How Much Does It Cost to End Homelessness in Canada?

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University
October 31, 2014
Categories: Ask the Hub

Last year we came across an infographic about the cost to end homelessness in the United States based on a New York Times report from 2012.  We wondered whether we could do something similar for Canada. We couldn’t because we didn’t have the numbers until this week when the State of Homelessness in Canada: 2014 was published. Based on work from real estate scholar Jane Londerville and economist Marion Steele, and published by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub in conjunction with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness this report costs out a solid path towards ending homelessness at $3.752 billion in 2015/2016 and about $44 billion over ten years.

This seems like a lot but it’s not actually that much. Mark Johnston from Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “estimated that homelessness could be effectively eradicated in the United States at an annual cost of about $20 billion”. Our annual cost of around $4 billion seems small in comparison. After all, Disney paid that amount to buy Lucasfilm back in 2012 and they got Star Wars in the deal!

Our plan works out to about $106/Canadian annually, $2.04 cents weekly, just 88 cents a week more than current spending. For that small amount we can contribute to a realistic solution to homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.

For less than the cost of a night out for two you could end homelessness.
Media Folder: 
We're asking the federal government to use their anticipated surplus and otherwise dedicate tax dollars towards the recommendations in our report. Tax dollars come out of your pocket though. So what does that really look like at a personal, practical level?

Many working people and working families eat out on a regular basis. Even a $10 lunch once per week will cost $520/year. A Canadian Eh! Large pizza from Pizza Pizza in Westminster B.C. is about $20 including tax and delivery. Do that once a month and it will cost you $240 a year. A Big Mac meal at most McDonald's would cost $8. Buy two a month and it will run you $192/year.

What about some other seemingly trivial expenses? A pack of gum per week adds up to about $70/year.  Purchasing two top Canadian magazines will cost about $375/year: buying The Walrus at the newsstand would cost $69.50/year whereas weekly magazine Macleans would cost $305.80. Subscriptions would still ring in at $84/year. Even grabbing that quick snack or pop at the vending machines adds up. Chips and a drink would add up to $208 if you bought them every week.  I’m a complete diet coke addict but I’d be willing to give up a pop (or even two) every week if it meant ending homelessness.

Social media can be another big money suck. Are you or your kids addicted to Candy Crush or interested in purchasing another app for your iPhone or iPad? Even at $2/app that’s $104 a year. Add in music from iTunes, a Netflix subscription and a few Facebook gifts and it quickly adds up.

What about your double-double fix? Tim Hortons, Canada’s favourite coffee purveyor, serves 2 billion cups of coffee per year. Your daily coffee fix will run you over $500, even if you skip the weekends.

Would you give up a coffee or two if it meant contributing towards ending homelessness?

Even caring for our pets costs us some big bucks. The average annual cost of dog ownership in Canada is $1,071, a cat is $835, a hamster $225 and a rabbit $450.

Annual purchases can also get expensive. Halloween costumes are commonly in the $50-100+ range, especially if you want a trendy one with all of the accessories. Sure to be the rage tonight, dressing your young princess as Elsa from Frozen would cost $62.97 for the costume, wig, tiara, wand and shoes at Party City.

According to Statistics Canada the average Canadian household spends $7,739 on food annually. This includes $5,572 in stores and $2,167 at restaurants. This works out to $3,095.60/person – $2,228.80/person in stores and $866.80/person in restaurants.

Other Canadian expenditures (all indicated per person) include $1,384.40 for clothing, $1,493.20 for recreation, $80.80 on games of chance and $873.20 for household furnishings and equipment.

For many households, one of their biggest expenses is probably their car. The Canadian Automobile Association calculates the cost of driving different types of cars (compact, mid-size and cross-over) for different lengths of distance. Using the average of the three cars driven 18,000 kms annually, the average Canadian driver spend $10469.92/year. This works out to $872.49/month and $201.34/week. (At 24,000km – average annual cost is $11,704.08, monthly cost is $975.34 and weekly cost is $225.08.)

Money to end homelessness is just a drop in the bucket.

Share these images if you agree:

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Tanya Gulliver-Garcia is a research coordinator for the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness based at York University. The COH works to mobilize research results so that they have a greater impact on the elimination of homelessness in Canada. Tanya is also a PhD candidate (ABD) in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University with a special interest in community resiliency and recovery after catastrophic disasters. From 2003 to 2010, Tanya taught a course on Homelessness in Canadian Society at Ryerson University. She is a co-founder of the Toronto Homeless Memorial's site at the Church of the Holy Trinity and served on the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee as well as numerous City of Toronto committees on homelessness.


9:01 PM 07/07/2016

To end homeless in Canada , we as Canadian citizens should not have to donate, give give up what we have earned working. What we need to do is FORCE our government's to give their life of luxury. They have way too much, they have nannies, maids flying all over the world on tax payers money. Thesr are the rich people who need to make a sacrifice to the homeless people. Do not bring more homeless immigrants to our already homelessness, why add to the problem??? How stupid is this?? We need smart people in our government not dome low life ex school teachers who are uneducated where common sense comes to play. Book smart does not cut it. We need in government who ate actually homeless or have lived in poverty , only they know what it's like and only they can tell you how to fix this.

6:20 PM 11/01/2016

On behalf of the Government, we are sorry we can't help you. We are far to busy to be dealing with this trivial stuff. We are to busy giving away tax payers money, patting each other on the back and taking photo ops. Your on your own.

Janet Breen
1:29 PM 14/12/2015

you make a number of presumptions about how even the lower rungs of society operates, ie "most go out to eat regularly", the cost of a pizza per month', the cost of a Tim's, a diet pop, etc. as if we all can be given as doing those things. In fact, not. Those of us who already marshal our resources more wisely, do NOT do those things. Seniours on fixed very LOW incomes do NOT do those things. if you are using 35,000,000 as your dividend to calculate the cost per Canadian, again, wrong. This ignores the number of Canadians who are children, or staying at home looking after their children, not earning outside the home. So, if you take those out, the figure per family is much higher. Or is the concept of wise spending, unfrivolous, family oriented Canadians outside your consciousness? I get ticked when ignorant people whose life experiences are narrowed to only their own social strata make speculative calculations which start out with totally inaccurate perceptions, to serve as the underpinnings for irresponsible fantasy-driven directions in social policy.

Wanda White
1:30 PM 12/12/2015

Diana, please don't take this the wrong way.
Programs are fine but in order to provide skills as needed you would need to provide safe, affordable housing for the homeless and then work on providing tools needed to build strong bodies able to withstand the rigors of finding and keeping a job. This is not something you can fix in a year. It will take as long as is needed by the individual given his/her own starting point.
Since a great portion of homeless are elderly or young children, providing them with job search skills is not the approach to take. As most of our population ages we need to bring in a workforce ready to work now and able to pay taxes to provide the services needed in a continuous cycle.

1:24 PM 12/12/2015

I would not call Housing First a tax drain considering in Utah officials found it saved money to help the former homeless than just doing the status quo (keeping the system as it was) - otherwise they would not have done it. Splendid youTube videos on Housing First - Utah. Take a look.

11:59 PM 11/12/2015

How many people are homeless in Canada in total? What's the benefit each homeless person receive from this $3.752 billion package? Suppose 100,000 people are homeless, if we just give them $3.752 billion, each one would receive $37,520. This is more than what I make in a year.

1:58 PM 10/12/2015

Nice article and perspective, but I had the same thoughts as Diana. I'd love to contribute, but what, even roughly, does the money contribute to in order to end homelessness? A second part to this article would go a long way to help me understand the answer and convince people in my life about the impact they can make by cutting back a little.

11:12 AM 19/07/2015

The present Housing First Model/HRm Reduction Model is successful as far as housing goes. Where it falls down is on the program's side of things. Very little is actually done to teach them the skills required to function productively in society. They just continue to be a tax drain on the working people. I am all for eliminating homelessness, but let's do it right; not halfway and call it successful.

1:48 PM 18/11/2014

Can we look to the Tiny House community for ideas? They are economical not only to build, but to heat... just a thought.

Tanya Gulliver-Garcia
2:13 PM 10/11/2014

Hi Diana

In the full report that we discuss - State of Homelessness in Canada: 2014 <> we share a full plan in terms of how the money would be used.

It's important to remember when you think of employment as rehabilitation that two of the largest growing groups of homeless people are children/youth and the elderly. In many cases employment is not an option.

For the others, a percentage of them would need permanent supportive housing and work may never be an option (or at least full-time independent work). For some, getting housed would be a first step to independence.

It's also important to note that many people experiencing homelessness are employed -- as many as 80% in some shelters in Calgary for example. For them, for many families, for many seniors -- the creation of affordable housing would solve their homelessness and is cheaper than shelters and other emergency services.



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