Research Matters Blog

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub: York University
September 19, 2014
Categories: Ask the Hub

Not all homeless people are unemployed, but for those who are, finding a job can be extremely difficult. Employers tend to choose from applicants who appear traditionally reliable with gapless resumes, permanent addresses, professional wardrobes and high levels of education.

These are all things many homeless people struggle to achieve. Given that employment and income is crucial in securing housing, it’s is incredibly important for homeless people to work. Fortunately, there are many reasons why employers would want to — and do — hire people who are homeless.

Personal investment

Many employers, especially those in social enterprises — businesses created more for social good than explicit profit—have some connection to homelessness, mental health issues, poverty, addictions or other problems that can contribute to marginalization. This makes them more likely to offer opportunities to marginalized people.

Veronika Scott, whose parents struggled with substance abuse and unemployment, says no one thought she was worth anything. Despite not doing well in school, she went to college and had an idea: She wanted to make coats that turn into sleeping bags to give away to homeless people in Detroit. As reported in Forbes, one homeless woman told her: ”If you really want to help us, it’s great to have a coat to stay warm, but what we really need is to be employed.” And so her business, The Empowerment Plan, hires women from homeless shelters as full-time seamstresses.

Scott was told that she’d be lucky if anyone ever showed up, never mind made a coat. The Empowerment Plan has been very successful, and most employees are able to move into their own apartment after three months. In her talk at the 2014 Forbes Women’s Summit, Scott says she valued being given a chance in college, and recognized the importance of extending it to others.

This was also important to the Kelleys in Fort Collins, Colorado, who opened RedTail Coffee with a goal of hiring homeless and low-income applicants from the surrounding Red Tail Ponds housing project. Their business was created, according to ThinkProgress, to challenge the negative attitudes exhibited by some of their neigbours when the project was announced.

“It’s been a very positive experience thus far,” Seth Kelley told ThinkProgress. “It’s definitely opening up the eyes of people who live in the area.”

Some employers told remarkable success stories of youth who had overcome monumental barriers and daunting life circumstances to become valued employees

Other motivations

More motivations were highlighted in Raising the Roof’s Private Sector Engagement Project, which went beyond social enterprises. The project connected homeless youth, community agencies, and private sector employers. In the organization’s 2012 report “It’s Everybody’s Business: Engaging the Public Sector in Solutions to Youth Homelessness,” author and researcher Amanda Noble summarized three top reported motivations from the private sector participants.  

1. Giving back

Most participants in the program said companies have a responsibility to social problems like homelessness. 45.2% (nearly half) said their primary motivation was to “give back to their communities, and help marginalized youth maintain employment.”

2. Good for business

25.8% said their involvement was “good for business.” Having extra employees around during peak periods was beneficial for some participants, while others appreciated being eligible for wage subsidies as they helped offset the cost of training new employees.

3. Positive partnerships

19.4% of the program participants said partnering with a reputable community agency was their primary motivation. Working with agencies provides the training, screening and support that many homeless people need to get a job, so good relationships with agencies can lead to successful placements and positive associations.

Another motivation not explicitly listed in the report is good corporate image. According to The Guardian, young people care more about job fulfillment and meaning than finances; and in Nielsen’s latest consumer survey, sentiment towards “socially responsible” companies is growing. With more and more people invested in social change, more employers might be motivated to give opportunities to people who are homeless.


If you or someone you know is interested in hiring someone who is homeless, reach out to a local community agency and learn about their employment programs.

For hiring homeless youth, Raising the Roof has a helpful toolkit for employers that goes over the risks and benefits. (Hint: There’s more benefits than risks!) 

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

Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness
September 17, 2014

The below infographic represents what the Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness learned in our annual survey we began conducting in January 2013. We did the first survey because the Coalition was about to embark on a major communications campaign to increase the awareness of homelessness in the region. Before we began however we wanted to know what the baseline was in the community.

We were really quite surprised by the results of that first survey. Our communities had pretty good awareness of homelessness in general and of the things that drive it. Nearly two thirds understood that homelessness costs more than housing, nearly 60% believe that homelessness can be ended and over 40% knew someone who had experienced homelessness.

The most surprising result however was the awareness of the impact of affordable housing. 85% of those surveyed believed more affordable housing would help to end homelessness and a similar number thought it was government’s job to provide that housing. Those are apple pie numbers. If we random surveyed how many people loved their mother we wouldn’t likely get much higher numbers.

Our second survey showed that little has changed in that department. If anything the numbers have gotten stronger.  An incredible 90% of those surveyed believe that more affordable housing will help to end homelessness.  Residents of Victoria get it.  Now if only the federal government did. 

Homelessness in Greater Victoria according to Greater Victorians

York University
September 15, 2014
Categories: Solutions

There is great diversity within the homeless population. Some sub-populations are over-represented in Canada including Aboriginal persons, visible minorities, and amongst youth, LGBTQ2 persons. Why does this matter? Although homelessness is stigmatizing for all people who experience it, many individuals are doubly and triply marginalized due to racism, sexism and homophobia. In fact, discrimination is an identifiable cause of homelessness, for if people experience active discrimination that impacts on their ability to obtain adequate housing, work or an education, this can contribute to their experience of poverty and vulnerability to homelessness. Unfortunately many people continue to experience its negative impact once on the streets, from strangers, other homeless persons and unfortunately, from many service providers.

A variety of population groups are displayed on this icon.If homelessness services are the last refuge for such individuals and families – that is, they have no where else to go – then it is incumbent upon the sector to ensure that service providers to not further contribute to discrimination and marginalization. No organization should accept policies or practices that are homophobic or racist, for instance. As an example, transgendered youth should be able to expect the full rights, respect and the protection that they are most certainly entitled to. Young women – many of whom have experienced sexual exploitation and assault – should not be forced into services that include mixed gender clientele, as this may impact on their safety and well-being. Homelessness services – including emergency services should then not only institute anti-discrimination policies, but should ensure that they are practiced, which means providing training and support for staff and ensuring compliance measures are in place. The first rule of emergency supports should be to do no harm. Homelessness as a social and economic problem is in many ways about marginalization; the crisis response should not further entrench this.

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub; York University
September 12, 2014
Categories: Ask the Hub

It could just be the nature of the people in my social media networks, but every day I see at least 5-10 references about missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Sometimes many, many more. There are calls for inquiries, petitions to sign and sadly, too often, stories about yet another Aboriginal woman who went missing or has been found dead.

My profile photo just disappeared in solidarity with all Indigenous women missing murdered, and denied.This week I changed my Facebook photo to this image. It was designed by First Nations author and artist Aaron Paquette. On his Facebook page, Aaron says “I designed this image in 2012 to speak to the growing crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women. Thousands of people replaced their profile photos with this image. I am humbled to see it making the rounds again. It is speaking to the forgotten and anonymous nature of the most vulnerable segment in our society.”

As a white woman who recognizes her own privilege and standing I feel that it’s important for me to speak out on these issues. As a researcher on homelessness in Canada, it’s impossible for me to do my work without thinking about Aboriginal homelessness and housing issues. The history of colonization, the reservation system and the impact of residential schools has led to intergenerational trauma, which often correlates with homelessness.

In February, I wrote a blog about Aboriginal Peoples and homelessness that touched on the Feb 14th Strawberry Ceremony and remembrance I attended. The focus of the blog, however, was more on Aboriginal homelessness issues generally and the release of our Aboriginal Homelessness in Canada: A Literature Review by Caryl Patrick. 

But in that blog I talked about Loretta Saunders who had gone missing and who was found murdered shortly there after. This week, her cousin, Holly Jarrett started a new petition and social media movement called #AmINext. In this campaign Aboriginal women take pictures of themselves holding a sign saying “Am I Next”. Think about that for a moment. Like many youth black men across North America who have to worry about being a victim of gun violence –whether at the hands of police, random violence or gangs—Aboriginal women face this fear daily.

Earlier this year the RCMP completed their inquiry Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operational Overview. The statistics in this report make it clear that this is not an issue that should be ignored. It doesn’t just affect Aboriginal Peoples but it affects all Canadians.

As the inquiry report states, it’s impossible to talk about this issue without situating it in the broader context of violence against women. That’s an important point to consider as well when talking about homelessness generally because violence, particularly Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is one of the leading causes for homelessness amongst women. According to the World Health Organization (as cited in the RCMP report) violence “affects one-third of women around the globe and represents a health problem of ‘epidemic proportions’”.

Before looking at the staggering statistics in the RCMP report let’s also remind ourselves that Aboriginal women are a small percentage of the overall population.

  • According to recent data from the 2011 National Household Survey, 1.4 million people identified as Aboriginal in 2011, representing 4.3% of the Canadian population.
  • The proportion of Aboriginal females in Canada's female population is similar. In 2011, there were 718,500 Aboriginal females in Canada, representing 4.3% of the overall female population that year.

The rate of victimization among Aboriginal females was close to three times higher than that of non-Aboriginal females.In terms of violence, the RCMP report says that “according to the 2009 General Social Survey (GSS) on Victimization, nearly 67,000 Aboriginal females reported being a victim of violence in the previous 12 months. This means that the rate of victimization among Aboriginal females was close to three times higher than that of non-Aboriginal females.”

The RCMP found 1,181 cases of Aboriginal female homicides and unresolved missing Aboriginal females – 164 missing and 1,017 homicide victims. Of these, there were 225 unsolved cases - 105 missing for more than 30 days as of November 4, 2013, whose cause of disappearance was categorized at the time as "unknown" or "foul play suspected" and 120 unsolved homicides between 1980 and 2012.

120 unsolved and 105 missing

In terms of murders, between 1980 and 2012, 32% of Canadian homicide victims were female (6,551 women out of 20, 313 homicides). Yet, despite being only 4.3% of the population, Aboriginal female victims of homicide (1,017) represented 16% of all female homicides in Canada.

In terms of missing women, the 164 missing women can be categorized into 64% suspicious (105 people) and 35% non-suspicious (59 women). Of the non-suspicious deaths, 43 are Aboriginal females presumed to have drown but without enough proof (i.e. no body yet retrieved).

Other woman may be missing or murdered but not identified as Aboriginal. Therefore, these numbers could be even higher.

#StolenSistersPaquette says, “Indigenous girls are born into a system where they don't even have a chance. Any Indigenous woman you see who is working to better her life and the lives of her family is a hero of unimaginable strength and willpower…If this were any other demographic group it would be a National Emergency. In Canada, because the women are 'native', we call it Tuesday. We know there is human trafficking on the Great Lakes. We know there are serial killers. We know there are domestic issues, we know about the pig farms...And we know Indigenous women are more often targeted for abuse, kidnapping and murder than any other demographic in the country. If we can turn a blind and disdainful eye to any group of women in our community, where does it stop? Who is next? Something must be done. Stand, speak, share. Hiy hiy”

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

York University; The Homeless Hub
September 10, 2014

Access to safe and nutritious food is essential for everyone’s wellbeing. A lack of access to safe and healthy food has especially serious implications for young people. The infographic below, based on this chapter in the book Youth Homelessness in Canada: Implications for Policy and Practice, looks at the link between community food assistance programs and nutritional vulnerability for homeless youth.

In the study, 96% of homeless youth interviewed did not have access to enough food over the past month. Shortages in essential nutrients were reported by half of all homeless youth; this includes magnesium, zinc, vitamin A and vitamin C. Homeless youth were also found to be consuming fruits, vegetables and dairy products in quantities far below what's recommended for their age group. Poor nutrition, which the vast majority of homeless youth suffer from, significantly increases the likelihood of infection and is also a cause of impaired functioning.  When we consider what could come of youth not having access to the basics of a healthy diet, accessibility to healthy food can considered a preventative healthcare measure. In both the short and long-term, health problems that arise from poor nutrition are likely to place a burden on Canada's healthcare system. Investing in nutritious community food assistance programs now is one way of avoiding future healthcare costs.

88% of homeless youth in the study reported using a charitable meal program over the span of a week. When we take a closer look at the nature of these programs, we notice a lack of programs directed specifically at youth. Of the 517 agencies surveyed in Canada, only 19 had food assistance programs that were targeted to the needs of homeless youth. That's less than four percent!

The study also found that on weekends, food options were very limited. When food was unavailable, youth had to find alternate ways to get money for food, including panhandling. Current food assistance services clearly fall short and only partially meet the needs of youth. 75% of youth purchased some of the food that they consumed in a day. Purchases can be attributed to being unable to get adequate food through programs, dissatisfaction with available food options or a combination of these factors. Homeless youth expressed their appreciation for programs that offer food options and the opportunity to use cooking facilities to prepare their own meals. An essential component of any changes to existing models needs to be feedback like this, taken directly from homeless youth. There need to be opportunities for youth to provide feedback about their experience with food assistance programs. They, more than anyone else, are aware of the challenges they face with food accessibility.

Research that has been conducted into this issue doesn't provide a very sunny picture of the services available to youth. However, it informs us of what youth are saying about their current options, and the direction that community food assistance programs can take in the future. Access to a healthy diet is one step towards ensuring they can take full advantage of their youth, and any opportunities that come their way.

Homeless Youth, Nutritional Vulnerability, and Community Food Assistance Programs info graphic based on chapter 8 of the Youth Homelessness book.


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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.