Research Matters Blog
World Homeless Day (WHD) is tomorrow, October 10th. According to its website, The purpose of WHD is to draw attention to homeless people’s needs locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness, while taking advantage of the stage an international day’ provides.
As Tanya has written before, those of us at the Homeless Hub “advocate acting on and thinking about homelessness every day of the year (or as much as possible).” I’m not a huge fan of tokenistic days like WHD for this reason, but I can’t deny that declaring a day to a specific issue can sometimes draw attention to those that sorely need it. When over 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness in a given year, far too many are living in poverty, and 12.5% of households have a hard time getting enough food, it is clear that we must embrace all efforts to bring homelessness and poverty to the forefront.
Tanya’s recommended actions include volunteering, donating, educating/learning and advocating. Since the Canadian federal election is coming up fast (October 19th!), I’d like to focus this post on advocacy and political involvement – especially important as the campaigns have tended to focus on “middle class families,” not those who are most in need. Here are some ideas of how you can give homelessness the attention it deserves:
- Browse our election guide and see how each major party platform stands up to the recommendations made in the State of Homelessness in Canada 2014 report, which include:
- A new federal, provincial and territorial housing agreement
- Investments to target chronically and episodically homeless people
- Direct investments in affordable housing initiatives
- Housing benefits to people who experience affordability issues
- A new affordable housing tax credit
- Investment in Aboriginal housing both on and off reserves
Pollenize also has a handy website that collects major party platform information, with specific areas on housing policy. You can also pledge to vote #housing4all, and use Twibbon to add the badge on the right to your profile photo.
- Reach out to your local candidates. (Find out who this is on the Elections Canada website). Ask them what their party plans to do about homelessness, poverty and the lack of affordable housing. Our guide has a list of very specific questions that may help you get more than a canned response.
- Attend an event, like this one at the Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives.
- Incorporate anti-homelessness and anti-poverty activism into your everyday life. It can be as small as sharing resources from our library, starting discussions with friends/family members and debunking common myths; or as large as volunteering, donating time/money to local organizations or taking part in campaigns/rallies. The sky’s the limit! Choose something that is both meaningful and manageable for you.
Remember, ending homelessness is possible. It’s not going to be easy, but it isn’t something we should simply accept. Here are a few more resources on how to help end homelessness:
- How can I help people experiencing homelessness in winter?
- Housing First: Supporting communities to end homelessness
- How to raise awareness about hidden homelessness
- Why don’t governments listen?
This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will provide a research-based answer.
Homelessness is closely connected to issues of poverty, inadequate income and unemployment. This week's infographic takes a look at the wage gap that exists between part-time and temporary workers compared to full-time workers doing the same job in Ontario. The content in this infographic is drawn from Still Working On The Edge, a policy paper published by the Workers' Action Centre that identifies problems today's workers are facing in the labour market. The specific numbers are drawn from recently published Statistics Canada figures that look at median hourly wages for part-time, temporary and full-time workers.
Median wages earned by part-time, temporary and full-time workers in Ontario vary greatly. The infographic states that while full-time workers earn a salary for $24.00/hr, temporary workers earn just $15.19/hr. Part-time workers earn even less, just $12.34/hr, almost half of what full time workers earn for doing the same job. Workers Action Centre partially attributes these discrepancies to gaps present in the Employment Standards Act.
What is the Employment Standards Act?
In Ontario, the Employment Standards Act (ESA) provides the minimum standards for working in the province. The Act outlines the rights and responsibilities of both employers and employees. Different provinces have similar acts to the ESA. For example, Manitoba has an Employment Standards Code and Newfoundland has a Labour Standards Act, both of which carry out similar functions to the ESA. These kinds of acts play a critical role in determining the minimum conditions for work. This includes rules and regulations for overtime, wages, annual vacations and even termination of employment.
Gaps present in the ESA allow temporary and part-time workers to be paid less than their full-time counterparts. This ultimately acts as a cost-saving incentive for companies and organizations to "move work beyond the reach of ESA protection". Lack of protection for workers by the ESA leads to the exploitation of temporary and part-time workers in Ontario.
What can be done?
The great thing about legislation like the ESA is that it is not set in stone. Amendments can be made to reflect changing employment trends. This past February, the Ontario government launched the Changing Workplace Review. Growing employment precarity, marked by non-standard working relationships like temporary jobs and part-time work, is an example of a workplace trend that will be examined in the consultation. The review provides the government, and its citizens, with the opportunity to address how employment is changing in Ontario.
While today's infographic focuses on the province Ontario, this discussion is of relevance to employers and employees across Canada. Today, because of changing labour market trends, a job on its own does not guarantee freedom from poverty. In 2011, 44% of poor households in Canada had at least one person working, and this percentage has likely increased since then. In order to prevent the continued exploitation of workers, the employment standards and regulations that we have in place need to be carefully examined to reflect the monumental changes have taken place in the Canadian marketplace.
Melissa L. asked this question via our latest website survey.
Due to a lack of standardized counts and statistic collection, we don’t have totally concrete numbers on just how many people are homeless and where. (Hopefully, the 2016 HPS Coordinated Point-in-Time Count will help give us a fuller picture.) What we do know is that homelessness is not just an urban problem, though it tends to be most visible in those areas. Homelessness can look very different but occurs in many communities, regions and cities worldwide. (Read the Canadian definition of homelessness to learn more about how we define homelessness and what it can look like.)
Homelessness is hard to quantify due to the complicated and interrelated nature of its causes, which include: systemic failures (ie. poor discharge planning), individual circumstances (ie. family conflict), and/or systemic issues (ie. lack of affordable housing, employment opportunities). In some areas, lack of infrastructure contributes to the kind of homelessness (ie. hidden homelessness is more prevalent in rural and northern parts of Canada due to a lack of shelters, rental and transitional housing) but not the rates overall. To examine all of these factors in a geographical fashion would be a mammoth task! That said, two major factors that contribute to homelessness across the country include population size and housing markets.
Tanya wrote a bit about this last January, explaining that we have to rely on data from cities that do gather information to make estimates and educated guesses. From the data we do have, Canada’s major cities tend to have the highest rates of homelessness. Given the density and large populations of cities, this isn’t surprising. Furthermore, cities tend to have infrastructure and systems around homelessness – more rental housing, non-profit organizations, shelters, soup kitchens, and housing supports – that smaller communities don’t have; often making them a worthwhile destination for people who need extra support.
In the State of Homelessness in Canada 2013 report, the authors pulled point-in-time count data showing that while Toronto, Ontario had the highest number of people experiencing homelessness in general, Red Deer, Alberta had the highest number of people experiencing homelessness per capita.
Because of how limited existing data is – point-in-time counts typically only enumerate unsheltered and sheltered homeless populations and miss people who are precariously housed or hidden homeless – causation is hard to determine.
Even though cities tend to have more jobs and social opportunities – Toronto, for example, is often viewed as a “safe haven” for LGBTQ2 youth seeking community and a sense of belonging – living in them tends to come with a high price tag due to tight and inflated housing markets.
The value placed on private property ownership means that when demand goes up for housing, so do prices – which encourages policymakers and development companies to favour strategies for private home ownership over affordable rental housing. As a result, we have very strained housing markets, especially for people in working classes and/or living in poverty.
Just this week, the municipal government in Portland, Oregon put forward a motion to declare homelessness an emergency – the goal being to fast-track rent control and inclusionary zoning. In Portland, a constant influx of residents and a mere 3% vacancy rate have been driving rents upward by 20% over the past 5 years. Similar trends have been noted in Toronto, Ontario and Vancouver, British Columbia – now the two most expensive cities to live in Canada.
According to data from the Homeless Hub’s 2014 report, nearly 1 in 5 households experience extreme housing affordability problems. According to the CHRA, the rates of renters in extreme core housing need – meaning, paying more than 50% of their income on housing – are: Vancouver at 22%, in Halifax at 21%, in Toronto, Edmonton and St. John’s at 20%, and Montreal at 19%. As the same report proposed, the only way to ease limited vacancy and end homelessness is to invest in affordable housing.
This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at email@example.com and we will provide a research-based answer.
Across Canada, there is growing awareness about the need for provincial governments to step up in the fight against poverty. This week’s infographic takes a look at poverty costs in Canada. The infographic was produced by Vibrant Communities Calgary and the Action to End Poverty in Alberta and draws data from a 2012 report published by both organizations.
The infographic states that there are 73,000 children living in poverty in Alberta and up to a quarter of these children are expected to remain in poverty as adults. In the absence of supports and services that provide youth with a pathway out of poverty, children in poverty will not escape poverty as adults. This can ultimately result in intergenerational poverty.
Canada often commends itself on its social safety net. However, it is important to stay critical about just the effectiveness of our social safety net. It’s worth noting that a recent report published by Public Interest Alberta states that child poverty rates in the province had dropped by less than a percent from 1989 to 2012. Canada’s social safety net has been under attack in recent years, resulting in it being less effective in helping families move out of poverty.
While most people are aware of the moral arguments to fight poverty, they are less aware of the long-term economic costs associated with poverty for society at large. The infographic divides these costs into three categories: opportunity costs of $4.2-$6.2 billion, crime costs of $464 million, and intergenerational costs of $410-$513 million. Two things are worth noting here: (1) the costs to society at large are greater than the costs to society and (2) opportunity costs are the highest expense.
Recently, Vibrant Communities Calgary and Action to End Poverty in Alberta published an updated report looking at what steps can be taken to alleviate poverty in Alberta. The document contains over 60 policy recommendations, and many of these recommendations are of relevance to other provinces. For example, the report highlights the need for new standardized quantitative and qualitative indicators to measure inequality and social exclusion. As it stands, there are many different measures used to estimate poverty levels, and most of these measures focus purely on income without taking into consideration the physical, social and psychological needs of citizens. Establishing such indicators would make it easier to develop and implement programming that target poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and other issues.
To help disseminate the findings of their 2012 report, Vibrant Communities Calgary and Action to End Poverty in Alberta produced a video that summarizes some of the key findings and strategies mentioned in the report.
Perhaps most importantly, the video emphasizes the value of taking a preventative approach. While preventative approaches require greater investment and commitment in the short-term, that’s a small cost to pay for the long-term benefits associated with addressing the causes, rather than the symptoms, of poverty and homelessness. It’s important to enact policy that is informed by the role that structural factors play in determining how resources and opportunity are distributed.
I recently gave a presentation at Raising the Roof’s Child & Family Homelessness Stakeholder Summit in Toronto. My slide deck can be downloaded here. To accompany the presentation, I’ve prepared the following list of “Ten Things to Know About Homelessness in Canada.”
1. Efforts to enumerate persons experiencing homeless have generally been spotty, but it is reasonable to assert that homelessness in Canada saw substantial growth in the 1980s and 1990s.
On a nightly basis in Toronto, there were about 1,000 persons per night staying in emergency shelters in 1980. By 1990, that figure had doubled. And ten years later, there were 4,000 persons per night staying in Toronto’s emergency shelters. The Toronto figure of 4,000 per night has remained relatively constant for the past 15 years, though it has ‘edged up’ in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 recession—a phenomenon which I’ve previously written about here. (Admittedly, the number of persons living in emergency shelters on a nightly basis is a rather narrow gauge of homelessness. According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, approximately 13% of Canadian households are in “core housing need;” for Nunavut, the figure is a whopping 39%.)
2. Though it’s difficult to establish causation, I think relatively safe assumptions can be made about some of the major contributors to homelessness.
Researchers are generally careful about using the term causation—in fact, there are long-standing tensions among academic disciplines as to what methodological approaches are required to establish it. Statisticians, for example, generally believe that randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are needed to establish causation; but as David Freedman has argued, RCTs are often “impractical or unethical” (Freedman, 1999, p. 255). Rather, careful researchers are more likely to say things like “these factors have likely contributed to this effect,” or “I think it’s likely that this effect caused this to happen.” And with that in mind, I’d like to suggest that there are probably three major factors that have contributed to homelessness in Canada: 1) macroeconomic factors (especially unemployment); 2) changes to our social welfare system (including a decrease in the availability of government-subsidized housing); and 3) the design and administration of policies whose specific intent is to respond directly to homelessness (often referred to as ‘systems responses’ to homelessness).
3. Homelessness has profound ramifications on the lives of children.
As I wrote in 2012: “Two studies have been done in Toronto looking at the role of housing with respect to children in care. Results of both studies indicate that the state of the family’s housing was a factor in one in five cases in which a child was temporarily admitted into care. Results from the Toronto research also indicate that, in one in 10 cases, housing status delayed the return home of a child from care” (Falvo, 2012, p. 14). Other research estimates that, on an annual basis in Toronto alone, approximately 300 babies are born to mothers who are homeless. (Of course, homelessness can have profound ramifications on the lives of adults as well. For more on this, see this 2007 study.)
4. The role of Canada’s federal government in funding both housing for low-income persons and programming for homeless persons has varied considerably over time.
Provinces and territories spend much more of their own money on housing for low-income persons when the federal government leads. Thus, a considerable amount of subsidized housing for low-income Canadians was built from the mid-1960s through to the early 1990s. Since the early 1990s, comparatively little subsidized housing has been built for low-income persons in Canada. I should also note that the annual, inflation-adjusted value of federal funding for homelessness today is worth just 35% of what it was worth in 1999.
5. Not every province/territory responds to homelessness in the same way.
While much mores subsidized housing for low-income persons gets built when the federal government leads, provinces and territories don’t always respond to federal funding initiatives in the same way. For example, between 2002 and 2013, three times as many subsidized housing units were built in Alberta (on a per capita basis) than in Ontario. I would argue that a driving force behind this differential stems from Alberta’s strong economic performance during this same period relative to that of Ontario’s.
6. Though a careful researcher will be cautious in discussing what causes homelessness, I think we know a lot about what solves it.
In many cases, a person who stays in an emergency shelter will ‘exit homelessness’ without substantial public resources. In some cases, they might find housing on their own; in other cases, family and friends may provide them with short term assistance—e.g. some financial support, a couch to sleep on, etc. (To learn more about lengths of stay in homeless shelters in a sample of Canadian cities, see this 2013 study.) Researchers and advocates for the homeless generally don’t view such short-term stays as a major public policy challenge—the bigger challenge is in the case of persons who stay in emergency shelters (and outside) for longer periods of time. Even here though, I would argue that it’s hardly a mystery as to what constitutes an effective policy response.
Indeed, as early as the mid-1980s, small non-profit organizations in Ontario (and possibly in other provinces as well) found success in building subsidized housing for persons who had experienced long-term homelessness—they did so by providing professional staff support to help such tenants live independently in those units. This was (and still is) known as supportive housing. The emergence of supportive housing in Ontario happened in large part due to strong advocacy by community-based groups. This included: the Singles Displaced Persons Project; the consumer/survivor movement; the slogan “homes not hostels;” the founding of Houselink Community Homes; and the founding of Homes First Society. Conditions of eligibility for such housing varied from one provider to the next. In many cases, the tenant did not have to prove ‘housing readiness’ before being offered a unit. In fact, Homes First Society got its name because its founders believed that its tenants needed homes first before addressing other challenges (i.e. mental health, substance use, employment, etc.).
Today, researchers, practitioners and advocates refer to this approach as ‘housing first.’ And very recently, a successful RCT of ‘housing first’ was conducted in five Canadian cities; I’ve previously written about that study here.
7. There are several ways of making housing available to low-income households; all of them involve the private sector to varying degrees.
Sometimes when government subsidizes housing for low-income persons, it provides money to a non-profit entity that develops, owns and operates the units. Other times, government provides a subsidy to landlords (either for-profit or non-profit); in exchange for the subsidy, the landlord agree to rent units at a reduced rate for a specified period of time (e.g. in some cases, for 10 years). And other times, government provides money (often known as a housing allowance) to low-income tenants who then rent a unit from a for-profit landlord. Of the three possible approaches, I personally have a preference for the option where a non-profit entity develops, owns and operates the units (and I have previously written about this here). Having said that, I think there’s a place for all three approaches, depending on local context.
8. Some jurisdictions have used sophisticated information management systems as part of their efforts to respond to homelessness.
Many organizations serving homeless persons in Calgary enter client information into a database called the Homelessness Management Information System, a system that is also used in many American cities. Client-level information (such as age, health status, employment status and housing status) is entered into the database when an initial intake is done. While the client is receiving services, updated information is entered again; in the case of some programs, follow-up assessments are done every three months. In the case of some program types, there are both exit and post-exit follow-up assessments completed. All information-gathering is subject to provincial privacy legislation. There are many uses for the data once it’s gathered. For example, some organizations use the data to provide case management services to clients. Also, funders are able to assess each organization’s performance against benchmarks (i.e. percentage of clients who receive housing after a specific period of time).
9. When it comes to both preventing and responding to homelessness, the capacity of government to generate revenue matters a great deal.
Governments typically use revenue generated from taxation to finance both subsidized housing and other important social programs. When tax revenue decreases, many governments have less ability to spend on such programs. Since the mid-1990s, tax revenue in Canada (measured as a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product) has decreased substantially. If this trend doesn’t reverse itself soon, it will be very challenging for many governments (especially provincial, territorial and municipal governments) to invest in important social programs. There is currently a move afoot by some Canadians to increase taxes; it is led by Alex Himelfarb, former Clerk of the Privy Council. Alex and his son Jordan recently co-edited a book that calls for the need for higher taxation in Canada. (Note: according to some schools of thought, it isn’t necessary for a sovereign government with its own currency to tax more in order to finance more social spending. While keeping in mind that such an approach would be most relevant to Canada’s federal government—and much less relevant to provincial, territorial and municipal governments—readers can read more about one such school of thought here.)
10. Over the course of the next decade, Canada will likely see substantial increases in homelessness among both seniors and Indigenous peoples (First Nation, Métis and Inuit).
Seniors and Indigenous peoples are growing as a percentage of Canada’s total population. Further, the percentage of seniors living below Statistics Canada’s Low-Income Measure has grown substantially since the mid-1990s. I think all of this makes it likely that both of these groups will begin to grow as a percentage of Canada’s homeless populations.
The following individuals were very helpful in helping me prepare the present blog post: Maroine Bendaoud, Lisa Burke, George Fallis, Greg Suttor, Francesco Falvo, Louise Gallagher, Ali Jadidzadeh, Lisa Ker, Jennifer Legate, Kevin McNichol, Richard Shillington, Blake Thomas and Mike Veall. Any errors are mine.
This article was originally posted to The Progressive Economics Forum.
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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.