Research Matters Blog

Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, York University
October 20, 2016

Today,Cover of the report the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness are releasing The State of Homelessness in Canada 2016. In this year’s report, we consider how - through the introduction of a National Housing Strategy – we can collectively prevent and end homelessness in Canada.

Since 1993 and the federal disinvestment in housing, more and more people have found themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness. Despite this, Canada is the only G8 country without a national strategy on homelessness. It is then not surprising that stakeholders across the country were encouraged by the announcement that the Government of Canada has committed to a National Housing Strategy.

The National Housing Strategy – with a clear priority on ending homelessness and a funding commitment to do so – presents us with an unprecedented and overdue opportunity to make progress towards ending homelessness.

The federal government is undergoing consultations until October 21, 2016 through and will release the results on November 22, 2016 (National Housing Day). The State of Homelessness 2016 provides a roadmap for the way forward. It includes joint recommendations, authored by the COH and CAEH, on how the National Housing Strategy can serve as a catalyst for better, more suitable solutions to preventing and ending homelessness.

Preventing and ending homelessness

In the last few years, many have started to recognize that housing is a human right. To embrace a human rights approach, we must make a more concerted effort to ensure that wherever possible homelessness is prevented. If we cannot prevent it, we must ensure that occurrences of homelessness are brief and non-recurring. This must be at the core of our National Housing Strategy.

Encouragingly, we have solutions at our disposable to address the latter. Housing First has proven to move people out of homelessness quickly, while providing the supports they need to stay housed. A National Housing Strategy, as we’ve recommended, should embrace, invest and scale this model of accommodation.

Unfortunately, preventing homelessness is something Canada has made less progress on. However, as discussed in our recent blog post, Let’s Talk Housing & Prevention, that is beginning to change. We ask that in addition to prioritizing Housing First, the government of Canada embrace a homelessness prevention framework.

Fortunately, we can learn from the communities, provinces and territories that are making progress. Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador are leading the way provincially. Locally, Medicine Hat is on the cusp of ending homelessness and Hamilton is showing huge success with Housing First. However, we need long-term, stable funding if we want these successes to grow. That’s where the National Housing Strategy comes in.


Our report outlines eight key recommendations for the National Housing Strategy. We are calling on the government to invest $43.788 billion over 10 years through the National Housing Strategy – only $50 more per Canadian annually than we’re currently spending. For less than $1 per week per person, in added investment, we can effectively prevent and end homelessness in Canada.

The following recommendations focus on two areas: addressing homelessness and expanding the supply of affordable housing. 

Addressing Homelessness in Canada

Recommendation 1.1Recommendation #1: The government should adopt a national goal of ending homelessness with clear and measurable outcomes, milestones and criteria

There should be a commitment to ending homelessness at the national level that includes an emphasis on Housing First, a focus on prevention, and an effort to improve how different local systems coordinate with one another, among other principles.

Recommendation 1.2Recommendation #2: Renewal of the Homelessness Partnering Strategy

The Homelessness Partnering Strategy funds 61 communities across Canada to develop local solutions to preventing and ending homelessness. The Homelessness Partnering Strategy should be renewed in 2019 for ten years with substantial and long-term funding to ensure consistency and stability for programs working to prevent and end homelessness.

Recommendation 1.3Recommendation #3: A new federal/provincial/territorial framework agreement that defines local leadership on homelessness and housing investment

All orders of government have a responsibility to prevent and end homelessness. The National Housing Strategy should include a framework that clearly identifies the roles and responsibilities that each actor should play in the collective effort to prevent and end homelessness.

Recommendation 1.4Recommendation #4: Targeted strategies to address the needs of priority populations

In order to respond to the unique needs of different groups of people experiencing homelessness, the National Housing Strategy should adopt tailored, evidence-based solutions for groups such as youth, Indigenous Peoples and veterans.

Addressing Affordable Housing in Canada

Recommendation 2.1Recommendation #5: Retain and expand existing affordable housing stock

We need to make up for the loss of affordable housing that began in 1993. This means keeping the affordable housing units we do have and building new ones through a variety of innovative means.

Recommendation 2.2Recommendation #6: Implement a National Housing Benefit

Like the child tax benefit, a national housing benefit would give low income Canadians a monthly tax credit that would help keep people housed, thus preventing homelessness.

Recommendation 2.3Recommendation #7: Affordable housing tax credit

An affordable housing tax credit will give private equity investors reductions in federal income tax for dollars invested in affordable housing projects.

Recommendation 2.4Recommendation #8: Review and expand investment in affordable housing for Indigenous peoples

We need an audit of the housing situation on reserve so that we know where we’re at. With that information in hand, programs like an Indigenous Innovation Demonstration Fund can be used to find solutions to the housing challenges Indigenous Peoples face on and off reserve.

For further information on our report, including more detailed recommendations, you can download the State of Homelessness in Canada 2016. If you have not yet submitted your feedback on the proposed National Housing Strategy, we encourage you to do so at, prior to tomorrow’s deadline.

Remember, we can end homelessness in Canada – if we want to.

York University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness
October 17, 2016
Categories: Topics

October 10th was World Homeless Day, an annual occasion on an international stage that brings attention to the needs of people experiencing homelessness and provides opportunities for communities across the world to get involved in responding to homelessness. The initiative encourages both community members and politicians alike to engage in and take critical steps towards combatting homelessness.

World Homeless Day

Unfortunately, homelessness is an issue that is deeply stigmatized, as many of us are socialized to believe in common misconceptions about homelessness. Some of these misconceptions are that homelessness is a choice, that all individuals experiencing homelessness are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, do not want to work or that homelessness is simply an inevitability. However, none of these notions are true and are harmful attitudes that impede solutions towards addressing and alleviating the causes of homelessness. Furthermore, defining homelessness as an individualized issue, rather than as a result of a combination of structural factors, system failures and individual and relational factors, leads to actions which are sorely misguided, counterproductive, costly and inefficient.

In order to develop the right solutions, we need an accurate portrayal of the problem. That is why the COH developed a definition of homelessness that is useable, understandable and uniquely Canadian yet allows for national and international comparison. Homelessness is a multi-faceted issue that is much bigger than a matter of individual choice. Indeed, as homelessness is an epidemic that touches individuals regardless of race, gender, religion and all nations globally, with an estimated 100 million to one billion or more worldwide (depending on how homelessness is defined), we as a society are all responsible.

Community services

Today’s blog post discusses the vital role that community services play in the lives of those at-risk of or who are experiencing homelessness. Community services refer to any programs delivered through non-profit or faith-based community organizations. These programs can be funded by donations or government grants, and are ran by staff, students and/or volunteers. Services offered by organizations include, but are not limited to, food and clothing banks, health and mental health services, activities for ‘at-risk’ youth like counseling or sports, supportive services for families, women or LGBTQ2S individuals, employment services, settlement services, access to internet and shelter accommodation.

Having a diverse range of services is critical for those with complex needs, such as individuals facing homelessness. Not only do they require stable, secure and affordable housing, but also require a diverse range of supportive services tailored according to the gender they identify with, their psychological needs, cultural background, sexual orientation, disability and/or geographical location. For instance, mental health supports are critical, as research shows that people experiencing homelessness tend to have a higher prevalence of mental illness than the general population.

At times, however, access to services simply is not a possibility. For individuals living in remote communities, supportive services are limited and scarce, and migration to larger centers to access services away from one’s community is common. For those experiencing homelessness in larger cities, a plethora of services may be available, yet inaccessible to some due to discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, addictions to illicit substances, mental illness and/or disabilities. Often times, navigating supportive services for a wide range of complex needs can be an overwhelming task, especially without a stable address, health card, ID or form of reliable transportation. Furthermore, where failures in coordinating services occur, some systems may be discharging people into homelessness.

The role of community services in addressing homelessness

As stated earlier, the role of community services in the lives of those who are at-risk of or experiencing homelessness is indispensable. At this moment in time, Canada generally has an emergency response approach to homelessness that manages, rather than provides any long-term solutions to homelessness, placing significant strain on emergency services like shelters and food banks. Although there will always be a need for emergency responses, a shift in focus to prevention and accommodation and supports is needed to truly eliminate homelessness. More and more organizations across the nation are starting to implement a  Housing First approach, a best practice for ending homelessness that involves moving people who experience homelessness into permanent housing as quickly as possible and providing them with additional services and supports as needed. As such, community services play a vital role in ensuring that individuals have choice and access to services that can address any number of their complex needs.

For example, COSTI Immigrant Services has been a leader in settlement and citizenship services for newcomers to Toronto and the GTA for over 20 years. COSTI also offers a variety of services including mental health supports, employment and youth services as well as supports for women seeking to overcome economic, health, legal, and cultural barriers. COSTI also provides access to housing supports for individuals with limited income, who are new to Canada and who are homeless or in danger of becoming homeless. These services are critical among newcomer women facing domestic abuse, for instance, as research finds that often times newcomer women will not leave their abusers due to fear of deportation, a lack of knowledge regarding their rights, financial dependency on their abuser or lack of awareness of the community resources available to them.

The 519, also located in Toronto, is committed to the health, happiness and full participation of the LGBTQ2S community and works to promote inclusion, understanding and respect. Through their supportive services and inclusive spaces, the 519 is accessible to the evolving needs of the LGBTQ2S community that range from counseling, queer parenting, housing services, Coming Out groups and much more. These services are particularly crucial as one Toronto study found that 20% of youth in shelter systems identify as LGBTQ2S, which is more than twice the rate for all age groups. Furthermore, LGBTQ2S youth are at a higher risk of homelessness due to homophobia and transphobia in the home and they often face the same discrimination in the shelter system.

Places such as Insite – North America’s first supervised injection site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside continues to achieve life-saving results for its patrons. In addition to providing detox services, Insite also provides liaison with community supports to housing for those who require it. Substance use and addiction is a commonly cited health issue among individuals experiencing homelessness, where some may utilize injection drug use as a coping mechanism in dealing with the stressors of being unhoused. When accessing necessary health services, research shows that those experiencing homelessness and addiction often face stigmatization on the part of health professionals. Therefore, addiction and health care services that offer judgment-free supports like Insite are crucial in assisting individuals experiencing homelessness and addiction in gaining access to the care they need.

Employment services also play a crucial role in the lives of individuals at-risk of or experiencing homelessness. When a person is homeless and unemployed, getting back into the workforce can be a challenge. Employment services, then, are crucial for individuals experiencing homelessness as they work to increase hire-ability. For instance, Youth Employment Services (YES) Street To Jobs initiative works to employ young people who are at-risk of becoming homeless. Through the program, youth are provided with individualized supports, skills training, work placements, referrals and more with permanent housing and financial self-sufficiency as the ultimate goal.

As crucial as employment services are, employment is only one piece of the puzzle in ensuring an individual attains and maintains housing. Canada’s transition to a service-based employment sector has resulted in the proliferation of low-wage, precarious and insecure labour, and assisting individuals in accessing employment will only be successful if there are good, stable, living-wage jobs available. One way that this is being done is through the role of social enterprises. Social enterprises are companies that reinvest any profits and revenue back into the organization and its employees, rather than into the pockets of shareholders or executives. As a key tenant, social enterprises often work to employ those from backgrounds that often face discrimination in hiring practices, such as individuals with disabilities or histories of substance use and addiction. Places like Out of this World café in Toronto, or Coco café in Naimano, BC are social enterprises breaking down barriers and ensuring everyone regardless of abilities, health, mental health or housing status are given a fair chance.

These are just a few examples of the crucial work being done by a wide range of community services around the country. However, larger structural issues such as reverting the decline in Canada’s social safety net as well as changes across all sectors such as secure, living-wage employment, access to education and consistently funded community services are all necessary to make meaningful, long-term changes in the lives of those experiencing homelessness with complex needs. In addition, community services need to be accessible to all individuals, where stigma is no longer cited as a barrier to accessing help.

As we circle back to the issue of stigma, it is crucial that as we go about our daily lives, we treat societal issues, like homelessness and those experiencing homelessness with compassion, understanding and kindness. For example, as a teacher or parent perhaps implementing lessons to children regarding homelessness will help counteract stigma at an earlier age. If you have any questions about homelessness, browse the Hub’s selection of comprehensive resources. Don’t see an answer to your question? You can always ask the hub and we will provide a research-based answer!

There are also a number of programs available to those who are homeless or at-risk of facing homelessness:

If you would like to suggest or know of any other community services kindly leave them in the comments!

YWCA of Calgary
October 14, 2016

The YWCA is the largest and longest serving women’s organization in Calgary. We offer programs that create a continuum of service for women, and their families who are struggling with poverty, homelessness, domestic abuse and isolation. Through our 105 year history, we recognize the need to change and modify our programs to the ever evolving needs of women in our community. Our focus is on empowering women to move from a place of vulnerability to one of resilience, and we continue to be there when and where she needs us most. To ensure we know and understand who we support, why we are here and how we approach our work, in early 2016 we released our Practice Framework.YWCA Practice Framework

Our Practice Framework is a document that outlines our philosophy of the way that we work with women. The framework is not just a piece of paper; it is a commitment to what we do and how we do it. We approach our work from a woman’s point of view with an understanding of oppression, inequity and constrained choice that women experience. We work to build up women, community and culture. Moving forward, our aim is to promote evidence-based best practice with a unified approach from frontline client service to support services and advocacy.

Our goal is to ensure that all women who are experiencing abuse, poverty, social isolation and/or homelessness have access to our services. To that end, we strive to offer anti-oppressive, low barrier, inclusive service that is reflective of what women share in common as well as their differences. Our approach to all service is woman-centered and takes a feminist, intersectional and anti-oppressive approach.

The focus of our service delivery is based on three areas: rigour in service delivery, depth in service delivery and excellence in service delivery. We want to ensure our work has a clear vision and focus; we intend to develop our expertise and we are known for our continuum of service delivery that supports a woman’s mind, body and spirit. With our focus clear and articulated our framework developed from conversations with frontline staff, leadership and external stakeholders. The foundations of our approach are based on seven guiding principles:

  1. Safety first
  2. Violence-informed and trauma sensitive
  3. Women-centered and feminist-based
  4. Intersectional and anti-oppressive approaches
  5. Inclusive, low-barrier services
  6. Harm reduction
  7. Support for women as mothers: linking the safety and well-being of women and their children

Safety is a fundamental tenet of women’s support services and is at the centre of all of our decisions. Our responsibility is to ensure that women and their families feel safe, physically and emotionally while receiving services at the YWCA.

A violence-informed and trauma sensitive approach means that we broadly implement violence-informed and trauma sensitive policies and practices that create a safe environment, respectful and caring relationships and to avoid re-traumatizing women.

Women-centered and feminist-based frameworks acknowledge that women have different lived experiences than men and require services that focus on equality and equity goals.

At the YWCA, intersectional and anti-oppressive approaches mean women will have the opportunity to explore how their various social identities and experiences intersect and impact their experiences of violence, access to services, the kind of support they receive and how relevant and meaningful the support is. This can counter women’s experiences of oppression and vulnerability.

Inclusive, low-barrier services approach recognizes how difficult it is for all women to access support, and some women face additional systemic barriers. Our practice must reflect a commitment to reducing systemic barriers.

Harm reduction is a specific approach that aims to keep people safe and minimize the serious and often life-threatening consequences of a variety of high-risk behaviours, particularly substance use. At the YWCA, harm reduction involves a broad range of support services and strategies to enhance women’s knowledge, skills, resources, and supports.

Support for women as mothers means that women living in poverty or isolation or living with an abusive partner can undermine women’s ability to mother their children the way they wish to. We will support the mother and child bond and avoid any interventions that diminish women’s capacity to parent.

We are stating our belief in an approach that recognizes the unique factors that are a part of women’s experiences of violence, oppression and homelessness. We will not repeat these dynamics in our relationships with women we support.

Specific to the Housing and Supports programs, the framework has driven a shift in many of our approaches that have increased our staff capacity in role specialization and outreach. Our low-barrier services are currently working with women who identify as the highest vulnerability across Calgary who are now being supported to find housing. We believe that building a trusting relationship with women is key to providing safety, and this is where we see our success.

This blog post is part of our series which highlights sessions of the 2016 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. Hear Ashley Jellema speak on Thursday, November 3rd at 3:30PM on the topic of reducing homelessness for women through trauma‐informed inclusive services. Learn more about this upcoming conference presented by CAEH at:

Download the book for free at new book, "Pandemic Preparedness and Homelessness: Lessons from H1N1 in Canada" looks at responses to the recent outbreak in four cities across the country. Below, the book's editors Kristy Buccieri and Rebecca Schiff discuss the importance of pandemic planning for individuals experiencing homelessness, the challenges involved, and why this book is an important read for policy-makers, service providers, and researchers.

KB: The H1N1 pandemic posed a threat to the health of all Canadians. As editors of the new book, Pandemic Preparedness and Homelessness: Lessons from H1N1 in Canada, we have compiled research findings on how four diverse cities responded to this threat within the context of homelessness. Why do you think homelessness requires its own strategic response to pandemic outbreaks? Could we not just extend mainstream approaches to individuals experiencing homelessness?

RS: Homelessness can cause many significant health problems and homeless people have difficulty accessing healthcare. Homelessness also precludes the ability to follow typical guidelines in the case of disease outbreaks. For example, it is difficult to stay isolated, get rest, and recover when you don’t have a home and are living in a crowded environment. The types of health problems, healthcare barriers, and living situations experienced by homeless people means that a different approach is needed. What types of responses do you think are needed? What could be changed to make pandemic planning more relevant to the needs of homeless individuals?

KB: You make an excellent point about homelessness acting as a potential barrier to accessing healthcare and hampering people's ability to recover. One thing that struck me in this research is the importance of community-centred approaches to reaching individuals experiencing homelessness. In many of the cities we worked with for this project, the Public Health departments made an effort to hold vaccine clinics in shelters and drop-in centres. This was one very effective approach that brought the vaccination rates of individuals experiencing homelessness up to the general population rates (significant because they are usually considerably lower). A clear message from this project is that preparedness works best when it meets people where they are. At the same time, though, we also found that we can't just prepare people for emergencies. We need to address the structural issues that create marginalization and vulnerabilities in the first place.

RS: It is very true that community – centred and client – centred approaches are critical to any work with people experiencing homelessness. The knowledge of people with lived experience of homelessness is necessary if we want to develop effective strategies to mitigate vulnerability and address health needs. You make an excellent point as well about the need to address structural issues that are the cause of poverty, homelessness, and marginalization. One of the difficult tasks is to determine how best to use our resources to address immediate needs (for shelter, food, health) while looking for and implementing long term solutions.

KB: Agreed, that challenge is one that came out clearly in the study as service providers have to navigate the urgency of immediate needs with the long-term possibilities of pandemics and emergency outbreaks. We conducted the research across a variety of sites - Calgary, Regina, Toronto, and Victoria - with some striking similarities in issues emerging across the sites. Although the cities have different sizes, compositions, and homelessness infrastructure systems, they each reported the need for more resources and support in their daily work as a foundation for pandemic preparedness. This book features chapters that look at these issues overall, as well as detailed case studies of each research site. Alongside ourselves, this project was a collaborative effort of different communities and researchers, including Stephen Gaetz, Bernadette Pauly, and Jeannette Waegemakers-Schiff. We all felt this book was a good way to share this research and the important findings that emerged. What do you think readers will get out of it?

RS: One of the benefits of this research was that it brought together researchers and community partners from diverse cities across the country which supported a broad assessment of the challenges faced and resources needed to support pandemic preparedness. This book brings together information not only about pandemic preparedness but also about more general challenges in homelessness service provision. Each chapter contributes some unique recommendations related to pandemic preparedness and considerations for addressing the health needs of homeless people. This book also examines the collective experience of these cities. This points to recommendations which might assist homelessness service providers and policy makers in their emergency and pandemic planning efforts.

KB: The book is fully open-access and now available through the Homeless Hub website.

A Way Home
October 12, 2016

Canadian Thanksgiving just passed. As an American I’m still a bit perplexed at the timing of this wonderful holiday, but it does make sense to align it with the actual harvest. Well done, Canada. So, what am I thankful for? I can’t help but be incredibly thankful for the leadership, passion, vision and hard work communities across the country are bringing to the table to get the job of preventing and ending youth homelessness done, once and for all.

Last week Dr. Stephen Gaetz and I had the privilege to help launch A Way Home Lanark County at a catalyst event in Perth, ON. (Check out the local radio interview we did that day along with Terrilee Kelford.) We’re also heading out later today to Winnipeg to help launch their community plan to prevent and end youth homelessness. These events and some other work we’re doing to kickstart communities across the country made me take pause to really think through community readiness. We included a section on planning readiness in our Youth Homelessness Community Planning Toolkit, so feel free to deep-dive there, but the critical ingredients I keep coming back to are leadership and community climate.

Does your community have a critical mass of folks from within the youth serving sector but also from outside of the sector that feel a sense of urgency and even outrage that young people would be forced to spend any amount of time mired in homelessness? Do you have leadership emerging from likely, but also unlikely places to make something happen? I asked Lanark County’s Terrilee Kelford, Vice-Chair of Cornerstone Landing Youth Services, to weigh in on the issue of readiness. “Engaging people in a discussion about ending youth homelessness is easy. People want to help. Pulling people together to talk about community partnerships, system navigation, filling the gaps in services, central intakes and common data collection strategies, those are the tough conversations. You know your community is ready, when it’s willing to work together on those issues. Lanark County is ready and excited to Launch A Way Home!!”

A Way Home Lanark County Quote

So that begs another question: What does it mean to launch A Way Home in your community? I have to say that it has been wonderfully overwhelming to see the global uptake of the A Way Home name and vision, but it’s important to hone in on just what folks are signing on to. There are two critical elements about A Way Home that translate across national, provincial/territorial and state borders. The first is a commitment to working differently across sector silos for true systems change. With A Way Home Canada, we utilize Collective Impact to bring folks to the table and get things done. The second, and arguably the most important element of A Way Home, is a passion for prevention and doing the hard work of figuring out what works in terms of stopping the flow of young people into homelessness, and if they do become homeless, ensuring that we prevent them from ever becoming homeless again.

So, if your community has the leadership and a climate that will enable you to get things done, join us in this international movement for change to ensure every young person has what they deserve - a real home with all the supports we would give to our own children. To quote the youth in Kamloops, BC that came up with the name A Way Home, “There is more than one way home and home means different things to different people,” so let’s help them find it.

This post is part of a monthly series that follows A Way Home's progress as we create real change on the issue of youth homelessness. On the second Wednesday of every month, join us for an update from A Way Home's Executive Director, Melanie Redman. 


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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.