What is Homelessness?

Homelessness Defined

According to the Canadian Definition of Homelessness, homelessness is “the situation of an individual, family, or community without stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect means and ability of acquiring it.”

It is important to note that this definition does not fully encompass every experience of homelessness. There are different groups of people who are affected differently, and every individual’s experience is unique. Homelessness is not strictly an issue of housing instability. These differences are important when considering methods of addressing homelessness, as one strategy does not apply for every community.

The Indigenous definition of homelessness considers the traumas imposed on Indigenous Peoples through colonialism. According the Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in Canada, it is “a human condition that describes First Nations, Métis and Inuit individuals, families or communities lacking stable, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means or ability to acquire such housing… Indigenous homelessness is not defined as lacking a structure of habitation; rather, it is more fully described and understood through a composite lens of Indigenous worldviews.”

Additionally, youth experience homelessness in fundamentally different ways than adults, due to their age. The Canadian Definition of Youth Homelessness outlines that it is a “situation and experience of young people between the ages of 13-24 who are living independently of parents and/or caregivers, but do not have the means or ability to acquire stable, safe or consistent residence.”

Causes of Homelessness

There are various myths and misconceptions around the issue of homelessness. Some believe that it is a choice; there is the idea that people experiencing homelessness can simply pick themselves up “by the bootstraps” if they wanted to and that they are unhoused simply because they are lazy.

However, homelessness is not a choice, and there are many reasons why people experience homelessness, including the lack of structural supports for those experiencing poverty or job loss and inadequate discharge planning for those leaving hospitals, correctional facilities and mental health facilities.

Ending Homelessness

There are various programs and policies that target the issue of homelessness. One of the approaches is Housing First, which is “a recovery-oriented approach to ending homelessness that centres on quickly moving people experiencing homelessness into independent and permanent housing.” There are also government interventions that are broadly encapsulated by the homelessness strategy, which encompasses the implementation of Housing First along with other efforts. 

Preventative frameworks are promising in stopping homelessness before it begins. Adapting the public health prevention model to the issues of homelessness involves targeting homelessness at the primary level, secondary and tertiary levels. Primary prevention includes initiatives aimed at creating structural change. Secondary prevention involves addressing homelessness immediately when it begins or attempting to stop it if there is a high risk. Finally, tertiary prevention efforts are directed at preventing those who have previously experienced homelessness from experiencing it again.

Individual people can also contribute to ending homelessness or easing the burden of those who are experiencing homelessness. Some ways to address homelessness on an individual level include donating money or resources to local organizations that help those experiencing homelessness, volunteering with these organizations or becoming an advocate. Advocacy work can include supporting a mandatory minimum income across Canada or a preventative strategy on homelessness.  During winter, you can donate winter clothing and blankets, help individuals get to warming centres or call local outreach services to check on those who are outside in the cold. There are different ways to contribute to ending homelessness, and every contribution to supporting the cause counts.