Nov 2020 | Community

How do people fall into homelessness?

Structural causes, systems failures and individual factors all contribute to experiencing homelessness.

The path to homelessness is different for everyone. Nobody’s situation is determined by one single event. Instead, it’s usually a combination of different factors over time. These factors fall into three distinct categories:

  1. Structural Causes
  2. Systems Failures
  3. Individual Factors


Structural causes of homelessness are economic and societal issues which impact our ability to thrive or even to simply meet our basic needs.

Lack of access to affordable housing is the most obvious structural factor. However, lack of adequate income, lack of adequate access to health supports, and discrimination contribute to homelessness.

Structural causes include unemployment and poverty. These negative shifts in the economy create challenges for people to earn enough income to pay their bills. The 2020 Nanaimo Homeless Count reported the top reason that caused people to lose their housing was not enough income (34%).


When systems of care and support fail or are inaccessible, people don’t receive the support they need. Examples of systems failures include a lack of support for immigrants and refugees and unsupported transitions from child welfare.  A new question in the 2020 Nanaimo Homeless Count identified foster care as a precipitating factor forcing youth into homelessness. For youth leaving foster care in Nanaimo, 39% were homeless within five years or less, according to the count.

Inadequate discharge planning for people leaving hospitals, corrections facilities and mental health and addictions facilities can also leave people with nowhere to go. [1]


Circumstances that affect people on a personal level or within their family and support system, fall into this category. House fire, job loss, personal health issues, disabilities, struggles with addictions and mental health are all examples of circumstances that may lead someone to homelessness.

Relationship and family incidents are also included in this category. These include domestic violence, family breakdown or death of a partner, parent, or someone who supports them. For young people, this often includes problems with their family accepting their gender identity or sexual orientation. [1]


The path to homelessness is as complex and varied as the people themselves. Underlying economic, structural and social factors, in varying combinations, contribute to homelessness.


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