of organizations and agencies, working to eliminate homelessness among young people. Its partners include centres, organizations, programs, and institutional partners such as the University of Toronto, Toronto Birth Centre, Covenant House, and Youth Unlimited. The network offers trauma and grief counseling, sexual and mental health services, and services to young parents and pregnant women. Bissel Centre offers support to persons at risk of eviction, including no interest loans to cover utilities, mortgage payments, and delinquent rent. The centre also provides temporary childcare to low-income parents, advocacy services, parenting classes, and recreational activities for parents and children. The MBC Family Camp offers a variety of activities such as arts and crafts, volleyball, canoeing, and swimming.

Hope Mission

Hope Mission operates in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, and other locations and offers housing and hot meals to homeless persons. The non-profit agency accepts food donations, including perishable items such as sandwich and cooking meats, milk, bread, and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Hope Mission also runs youth and kids programs in schools and the Hub in Forest Lawn, offering support and meals. The agency organizes a summer camp for children, featuring outdoor activities such as sports, archery, wall climbing, and horse riding.

Other homelessness organizations in Canada include Old Brewery Mission, The Lighthouse, Inn from the Cold, and Out of the Cold.

Covid-19 Impact

Homeless people are at risk of developing complications because many of them have underlying conditions. Given that they lack space to self-isolate, homeless people can spread Covid-19, which makes access to safe and affordable housing a priority.

According to YWCA Canada, women have been more impacted by the coronavirus crisis and face a greater risk of eviction. Some groups are more vulnerable, including women with disabilities, women of color, and indigenous women.

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