Homelessness in Canada remains at crisis levels, but for the first time in more than 25 years, there is hope, according to the State of Homelessness in Canada 2016 report released last week in Ottawa by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.
The report presents recommendations to the Government of Canada for the upcoming National Housing Strategy and shows not only how homelessness could be eliminated, but that ending homelessness is achievable and affordable.
“It’s great to know that Canada is coming back to a National Housing Strategy,” said Stephen Gaetz, director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness at York University. “This is an opportunity to correct more than 25 years of inadequate investment, which has led to our current affordable housing crisis. It is also an opportunity to end homelessness in Canada once and for all.”
“We agree with the government’s National Housing Strategy objective to ensure all Canadians have safe, decent and affordable housing,” says Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. “But we must act most urgently for those for whom a lack of housing can be a matter of life and death – people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.”
The report recommends an investment of $4.474 billion in 2017-2018 or $43.788 billion over a 10-year period, representing an annual increase of $1.818 billion more than the federal government is projected to spend on affordable housing in 2017-2018.That is only an additional $50 per Canadian annually, or less than a $1 per week, to prevent and end homelessness in Canada. It’s worth noting that homelessness currently costs the Canadian economy over $7 billion per year.
“The good news is we know what to do to solve homelessness: targeted affordable housing investment, community systems planning, Housing First, prevention and federal leadership will get us there,” said Gaetz. “And importantly, we also know solving homelessness will be far cheaper than ignoring it.”
Modern mass homeless in Canada is primarily the result of shrinking federal investment in housing beginning in the 1980s. As homelessness in Canada has grown, the face of homelessness has changed. What began as a phenomenon primarily impacting older single men now includes women (27 per cent of the homeless population), seniors (24.4 per cent of shelter users), and youth (18 per cent of the homeless population). Indigenous Peoples are 27 to 33 per cent of shelter users and are 10 times more likely to use homeless emergency shelters, yet only represent only 4.3 percent of the Canadian population.
“We cannot have a truly national Housing Strategy if we don’t at the same time address the needs of Canada’s most vulnerable people – those who experience homelessness or who are at risk,” said Gaetz.
State of Homelessness in Canada – 2016 key recommendations:
- Adopt a national goal of ending homelessness with clear and measurable outcomes, milestones and criteria
- Renew and expand Homelessness Partnering Strategy focusing on Housing First, prevention and building coordinated homelessness systems
- A new federal/provincial/territorial framework agreement that defines local leadership on homelessness and housing investment
- Targeted strategies to address the needs of priority sub-populations including youth, veterans and Indigenous peoples
- Retain and expand existing affordable housing stock
- Implement a National Housing Benefit
- Affordable housing tax credit
- Review and expand investment in affordable housing for Indigenous peoples
Homelessness by the numbers:
• 35,000 Canadians are homeless on a given night. 235,000 Canadians are homeless at some point every year
• In the last 20 years Canada’s population has grown more than 30% but federal funding for affordable housing has dropped more than 46 per cent. This has meant at least 100,000 units of affordable housing were not built
• Today over 1.5 million Canadian households live in core housing need, with over half of those households living in extreme core housing need (living in poverty and spending over 50 per cent of their income on housing)
• There has been a steady decline in the number of Canadians using shelters in the last 10 years. In fact, in 2014 there were almost 20,000 fewer people using emergency shelters than in 2005
• While there are fewer people using shelters, but those that are using them are staying longer
• The national occupancy rate – how full shelters are – increased by more than 10% between 2005-2014
• Most shelter stays are brief with youth and adults staying on average 10 days. But for seniors (50+) and families, the average length of stay is twice as long
The complete State of Homelessness in Canada 2016 report is available here: http://www.homelesshub.ca/SOHC2016.