Housing in Canada

By: Kelechi Obasi

Recent press reports have opened a can of worms regarding the government’s overpayment of more than fifteen million dollars to hotels as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. During the same time period as this occurred, over 20000 homeless people perished as a result of a lack of adequate shelter and access to anti-viral measures. Housing/shelter advocates and other human rights campaigners are demanding an explanation as to why we live in an era where buying a home in practically every city in the country is a pipe dream for the majority of the population. This is simply the tip of the iceberg in Canada when it comes to homelessness.

Like in many other affluent countries, homelessness is a major social issue in Canada as well. It is reported that in any given year, around 235000 people in Canada suffer homelessness, with 25000 to 35000 people facing the grim prospect of not having a roof over their heads on any given night. As we speak, that number is on the rise. 

Housing in Canada

If you ask the question ‘Who is a homeless person?’, the first image that springs to mind is that of a disheveled individual sitting on a sidewalk in the city, with a sign asking for any money or food.  The true picture of homelessness is much more graphic than just the homeless people we see on the streets (who make up less than 20% of the total population). The reality of the issue is much more disheartening.

The homeless population in Canada is extremely diverse. The true faces of homelessness, estimated at around 50000, are represented by people whose makeshift arrangements for accommodation varies drastically. This can range from living temporarily as a “hidden” homeless person with friends, family, or strangers, or in motels, hostels, or rooming houses. Many find themselves staying in emergency shelters or living in places not intended for habitation. 

Considering the sweep of these examples, homelessness can therefore be defined as the lack of a permanent residence. Clearly, no person decides that they would rather live under the circumstances outlined above—the truth is that anyone can end up on the streets due to no design of their own. The chief reason why individuals and families become homeless is poverty; however, people may experience homelessness due to a slew of other underlying difficulties. These problems can include the loss or lack of employment or income; physical or mental illness; domestic violence or abuse, and the obvious scarcity of affordable housing.

Sadly, families with children have shown the highest growth spurt in the totality of the homeless population. From all indications, that number is only projected to rise, as more than 10% of Canadian families are now living below the poverty line, unable to satisfy even the most basic demands. The situation is significantly worse for families who receive government support. Those individuals have a monthly budget of only $1,000 to cover rent, food, transportation, and other expenses. The hard truth is that families or individuals with dependents are likely to find it much more challenging to lift themselves out of poverty and homelessness once they’re in it. This further indicates the severity of the problem. 

Additionally, the number of homeless youth in Canada is on the rise. The number of juvenile shelter beds in Toronto has rocketed 450 percent in the last 25 years. Many of these children are trying to flee dangerous situations such as physical or sexual assault. According to studies, adolescents who have been on the street for two years or longer are less likely to get off the grid. That is why it is of the utmost importance to come to their rescue by offering pragmatic alternatives within the first two years. 

Homelessness statistics differ from area to area. As Canada’s largest metropolis, it is no surprise that Toronto has the highest proportion of homeless people. Toronto also draws specialized demographics, such as LGBTQ2S+ teenagers seeking safety in their sexual orientation identity in a large metropolis.

While Toronto has the most people, it does not have the most homeless people per capita; Red Deer takes the prize with .31% compared to Toronto’s .19%. The lowest rates are in Lethbridge and Saskatoon (.12%), while the highest rates are in Calgary (.29%), Vancouver and Edmonton (.27%), and Kelowna (.24%). All of them represent small percentages of the overall population. In every situation, the number of homeless people outnumber people who are housed.

Canada seems to be paying attention to calls for a renewed commitment to addressing the issue of homelessness and affordable social housing. In its community-based program directed at preventing and reducing homelessness across the country, Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, Infrastructure Canada explains that it is tackling the issue “by providing funding to urban, indigenous, rural, and remote communities to help them address their local homelessness needs.” The government dug deep into its coffers to commit 2.2 billion dollars to deal with homelessness. It plans to use that budget to redesign the federal homelessness program with an outcomes-based approach, including — but not limited — to providing a coordinated access system to fairly and equitably prioritize people who are in most need of assistance and match them with appropriate housing and services: addressing indigenous homelessness as well as in the Territories, and in rural and remote areas. For more information, please visit the Infrastructure Canada website.