Research Matters Blog
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Paquette 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 email@example.com and we will provide a research-based answer.
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.
Take a moment to imagine yourself strolling along a quiet, suburban street. Now picture a busy, downtown street. The experience and sights are obviously quite different.
One of the most obvious, and certainly visible, differences is the physical contrast between the two settings. When we think of the suburbs our imagination pictures a place filled with large single detached homes, expansive green lawns and meandering residential streets. The city, on the other hand, brings up images of a place dominated by tall buildings, crowded sidewalks and a checkerboard-style street layout. While these differences are easily understood by anyone who has experienced both places are the physical differences the only elements that separate the suburbs from the city?
The answer is a definite “No!”
Social scientists often point out that the spaces where we live influence our lives and behaviour.
Many of us will be well acquainted with the suburbs depicted in early sitcom shows such as ‘Leave it to Beaver’, or more recent examples such as ‘Modern Family’. Most of us might also be familiar with the unique urban communities found in many cities such as ‘Chinatown’ or ‘Little Italy’. These examples provide us with an illustration of the diversity found in cities and give us an idea of how suburban and urban areas vary from one another.
One specific difference is the concentration of the homeless population within cities. In the last half of the 20th century in American cities there tended to be a concentration of people (including those with addictions, the elderly, criminally involved, the poor, the disabled and the homeless) in areas known as 'skid rows'. This was less prevalent in Canada and while there were areas of concentration, with the exception of the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver there was rarely a 'skid row' in Canadian cities.
While there is little doubt that homeless people could be found in all communities we should consider the following question: Where would you expect to see a homeless person: on a downtown street corner at a busy intersection or on a cul-de-sac in a suburban neighbourhood?
Most people would probably agree that the street corner scenario is a more likely setting to see a homeless person. This observation has been supported by a great deal of research over the years.
For example, in 1990 the U.S. Census Bureau did their first complete, national count of the homeless population. They not only attempted to count the total population, but they also mapped the locations and concentration of homelessness.
A few important facts about homelessness back then emerged. Despite ongoing economic and political forces, a pattern of concentration was still present in the U.S. Also, the majority of the homeless population was concentrated in the most heavily urbanized areas.. For example, some of the largest cities(i.e. Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York) had areas where homeless people made up the majority of a neighbourhood’s population!
Another study, nearly two decades later, investigated how the total homeless population in the U.S. is spread across the country. It revealed that ‘completely’ urban areas housed approximately 77% of the total U.S. homeless population compared to 4% in completely rural areas. It also found that ‘major cities’ (population larger than 500,000) account for 51% of the homeless population in metropolitan areas despite only accounting for 34% of the total population in those same areas.
In The Geography of Homelessness, Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander tried to figure out which characteristics of an area are related to higher rates of homelessness. Looking at various cities across the U.S. they found that higher housing costs and higher population density are connected to larger concentrations of homeless people. And, as one might guess, these characteristics are typical of urban centres in most North American cities.
None of these studies really give us the full picture however. While figuring out where homeless people concentrate is important, determining why this pattern exists is an even more crucial question. Unfortunately, Florida and Mellander do not adequately address this question. For example, one finding in their report demonstrates that cities with warmer climates have higher rates of homelessness but we can’t just assume that means that warmer climates cause homelessness.
Dear and Wolch, in their book Landscapes of Despair, provide a clue as to why homelessness might be concentrated in cities rather than its suburbs. They started by looking at the location of public institutions such as homeless shelters, food banks and other organizations that support and provide relief for low-income and homeless people. What they found was that there was a noticeable trend. This pattern showed that these public institutions are concentrated in relatively small, urbanized areas of cities. These ‘zones of dependence’, are created because in the pursuit of accessing often-limited social services provided by a city, homeless people naturally are attracted to the few areas that offer such resources. In return, new services then locate themselves where their client base is.
Toronto’s 2014-2019 Housing Stability Service Planning Framework published by the Shelter, Support & Housing Administration department, provides some strong evidence that this concept might also be applicable to Canadian cities as well (see their Figure 3).
Looking at the central area of Toronto and comparing it to the inner suburbs, we can see that there is a definite concentration of social services. If one focuses on those services that almost exclusively cater to the homeless—shelters and drop-in centres—the concentration becomes even more apparent.
Kingston’s 10-Year Municipal Housing and Homeless Plan provides a similar map which highlights where homeless people can find resources such as shelter or drop-in centres. Looking at figure 2 on page 71 from the document, we can see that these resources have—much in the same fashion as Toronto—been concentrated in the more urbanized area of Kingston.
With some confidence then, we can say that Dear and Wolch’s ‘zone of dependence’ is probably the rule rather than the exception, regardless of the size of the city. This ‘concept is, of course, only one of many reasons why homeless people might concentrate in urban areas. However, this particular concept is still important because it represents a piece of the puzzle, which allows us to understand why this pattern exists.
If we reflect on the walk we took at the beginning of the blog, it should now be easier to understand why we are more likely to spot someone who is homeless during our walk along an urban city street than along a winding road in the suburbs.
We'll be chatting more about this topic today at 1PM - 2PM (ET) in our monthly tweet chat. Follow #HHChat and join our conversation.
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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.