The Impact of Homelessness in Canada

Jul 2021 | Homelessness Other

Canada is facing a homelessness crisis and the impact of homelessness in Canada on citizens who find themselves without a home is extremely challenging and diverse. 

Many paths lead to homelessness and cause people to fall in and out of homelessness throughout their lives. The impacts of living without permanent housing can affect physical health, mental health, and put their safety at risk. 

Three Categories of Homelessness

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) divides the homeless population between Canada into three categories: unsheltered, emergency-sheltered, and hidden homeless. 

The unsheltered homeless are those without housing and not accessing emergency shelters or accommodation, except for during extreme weather conditions. These are the people you see on the streets and sidewalks of Canadian cities. Their health and safety are at risk since they are vulnerable to assault, discrimination, poor hygiene, injury, lack of medical care, and malnutrition. 

The emergency-sheltered are those who are seeking emergency shelter and system supports. They often move from shelter to shelter depending on the availability of beds. Even though they are off the streets, their health and safety are still at risk since they are still vulnerable in these facilities. These people are also more likely to access social services and other supports that are available through the shelters. 

The hidden homeless are people who live in their cars, couch surf or stay with friends or family members. This category is difficult to track since they are not seen on the streets or in shelters and may fall in and out of homelessness throughout their lives. This group may be employed and living paycheque to paycheque. Although they have access to food and shelter, the effects on their physical and mental health can be debilitating. Moving from place to place causes instability and stress.

The Causes of Homelessness in Canada

According to the Nanaimo Homeless Coalition (NHC), the causes of homelessness in Canada are housing affordability, low wages, insecure housing, and mental health and addictions. 

The Nanaimo Homeless Coalition recognizes how challenging homelessness is in the community. According to FACTSHEET: What’s Driving Homelessness? Communities across BC and Canada are challenged by the rapid increase in homeless and the opioid crisis. In 2018, rent for a two-bedroom apartment increased by nearly 10% while the average BC wage increased by only 2.4%. 

Housing prices across Canada are on the rise, wages and pensions are at an all-time low, basic accommodation is hard to find due to rising rental costs, and people with mental health and addictions face discrimination, difficulty coping, and employment barriers. 

The Economy and Homelessness

Homelessness in Canada also impacts those who are not facing homelessness. According to the report SHELTER Homelessness in a Growth Economy: Canada’s 21st Century Paradox, homelessness costs Canadian taxpayers between $4.5 and $6 billion annually. These amounts cover the costs for people facing homelessness in temporary shelters, hospitals, welfare offices, non-profit organizations as well as the criminal justice system, and mental health institutions. The economy is being stretched, as well as the front-line workers who deal directly with the homeless population.

The impacts of homelessness in Canada affect the entire population and our country is in crisis. The Government of Canada has developed a National Housing Strategy, which includes Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy to make investments in communities most in need, such as Nanaimo. In Nanaimo, Reaching Home funds are invested in the following areas: 

Learn more about Reaching Home in Nanaimo and Nanaimo’s Health & Housing Action Plan.

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