By the Numbers: Homelessness in Canada

This factsheet provides a breakdown of the homeless demographic in Canada. The statistics are concerning and paint a bleak picture of a lack of adequate and affordable housing for low-income and vulnerable populations at risk of homelessness.

By: Kelechi Obasi

Who Exactly is Experiencing Homelessness in Canada?

On any given night, 35,000 Canadians are homeless. Every year, at least 235,000 Canadians are homeless. There appears to be a steadily increasing number of women experiencing homelessness. The facts show that: 

  • 27% of homeless Canadians are women.
  • 19% of homeless Canadians are under 18 years of age. 

There is a Rising Number of “Hidden” Homeless Canadians

The scary aspect of homelessness is that besides the visible homeless, there are 450,000 to 900,000 ‘hidden’ homeless people in Canada. People who live “temporarily with others but without guarantee of continued residency or immediate prospects for accessing permanent housing” are classified as “hidden homeless.”

  • People who stay with relatives, friends, neighbours, or strangers because they have no other choice.
  • Of the population aged 15 and up, 8% say that they have to live with family or friends, in their car temporarily, or in makeshift accommodation settings anywhere else because they had nowhere else to live at some point. This figure in numbers added to in 2014, approximately 2.3 million Canadians. 
  • More than half (55%) of those who had experienced hidden homelessness were in this situation for between one month to less than a year.
  • Additionally, for one in every five people, or 18%, that period spanned a year or more.
  • Indigenous people had it worse than their non-Indigenous hidden homeless counterparts. They were more than twice as likely as their non-Indigenous counterparts to have experienced hidden homelessness at a rate of 18% compared to 8% for the latter.
  • The difference is also very clear, as 13% of the 7.2 million Canadians aged 15 and up who reported having a disability also reported experiencing hidden homelessness—significantly higher than hidden homeless Canadians without a disability who account for 6%.

The Homeless Crisis Affects the Non-Homeless

We may not all be homeless or struggling with a place to comfortably return to at the end of a long, gruelling day. Still, we inadvertently pay the price for our seeming lackadaisical attitude towards the plight of the homeless. It is reported that cities and taxpayers feel the pinch in their pocketbooks as a by-product of costs associated with homelessness:

  • Pre-Covid estimates put the annual cost to operate a shelter bed at $40,000. In 2017, it was approximately $1,932 monthly. Today, that amount has doubled.

The ripple effect of homelessness also affects how much Canadians ultimately pay for their health care. It is incontrovertible that homeless people and those living in substandard housing have a higher illness rate. The data below explains it better. 

  • The average cost of a hospital bed in Canada is around $10,900 per month. Depending on the hospital’s specialty, that figure can climb as high as $16,000
  • Many think tanks put the annual cost of homelessness to the Canadian economy at well over $7 billion.

How Do We Ameliorate the Homeless Crisis?

Many argue that the most effective way to reduce or prevent a good chunk of homelessness cases is to revamp the justice system regarding eviction. Reports show that because they did not own a home, half of all tenants polled had stayed at someone else’s when they were evicted from their previous accommodations.

  • 43% had left their home because it was unsafe.
  • 31% had spent time in a shelter.
  • 24% had slept outside or in an area not intended for human habitation.

Initiatives like Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy are expected to reduce homelessness by 50% by 2028. Projects like Making The Shift focus on using administrative data to prevent homelessness from occurring rather than simply managing it. The organization argues that the data collected to help homelessness is not used to predict factors contributing to homelessness. 

Making The Shift’s mission is to stop the problem before it becomes a problem. By locating individuals that show characteristics statistically linked to homelessness, we can be proactive in preventing homelessness rather than managing it as the numbers rise. 

The Final Numbers on Homelessness in Canada

Some more statistics on homelessness in Canada include: 

  • Over 60% of the homeless population are what can be called “chronically homeless,” meaning they have been homeless for long periods and are on track to remain so
  • The Canadian Government estimates the number of homeless individuals living with a disability or mental illness as high as 45% 
  • In 2020, drug overdose deaths from homeless individuals doubled from 2.7 to 4.7 deaths per day
  • ​​Almost 15% of elderly individuals live in poverty
  • Over 85% of homeless people show symptoms of high-volume distress regarding their mental health, categorizing them as mentally unstable

We must take the Canadian homeless crisis seriously by pushing our leaders to stay vigilant in implementing programs that promise to reduce homelessness. From these numbers, it is clear that this issue needs constant attention.