Research Matters Blog
Gender, race, and social status are all factors that play a critical role in determining who is poor. Across Canada, women are more likely to live in conditions of poverty than men. The below infographic, produced by the Canadian Women's Foundation, displays some startling facts about the high rate of poverty among women.
The infographic states that 21% of single mothers in Canada live in poverty. There are many factors that come together to create a situation where over 1 in 5 mothers are living in poverty. Women spend more time than men doing unpaid work; this includes childcare, meal preparation, and housework. The lack of affordable childcare in Canada also forces mothers to limit their career and education opportunities. In order to balance their work and home responsibilities, many women have no choice but to choose employment that is precarious: positions that are part-time, seasonal, or operate on a contractual basis. The gender wage gap is another factor that contributes to increased rates of poverty among women rather than men. Jobs traditionally occupied by women pay less than jobs traditionally occupied by men.
Investing in the lives of women is tantamount to investing in the lives of children. Children growing up in poverty are far more likely to experience food insecurity, have poor health outcomes, and have trouble succeeding in school. Over the long-term, it's clear that investing in women means investing in the lives of children.
Some groups of women are far more likely to live in poverty than others. 35% of women belonging to visible minority groups live in poverty and as a result are likely to face additional stressors and barriers, including difficulty obtaining employment. Unemployment rates for immigrants are higher than unemployment rates for Canadian-born individuals at every level of education–despite there being similar participation rates in the labour market. The high rate of poverty among women belonging to visible minority groups is likely the product of an interaction of factors associated with being a woman and being a member of a minority group. There are similar interactions between: (1) being a woman in Canadian society and (2) unique factors associated with being Aboriginal, living with a disability, or being a single senior.
The infographic also states that 36% of Aboriginal women live in poverty. The argument is often made that the direct effects of colonialism and discrimination against Aboriginal peoples have worn off by today. This kind of argument makes light of the intergenerational impact that systemic racism and widespread policies of assimilation have had on Aboriginal peoples. It also ignores present-day policies and practices which specifically impact the health and economic well-being of Aboriginal women.
Women with disabilities
In Canada, 26% of women in poverty have a disability. While there are a number of services, benefits and grants/tax deductions designed to support people living with disabilities, these programs do not adequately address employment and economic barriers that women with disabilities face
In 2013, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that “the biggest increase in old-age poverty occurred among elderly women, especially those who are divorced or separated.” Senior women who do not have job security, pension funds, or retirement savings risk finding themselves living in situations of poverty.
How can we help women move out of poverty?
Investing in educational and career-training programs for women can be of great aid to women who may be struggling to find adequate, full-time employment. Changes in policy that address employment discrimination against Aboriginal women and women belonging to minority groups can directly improve their living conditions. We can support specialized programs that target aforementioned gaps in our social safety net. Spreading awareness about the scope of the problem in itself is a critical step towards helping Canadian women move out of poverty.
If you’re in one of Canada’s 60+ communities who receive Homelessness Partnering Strategy funds, you’ve probably been thinking about homeless counts in recent weeks. If so, this blog’s for you!
A novel concept?
Believe it or not, homeless point-in-time counts are not a new idea. In fact, some communities have been doing them since the 1990s on an ongoing basis. In Canada, there are over 20 communities who have a history of conducting homeless counts – this number is poised to increase given the recent push for national counts and the development of a consistent methodology through the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness) to align communities across country – similar to the US approach.
You probably know some of the pros and cons to these attempts at enumerating those experiencing homelessness on any given day or night. Of course, looking at homelessness at a point in time is problematic given that people experience bouts of housing instability throughout the year. Point-in-time counts are also likely to undercount certain groups, such as women and youth, who are not as visible in emergency shelters, transitional housing facilities, or street counts.
The promise of harmonized counts
Having said this, there are key benefits that outweigh these issues in practice: counts can provide foundational information about the demographics and needs of those experiencing homelessness in a community. This is especially the case for communities where there is no other source of system-level data (such as HIFIS or HMIS).
They can also be leveraged to kick-start the creation of a coordinated systems approach to Housing First (see the 20,000 Homes Campaign) and act as a community engagement platform to bring new energy and attention to the issue. And if you do them regularly, counts can be part of a toolkit of information you can use to understand population shifts and how these relate to broader macro-economic changes in areas like housing, employment, and migration. Such data can be used in developing system-level responses and highlight areas where policy change and interventions are needed.
A regional perspective
Now imagine you could get 7 cities to agree on the data to be collected, a common timeframe for the count, and then work together to develop a regional picture on homelessness. That’s in sum what Alberta 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness managed to do last October.
During the upcoming Homeless Hub webinar on March 24, we’ll be discussing some of the results and learnings from this experiment in further detail – but here is a preview of those key learnings from the first-ever provincial homeless count in our country.
Leveraging count data
The power of an aligned count is evident if we only look at the most basic finding: the total number enumerated by community. Not a ground-breaking result, but startling in some respects: about 88% of those enumerated in the Alberta count were in either Calgary or Edmonton; the remaining 12% were spread across the smaller cities of Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
If we look closer at the count figure as a percent of the total city population, a different picture emerges however. The main point here is that aligned methods allow us the opportunity to look at the dynamics involved in homelessness from a comparative perspective.
A broader perspective on homelessness dynamics
We can begin to look at count data in relation other indicators that are regionally available, including census data or CMHC housing market trends.
Note for example what happens when we take into account the number of people enumerated per vacant primary rental unit according to the CMHC Fall Rental Market report.
This is an important indicator to consider, as available rental units in relation to demand from potential renters, including those experiencing homelessness, can make a considerable difference in overall affordability along with a slate of other drivers (rental costs, availability of social housing, rent supports, job opportunities/income, etc.).
Though not conclusive, this confirms that any analysis of the relative success of ending homelessness initiatives must be understood in the context of broader socio-economic trends impacting the housing markets locally and homeless counts can be powerful tools to enable such analysis.
The availability of harmonized homeless count data across community has the potential to probe these issues with new information; in some ways, it can further our understanding of the link in the dynamics of housing markets to homelessness, as well as funding and policy decisions’ impact at a community and regional level – most obviously in relation to the need for affordable housing.
Now, let’s look at what else we can examine from a regional perspective: gender, ethnicity, family structure, age, migration, immigration, veteran status, homelessness pattern, etc. Click here to see a summary from the Alberta count on these common demographics elements. Looking at issues that are national in scope, such as the consistent over-representation of Aboriginal people in homeless counts, can be a powerful tool in building responses at the national, provincial/territorial and local levels.
FYI for future counts
Having said that all that, there were still some pitfalls and learnings from the Alberta count. Despite a common method, there were diverse interpretations of some aspects of the approach at a local level which challenge comparability – these are fully examined in the final report.
There were also process issues that popped up at the most inopportune times, but we were committed to finding a solution that worked for everyone, and we did. In the end, the 7 Cities coordinated the release of preliminary reports for each community on National Housing Day in November 2014, and released a final provincial report in February 2015 as a collective. Perhaps in future years we’ll be releasing such reports nation-wide.
What—if any—studies have been done about the prevalence of landlords discriminating against queer and/or Trans* youth seeking housing? (i.e rental apartment, house etc.)?
This question came from Maverick S. in our latest website survey.
Unfortunately, there haven’t been any studies on queer and trans* youth seeking long-term housing in Canada. (That we know of, anyway. If you find one, please let us know!) Though youth homelessness has been researched much more in recent years, studies specific to queer and trans* youth has been limited to shelter experiences, use and policies.
When it comes to housing, discrimination by sexual preference or family relationship is illegal in Canada—yet it does happen. One University of British Columbia study found same-sex male couples are nearly 25% more likely to be rejected by landlords. Though there aren’t many Canadian studies, there are some based in the United States with some interesting findings.
In one study involving pursuing apartments on Craigslist, “same-sex couples were less likely to receive a response to an inquiry for rental housing and were discriminated against by over 15 percent of the landlords. Most rejections came before landlords had any knowledge of the couple’s income, occupations or family characteristics.”
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) shows similar results, with 19% of respondents reporting that they’d experienced homelessness, and 11% evicted because they were transgender or gender non-conforming. Some of the findings are even more disturbing: More than half (55%) of respondents reported being harassed by shelter staff; 29% were turned away entirely; and 22% were sexually assaulted by residents or staff.
The Williams Institute has also undertaken several studies on employment and housing discrimination related to gender identity and sexual orientation in the several states, including Missouri and Idaho.
What we know about LGBTQ2 youth in Canada
According to one Ottawa study, 25-40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ2. This study, however, is now about 15 years old—so we’re not 100% sure what the population looks like today. A 2007 U.S. study had similar findings, with 20-40% of youth identifying as LGBTQ.
Queer and trans* youth often face discrimination when attempting to stay in shelters, with up to 1 in 3 being rejected due to their gender expression or identity. This population is also at a much higher risk of substance abuse, risky sexual behaviour, and homo/transphobic violence. Alex Abramovich’s research, No Fixed Address: Young, Queer, and Restless (also pictured right) discussed family conflict as a primary factor of youth homelessness that is especially pronounced among LGBTQ2 youth.
Similarly, The Ontario Trans PULSE survey found that the relationship between housing and family support is strong. Being adequately housed was “…reported by 100% of youth with parents strongly supportive of their gender identity and expression, but only by 45% of youth whose parents were not strongly supportive.”
Once youth find themselves homeless, shelters need to do more to meet LGBTQ2 youth’s unique needs. As Abramovich states:
“Due to gaps in knowledge and a lack of reported incidents, discrimination against these youth remains largely invisible to policy makers and shelter management at a time when LGBTQ youth homelessness is on the rise (Abramovich, 2012; Denomme-Welch et al., 2008; Yonge Street Mission, 2009). Service providers are not fully equipped or prepared to deal with issues of homophobia and transphobia in the youth shelter system. Currently there are few specialized support services and no specialized shelters in Canada that meet the needs of LGBTQ youth.”
It's worth mentioning, however, that Toronto City Council recently voted to add 54 shelter beds specifically for LGBTQ youth, so this might be changing very soon.
Trans* people are especially at risk of discrimination and violence, in and out of housing. The Trans PULSE survey of 433 trans* people over 16 found that:
- 98% of respondents reported at least one experience of transphobia
- 75% of racialized, 62% of Aboriginal, and 29% of white trans people reported experiencing racism or ethnicity-related discrimination
- Trans youth are twice as likely to consider suicide than those over 25
With such high rates of discrimination and violence faced by LGBTQ2 youth in general, it is likely that they face the same (along with issues around ageism and affordability) in the private rental market. Given the importance of housing as soon as possible, more research needs to be done on what happens when LGBTQ2 youth seek long-term housing.
For more information about the experience of queer and trans* youth, read Alex Abramovich's post on Transgender Day of Rememberance 2014.
Like homelessness, poverty has many faces. The below infographic, published as part of TVO’s Why Poverty series, takes a look at the changing face of poverty in Ontario. The piece draws heavily from a 2011 Mowat Centre report on how single adults are replacing single parents as the new face of poverty in Canada.
The infographic uses two main measures to compare levels of poverty between single adults and single parents in Ontario. The first measure compares the number of adults receiving social assistance through Ontario Works. From 2000 to 2011, there has been a 65% increase in the number of single adults who receive Ontario Works benefits and a 25% decrease in the number of single parents receiving Ontario Works benefits.
Many factors have contributed to the rise in the number of single adults receiving Ontario Works benefits. Shifting market trends have eliminated many well-paying full-time jobs and replaced them with precarious work in the new labour market. There has also been a shift in jobs to the service sector; many single adults living in poverty do not have the required experience and credentials to apply for these jobs.
The second measure takes a look at the difference in social assistance income breakdown between both groups. While tax credits account for just 11% of social assistance for single adults, tax credits account for 40% of social assistance for single parents. These figures suggest that on the provincial and federal level there needs to be more income, in the form of tax credits, transferred to single adults living in poverty.
Additional specialized education and employment services would also benefit single adults. These services can help individuals develop skills required to be competitive in today’s labour market. Just as economies and labour markets are prone to change, social assistance and service provision should meet the changing needs of Canadians. Investing more in services and supports for single adults can drastically improve their odds of moving out of poverty.
It should be made clear that these figures do not suggest that the province and the federal government need to be investing less into the lives of single parents. The rate of child poverty in Ontario remains very high for single parent homes with one child, where the rate of poverty is a startling 44%. Instead there should be continued investments made into their futures, as long-term investments into families simply work. Government benefits for children, specialized supports to help single parents receive a better education and find employment, and tougher enforcement of child support all contribute to helping single parent families move out of poverty.
Poverty and homelessness are inextricably linked. Without fighting poverty, we have little hope of fighting homelessness. If we want to make significant gains against poverty, we must energetically pursue efforts to improve the supports and services provided to those who need it most.
The criminal justice system is associated with homelessness. Inmates, across Canada that are discharged from prison are becoming homeless due to lack of access to housing, employment and health-based supports (e.g. for substance use or mental health problems). At the same time, many homeless people end up in prison due to a combination of mental health and substance use issues, a reliance on survival strategies (e.g. panhandling and sleeping in public places) and a higher surveillance by police due to their visibility on the streets. This creates a revolving door scenario whereby incarceration and experiences of homelessness are an individual’s only two realities.
In Canada, the federal government incarcerates inmates with sentences of more than two years. The provincial government is responsible for people with sentences of less than two years and people on remand (pre-trial – not convicted - awaiting sentencing). Each inmate has a different set of challenges associated with housing and employment, health and mental health issues, violence and substance use, etc. These challenges make re-entry into a community, upon release from remand or incarceration, very difficult. Evidence suggests that three main programs are helpful in mediating the risks to the individual and community: 1) discharge planning; 2) in-prison support programs; and, 3) post-release supports.
Unfortunately, in many jurisdictions, the burden of supporting prisoner re-entry falls to the shoulders of community-based service providers for the homeless. Shelters, drop-ins and soup kitchens – although not mandated or funded to do so – are tasked with mediating the complicated transition from corrections to mainstream life, without adequate staff training and support. Regardless of whether improper discharge planning results in a first-time incidence of homelessness, or continues a pattern of cyclical or chronic homelessness, once back on the street the individual has a greater likelihood of contact with the criminal justice system, and the cycle continues. High quality corrections programs, discharge planning and transitional supports must be in place for inmates, including longer-term remand inmates (pre-trial, but in custody), to help reduce homelessness and re-entry to the criminal justice system.
Homeless people, and people with mental illnesses, are being detained in remand centres in Canada. Once imprisoned, or otherwise held in the custody of the correctional system, their prospects are not improved. The environment in many facilities may contribute to mental illness or addiction, the recurrence or worsening of symptoms of these disorders, and suicide. Risks of violence and death, separation from family and friends, and worries about parole reviews or transfers to other facilities can challenge one’s mental health. Individuals with existing mental health disorders will tend to have fewer personal resources to cope with stressors, resulting in the potential exacerbation of their disorders.
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The analysis and interpretations contained in the blog posts are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.