Research Matters Blog

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub: York University
May 01, 2015
Categories: Ask the Hub

This question came from Jackie via our latest website survey.

While most homelessness is a one-time event caused by a variety of complex and interrelated factors, many studies have found that housing and other “adverse events” play a critical role in child development and have highlighted family homelessness as a very serious issue.

Shift statistics on homeless mothers and violence

Aratani’s 2009 report found that children with experiences of homelessness exhibit more mental health and behavioural issues, and do poorer in school. Furthermore, “children who have been exposed to violence and/or trauma display increased aggression, depression, anxiety, symptoms of PTSD and general mental health difficulties.” As the writers of “Permanent Supportive Housing for Families with Multiple Needs” stated: “Unfortunately, many of the associated outcomes of housing instability for children, including brain development and school performance produce the risk factors for homelessness later in life, therefore contributing to multigenerational homelessness.” 

Multigenerational homelessness is not easy to trace or quantify, and as such, there’s no single set of statistics for me to give you; but here are a few findings from some existing research:

  • One 1997 study on homelessness in families headed by women found that 14.2% of respondents had a female caretaker who had been homeless, and 10.3% had a primary male caretaker who was homeless — though neither was identified as an “independent factor.” (Foster care and drug use, however, were.)

  • Koegel et al.’s 1995 study on childhood risk factors for homelessness found that of participating adults experiencing homelessness: 40% reported some form of housing problem or disruption during childhood. (13% lived in public or subsidized housing, 17% lived in crowded homes, 5% were evicted, 3% experienced homelessness with their families, and 17% reported homeless/ runaway experiences during childhood.)

  • In the tri-annual Wilder Surveys on homelessness in Minnesota, 34% of surveyed homeless parents had themselves experienced homelessness as a child – up from 25% in 2006.

  • Chamberlain and Johnson identified youth homelessness as a primary pathway into adult homelessness – what they call the “youth to adult” stream ­– which affected 35% of adults experiencing homeless in their study. Of this 35%, 85% experienced long-term homelessness.


Beyond just homelessness

What much of the research concludes is that it is not necessarily homelessness itself that causes future homelessness, but the factors that cause homelessness in the first place – a combination of poverty, lack of affordable housing, substance abuse issues, etc. Family and partner conflict and/or violence is also often a factor, as shown in the infographic from SHIFT (right). 

A study by Shinn et al. on shelter use in New York City found a variety of individual factors contributed to requests for shelter use, including childhood “disruptions” (like being in foster care), but no one factor type was more prominent than others. The researchers also found that access to subsidized housing was the only common factor among the 75% of families who were eventually stably housed. 

80% of respondents in Baker Collins’ study stated that what happened to them as children led to their chronic homelessness, and 75% had been physically and/or sexually abused. 40% spent time in foster care, group homes, or custody; and another 40% said they were sent away from home. 

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at thehub@edu.yorku.ca and we will provide a research-based answer.

Photo credit: SHIFT study

Fair Change Community Services
April 30, 2015

There are 2 documents that can give us the answer. The first was published by the Government of Ontario, and it can be found here: (POA Consultation Paper)

The Second is a Study published by professors from Guelph and York University and it can be found here: (Can I See Your ID? The Policing of Youth Homelessness in Toronto).

The POA Consultation Paper tells us that there are approximately 1,650,000 Provincial Offence Act Charges (POA Charges) laid per year.

Thanks to the 2011 study we know that in 2011 there were 15,324 Safe Streets Act (SSA) charges laid. The study indicated that the number of SSA charges was increasing every year – but for the sake of argument lets estimate that the charges stayed steady at 2011 levels.

MATH TIME: (15324/1650000)*100 = 0.93% or about 1%

About 1% of all Provincial Offence Charges are Safe Streets Act Charges

POA Consultation Paper tells us that about one quarter of all POA Charges are laid in Toronto and that Toronto POA Court Costs about $50 million dollars per year to run. This accounts for the buildings, the prosecutors and the administration staff. If we assume that Toronto is being about as fiscally responsible as the other cities in the Province we can estimate that POA Court costs the Province of Ontario $200 million per year.

MATH TIME: 1% of $200,000,000 = $2,000,000.

The Ontario Safe Streets Act Costs Ontario $2 Million per year

2 million dollars per year – and what are we getting for our money? With other POA Charges, like speeding, the cost is recouped when people pay their tickets. But SSA Tickets are Only given out to people who are on the street begging for money. The study shows that less than 1% of SSA tickets are ever paid, so almost none of that money is being recouped.

Time to put an end to this wasteful law!

Safe Streets Act Stats

Reprinted with permission from Fair Change Community Services.

York University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub
April 29, 2015

Homeless youth, and youth living in other critical housing situations are much more likely to be using illicit drugs compared to other youth. There is a tendency to attribute such discrepancies to stereotypes about homeless individuals, rather than considering how homelessness itself affects drug use. The infographic below, published by the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research, explores alcohol and drug use among youth in street-based settings in Victoria B.C. Data is drawn from the experiences of street-involved youth, aged 15-24, who were recruited from local shelter programs to complete a study.

Young people living in critical housing situations face stressors that most youth are not forced to deal with. For example, when young people are homeless, the stress associated with finding a safe shelter to sleep and rest every night is overwhelming. Difficulties in accessing nutritional food, exposure to physical and sexual violence, and the chronic stigma associated with being homeless may contribute to the use of coping mechanisms. Substances may be used for many other reasons, such as social inclusion, for recreation and for pleasure.

Some readers may feel that the Victoria BC sample may not be representative of street-involved youth in other areas of Canada. However, upon comparison with the Youth Pathways Project Study, which was conducted in Toronto from 2005-2006, there are some striking similarities for drug use. For example:

In the Victoria study

In the YPP study

  • 88% of youth surveyed reported using marijuana in the past 30 days
  • 82% reported using tobacco
  • 33% reported cocaine use
  • 23% reported using amphetamines
  • 73% of youth reported using marijuana in the past 30 days
  • 91% reported using tobacco
  • 24% reported cocaine use
  • 16% reported using amphetamines

These figures suggest strong commonalities exist when it comes to drug use among street-involved youth across Canada.

Research has shown that homelessness is an independent predictor of injection drug use among street-involved youth. Peer substance abuse and homelessness have also been shown to predict substance abuse from adolescence through early adulthood. Substance abuse produces poor health outcomes for youth, and depending on the methods used to consume a drug, it can also lead to infection and disease.  For some youth, substance abuse leads to addiction, sexual exploitation, and even criminal behaviour related to the drug trade. Accordingly, interventions that focus on housing supports for youth can reduce drug use, which in turn leads to improved physical health and well-being.

However, drug use is only one indicator of health and well-being among street-involved and homeless youth. A large body of research has documented that homeless youth are highly disadvantaged compared to youth in the general population across a wide range of health outcomes. As it currently stands, there tend to be few available interventions available for street-involved youth. Unfortunately, a lack of service availability and accessibility for these youth directly worsens their health and contributes to chronic homelessness.

Alcohol & Drug Use Among Youth in Street-Based Settings in Victoria, BC

April 27, 2015
Categories: Topics

While Canada has universal health care, there are still many barriers preventing homeless individuals and families from accessing health services. The lack of identification – particularly their health ID card – is often cited as the biggest barrier to obtaining health care for people experiencing homelessness. Another significant barrier is following up on prescriptions (due to lack of insurance benefits or inability to pay the co-payment) or ongoing medical “home treatment” (such as sitz baths, bedrest or wound care).

Other barriers to adequate health care faced by people experiencing homelessness include the daily struggle for the essentials of life. A reliance on drop-ins and shelters for meals does not provide a nutritionally balanced or adequate diet. Living situations (i.e. sleeping outside, squats or crowded shelter) often result in increased disease transmittal. Many shelters require people to leave during the day preventing someone from obtaining needed rest. 

Homeless women and men do not  have ‘different’ illnesses than the  general population.  However, their  living circumstances and poverty affect their ability to cope with health problems.Homeless people as a group die younger than housed people and many suffer from more frequent severe illnesses and at an earlier age. For example, the 2011 Winnipeg Street Health report found that compared to the general population, homeless people in their survey were:

  • 20 times as likely to have hepatitis C
  • 8 times as likely to have epilepsy 
  • 3 times as likely to have had a heart attack
  • 6 times as likely to have angina
  • 2 times as likely to have asthma
  • 2 times as likely to have arthritis or rheumatism 
  • 3 times as likely to have diabetes
  • 10 times as likely to have FAS/FAE 
  • 5 times as likely to have migraine headaches 

These numbers echo an earlier report from Toronto’s Street Health which in 2007 found that the homeless people they interviewed were:

  • 29 times as likely to have hepatitis C
  • 20 times as likely to have epilepsy
  • 5 times as likely to have heart disease
  • 4 times as likely to have cancer 
  • 3 1⁄2 times as likely to have asthma
  • 3 times as likely to have arthritis or rheumatism
  • Twice as likely to have diabetes 

In terms of public mental heath care in Canada, there are three different types of care. Primary mental health care (first-line services) includes simple diagnostic procedures, basic treatment and referral to more specialized services as needed. Secondary care consists of specialized care that provides more extensive and complicated procedures and treatment. It may be provided within hospitals, clinics or office-based practices, on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Tertiary care is a set of specialized interventions delivered by highly trained professionals to help individuals with problems that are particularly complex and difficult to treat in primary or secondary settings. 

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub: York University
April 24, 2015
Categories: Ask the Hub

“I’m looking for resources to help put together an effective communications plan to manage NIMBY if we were to move our housing services into a new neighbourhood. I was wondering if the Homeless Hub had any resources that might be helpful to look at with this objective in mind?” 

This question came from Misha via email.

There is an unfortunate lack of guidance in creating specific communications plans, as evidenced by you needing to ask this question! NIMBY is something that many housing and homelessness organizations have found they need to overcome, so there are some resources available. I’ll first describe what NIMBY is for all our readers. Then I’ll discuss some responses to it and how they can be applied to communications.

Construction zone signWhat is NIMBY?

NIMBY is short for “Not in my backyard,” which describes a phenomenon in which residents of a neighbourhood consider a new development (like affordable/supportive housing, a group home, or a shelter) or tenant changes within an existing building as unwanted or ill suited to the area.

NIMBYism has been especially common in the last few decades. Its arguments are typically rooted in anxiety and fear of change, and as such, do not highlight the benefits of shelters and affordable/supportive housing. They are also influenced by negative stereotypes and sometimes, outright discrimination of people living in poverty; people experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, and/or drug abuse. The ideas lead to concerns that that crime will increase, property values will go down, etc. if a new development serving these groups enters a community.

This can be difficult, but not impossible to overcome. The first step in creating successful communications for a shelter or affordable/supportive housing project is being able to speak to NIMBY-based concerns. The Greater Victoria Homelessness Coalition has created an excellent series of fact sheets about NIMBY; and the Ontario Human Rights Commission has an entire section debunking myths about shelters and affordable/supportive housing. Both contain references to studies that have found that the common NIMBY-based concerns are not true. (Crime doesn’t go up! And property values do not decrease!)

There’s also this study, which reviewed literature on the subject and found that subsidized housing developments do not negatively impact communities.

Potential supporters for shelters and housingTips for effective communication

Once you know how to respond to NIMBY, it’s time to create your communications strategy. In her analysis of 14 case studies in 7 Canadian cities and across 5 provinces, Jeannie Wynne-Edwards writes: “While bias and prejudice may not yield to facts, education and awareness through the presentation of facts is important. This fear can only be addressed through education, awareness and change.” She also describes the entire NIMBY cycle and makes specific recommendations around what language to use based on what kind of opposition (ie. prejudice-based).

The Fair Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania made a great toolkit for developing fair housing. In its 4th section, they emphasize the importance of building community support. Here I’ve adapted some of their points on how to launch a successful community campaign:

  1. Research everything you can about the community. What it is like? Who lives there? What has happened to similar proposals in the past? Who are the neighbourhood leaders and political representatives? What are the zoning laws and bylaws of the area? 

  2. Find potential allies and seek their endorsement. Partner with nearby social service agencies. Find out how they’ve been involved with housing issues in the past, and if they have influence with any relevant decision makers. The writers of the toolkit make some specific suggestions about which kinds of groups to approach (pictured right).

  3. Make sure the messaging is specific. As the writers state: “Early in the process it is important to develop a set of talking points about why THIS development is the right project for THIS neighborhood and THIS community at THIS point in history.” People are much more likely to support a project they feel matters and they are invested in—it won’t be enough to quote general statistics about homelessness or the importance of affordable housing, though those can come in handy too.

  4. Prepare a media strategy. If your project is likely to meet opposition, reach out to media first to make the case for its development. This involves telling the story of why this project matters to this community, now. Be sure to also prepare short, fact-based responses to anticipated claims from opponents, as those will inevitably arise when media coverage comes around. (A legal strategy may also be necessary if opponents bring up zoning issues.)

  5. Get creative to reach different audiences. Putting up a few posters isn’t going to reach everyone you want to anymore. Embrace multimedia and social media, and factor each of those into your communications plan. Create different audiences (Potential Opponent, Youth, Person Experiencing Homelessness, City Councillor) and tailor materials to them, what they care about, and what their concerns might be. In the toolkit, the authors mention a particularly creative example where developers arranged public tours of existing affordable housing buildings to help residents see what the new development would actually be like.

My colleague Tanya also made a great suggestion in a previous Ask the Hub post, in which she highlights the potentially high impact of including personal stories from people with lived experience in communications. As she wrote:

The Dream Team, a group of mental health survivors who advocate for supportive housing, have used videos, post card campaigns and lawsuits to challenge both NIMBYism and to call for more supportive housing. By telling their stories — see Philip and Linda sharing their stories — they help educate the public and government alike about the importance of supportive housing and how it helped get them off the streets.”

A few other resources make similar points and are also worth reading:

- Jaimie Ross’s fact sheet on NIMBYism and overcoming community opposition

- The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s case study research on affordable housing projects

- Matthew McNeil’s step-by-step guide to overcoming NIMBYism

Additional resources

While none of this makes a complete communications plan, it hopefully provides a foundation and understanding of NIMBYism that can help you move forward in creating your own specific plan. Here are a few more resources you might want to check out: 

A guide to overcoming NIMBY for municipal officials (Canada)

Creating inclusive communities in Florida (United States)

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at thehub@edu.yorku.ca and we will provide a research-based answer.

Photo credit: Elliott Brown on Flickr

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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.