Vineeth Sekharan, York University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub
This week’s infographic, published by Raising the Roof, asks an important question: who are the homeless in Canada?
The infographic states that an estimated 235,000 people experience homelessness in Canada. This number is difficult to estimate, as homelessness goes unreported in many instances. A significant and growing subset of Canada’s homeless population are the ‘hidden homeless’. The term ‘hidden homeless’ refers to people who live “temporarily with others but without guarantee of continued residency or immediate prospects for accessing permanent housing”. This includes couch surfers, and individuals who stay with family or friends because they have nowhere else to go. An estimated 50,000 individuals belong to this subset of Canada’s homeless population.
Approximately 20% of the homeless population are youth between the ages of 16-24. Youth represent one of the most vulnerable subpopulations living in homelessness. Many youth living in homelessness are fleeing situations of abuse, discrimination and violence. LGBTQ2S youth are overrepresented among the homeless population in Canada. Many youth are persecuted because of their gender/orientation and may be kicked out of their homes, or elect to leave home because of the discrimination they are facing. 1 in 5 youth in Toronto’s shelter system identify as being LGBTQ2S, that’s more than twice as many than those who identify LGBTQ2S in the general population.
Fortunately, there has already been considerable research documenting what steps can be taken to help youth living in homelessness. The more time youth spend living in homelessness, the greater the risk to their physical and mental development. It should be understood that youth living in homelessness have similar needs and goals as youth not living in homelessness. Accordingly, there should be a visible difference in how services and supports are designed and delivered for youth living in homelessness compared to adults living in homelessness. Providing interventions that are tailored to the needs of youth is a step in the right direction.
The infographic states that individuals of First Nations, Inuit and Metis descent are dramatically overrepresented in Canada’s homeless population. There are clear discrepancies in the housing situation for Aboriginal populations compared to the general population. A recent study, conducted by the University of Lethbridge, found that 1 in 15 Aboriginal people in urban centers experience homelessness, compared to 1 in 128 for the general population. This means that Aboriginal Peoples in major urban centres are eight times more likely to experience homelessness.
Gender, race, age and social status are all factors that can play a critical role in determining who is poor, and ultimately who becomes homelessness. Individuals at the intersection of these determinants (ex: women belonging to visible minorities) face a heightened risk of falling through the gaps present in Canada’s safety net and falling into homelessness.
Housing First: A Best Practice for Providing Housing
Fortunately, research has shown that there are solutions to homelessness that are proven and tested. Housing First has emerged as a best practice for providing permanent housing for individuals living in chronic homelessness. Housing First has been successful both in Canada and abroad in the fight against homelessness. I invite you to watch the below video for a brief introduction on what Housing First means and how it works.
Vineeth Sekharan is an undergraduate student in a psychology major at York University. His interest in the elimination of barriers to accessing vital services like housing and healthcare led him to work as a research student with The Homeless Hub. Vineeth’s other research interests include epidemiology, theories of power and persuasion, and literacy education. In his spare time, he likes to read a lot, write here and there, and then read some more.