Homelessness is a problem that most people would not associate with Canada, yet it is becoming an increasingly pressing issue. The estimated number of homeless people in Canada ranges from 150,000 to 300,000, and the figure has been rising.
What is behind homelessness in Canada, what is the cost of homelessness to society, and what is being done about it? We answer all these questions and more in this article about homelessness statistics in Canada.
Homelessness Statistics for Canadians
- Between 25,000 and 35,000 people are homeless on any given night in Canada.
- Toronto has the largest number of homeless people in Canada.
- 62% of homeless people in Canada are males.
- 30% of Canadian homeless come from Indigenous communities.
- 90% of homeless shelters in Canada are in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and Alberta, and 44% of them are in Ontario alone.
- 22% of shelters are aimed at young homeless in Canada, while 20% of people experiencing homelessness are 13-24 years old.
- The annual cost to society is over $7 billion.
- The Canadian Government is investing $2.2 billion over ten years to expand funding for the homeless.
Homelessness in Canada
According to the State of Homelessness report from 2016, there were at least 235,000 homeless people in Canada. According to the Homeless Hub, the figure of homeless people in any year in Canada ranges from 150,000 to 300,000.
However, there could be many more people without a permanent home in Canada. It is difficult to know the exact number because many are hidden homeless. They are so-called because they temporarily live in squats or stay with friends and family. It is estimated that around 1.3 million Canadians have experienced insecure housing or homelessness.
How is Homelessness Defined in Canada?
In Canada, a person, family, or community who does not have stable or permanent housing or immediate prospects of acquiring housing is considered homeless. However, this definition does not cover every experience of homelessness, and it is not strictly a question of instability of housing.
Cost of Homelessness in Canada
Homelessness is estimated to cost around $7.05 billion per year to the Canadian economy. This includes emergency shelters and community support, as well as the increased costs of healthcare, the criminal justice system, and emergency services.
Which city Has The Most Homeless People in Canada?
As often happens, it is the biggest cities that have the largest numbers of homeless people. The same applies in Canada, where Toronto, with around 10,000 homeless people, has the most people without a home.
In 2020, during point-in-time (PiT) count in the Greater Victoria area, there were at least 1,523 people experiencing homelessness. While there are several root causes for homelessness, which we will cover later in the article, homelessness in British Columbia has been linked to the expensive housing market.
Demographics of Homeless People in Canada
People aged 25 to 49 were most likely to use shelters in Canada, with 52% of people experiencing homelessness coming from this age group. Less than 4% of homeless people in Canada are 65 years or older.
62% of people using shelters are male, and men aged between 25 and 55 account for 47.5% of all Canadians experiencing homelessness. Women account for 27.3% of people experiencing homelessness and have an increased risk of being a hidden homeless. A PiT count from 2010 found that 71% of women were experiencing homelessness because of domestic violence or abuse, and 60% had not reported it to the police.
While most people seeking accommodation in homeless shelters are adults, the number of children living in shelters is growing. In 2020, there were approximately 3,000 children staying in shelters.
20% of the people experiencing homelessness are 13-24 years old. Most young homeless end up on the streets following a family conflict, neglect, or poverty. Young people who have been in foster care are more likely to experience homelessness. 29.5% of young homeless identify as LGBTQ+.
People who come from the Indigenous community have a disproportionate risk of becoming homeless. In Canada, while 4.3% of the population are Indigenous People, over 30% of people who do not have a permanent home identify as Indigenous. 2.2% of the shelter population in Canada are veterans.
Homelessness And Mental Health
People who are homeless are more likely to have mental health issues compared to the general population. Between 30-35% of homeless in Canada have a mental illness, and 20-25% have a mental illness and an addiction.
How Many Homeless People Are Employed?
Many people believe homeless people are all unemployed. But that is not always the case. Some people in Canada who do not have a permanent home are in permanent jobs. Research has also shown that many homeless people actively look for permanent employment.
The last time the number of employed people among the homeless was surveyed was in 2016. A PiT survey in Vancouver showed that around 23% of the city’s homeless were employed. In the province, 17.4% of the homeless were employed. In addition, there were also homeless people who generated some income from panhandling, binning, and sex work.
How Many People Stay in Emergency Shelters?
While the Government of Canada has released data on the number of shelters in Canada as recently as December 2022, there is no recent data on the occupancy of homeless shelters. The latest data is from 2014 when 92.4% of beds were full. This is an over 10% increase from 2005 when 82% of the beds were full.
Numbers of Hidden Homeless in Canada
It is impossible to know the exact number of hidden homeless in Canada. However, according to Homeless Hub, there may be around 50,000 hidden homeless in Canada on any given night. These are people who have no immediate prospects of finding permanent housing and are staying with relatives or friends.
Numbers of Chronic, Episodic, And Transitional Homeless in Canada
For most Canadians who experience homelessness, it is a one-time event and only for a short period. The median length for a stay in an emergency shelter is 50 days, while 29% of people seeking shelter only stay for one night.
Chronic homelessness refers to people who are long-term homeless, while episodic homeless are people who continuously move in and out of homes. The Homeless Hub estimates there to be between 4,000 and 8,000 chronically homeless in Canada. They also estimate that between 6,000 and 22,000 Canadians experience episodic homelessness. In addition, there are those who are transitionally homeless, which is estimated to be between 176,000 and 188,000 Canadians.
Reasons For Homelessness in Canada
There is rarely just one reason behind someone becoming homeless, but the root cause is often poverty. Other reasons behind homelessness include emotional or physical abuse by a parent or partner, substance abuse, lack of employment, lack of affordable homes, family conflicts, coming from a marginalised community, physical or mental disability, and deteriorating mental health.
Shortage of Affordable Housing is a Key Factor Behind Homelessness
While a lack of affordable housing alone doesn’t explain the increase in homelessness in Canada, it is a major contributor. There are millions of people in Canada who spend more than half of their income on housing, and this puts them at serious risk of homelessness. Households spending over 30% of their income on rent or mortgage are also at risk. In 2016, 1,693,775 households in Canada were spending over 30% of their income on housing.
What is Being Done to Tackle Homelessness in Canada?
With the number of people living without a permanent home increasing in Canada, what is being done to help homeless people and tackle the root causes of homelessness?
Shelters For The Homeless
Canada’s government has made emergency shelters available for homeless people. These shelters are open 24 hours a day, and while they are not addressing the cause of homelessness nor reducing the number of homeless people, at least they provide homeless people somewhere warm and safe to stay.
In 2019, there were 437 homeless shelters in Canada. There are some shelters that are single-sex shelters, but approximately 37% of shelters are open to all genders. 22% of all shelters are aimed at young homeless people.
A large majority of homeless shelters in Canada are in the most populated provinces, with 90% of them found in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta. Ontario has almost half of Canada’s shelters for the homeless at 44%.
In 2019, the Government of Canada launched the country’s Homelessness Strategy to support the National Housing Strategy. The strategy aims to reduce chronic homelessness in Canada by half by 2027-28 by providing affordable, stable, and safe housing. As part of this strategy, the Government is investing $2.2 billion over ten years to expand federal funding for the homeless.
In November 2020, an additional $299.4 million was allocated to extend health and safety measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among the homeless.
The National Homelessness Initiative
According to the Canadian Encyclopaedia, the initiative was created in 1999, and the investment to tackle homelessness was $251 million per year for the first three years. Later, the initiative was renamed Homelessness Partnering Strategy. The budget has declined since 1999, and in 2015-16 was only $119 million. However, funding has since increased again.
Tackling Homelessness in Toronto
Toronto, with the largest homeless population in Canada, has had varying results in its attempts to tackle homelessness. There are 75 permanent and 26 temporary shelters with around 6,800 spaces. However, this is still not enough to provide shelter for all those in need in Toronto. On average, 40 people are turned away each night because of a lack of space.
How Can You Help?
The root causes behind homelessness need to be addressed by the government. It is also the government that has to come up with permanent solutions to prevent people from becoming homeless. So what can we do as individuals?
There are several things you can do, if not to prevent homelessness, then at least to ensure their basic needs are met better. Most shelters will welcome donations such as food, clothing, and hygiene products. You can organise and take part in fundraisers and volunteer at shelters. You can give your support to political candidates who care the most about the homeless and offer practical solutions.
Various reasons have led to an increase in the number of homeless people in Canada. While there are homeless people in all provinces and territories, the situation is the worst in the most populated provinces and the biggest cities. There are approximately 235,000 homeless people in Canada, but the figure may be grossly underestimated because the number of hidden homeless people is unknown.
The Canadian government is trying to tackle the homelessness issue by, for example, providing emergency shelters that are open 24/7. However, more action is needed to tackle the root causes of homelessness and to provide affordable housing for Canadians.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do all of Canada's provinces and territories have homeless people?
Yes, unfortunately, homelessness is a problem in all parts of the country. However, the situation is worse in larger cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary.
What causes homelessness in Canada?
There are several reasons people become homeless. Often, the root cause is poverty. Other reasons include domestic violence, substance abuse, and lack of employment.
Why are the numbers of homeless people increasing in Canada?
There are many reasons why the numbers are increasing, which include a lack of affordable homes, poverty, and inflation. The COVID-19 pandemic also led to an increase in homelessness in Canada.
2020 Greater Victoria Point-in-Time Homeless Count
Government of Canada – Homelessness Strategy
Advocacy Centre For Tenants Ontario