People experiencing homelessness in Canada include a disproportionate number of individuals from racialized and newcomer communities. Racialized persons are defined as individuals who are non-Caucasian. Factors such as discrimination, language barriers, historical trauma and colonization have a cumulative effect -- they are also linked to experiencing homelessness and being unable to break the cycle of homelessness in Canadian society.
Because the realities experienced by individuals who are part of racialized and newcomer communities are different from that of other communities, it is important to recognize the unique challenges they may face. Connecting individuals to resources that are culturally appropriate makes it possible for their needs to be effectively addressed.
Below are some of the marginalized groups in Canadian society, who are especially at risk for experiencing homelessness for a multitude of reasons:
While Indigenous Peoples make up a small portion of the general population in urban areas in Canada, they account for a large percentage of those experiencing homelessness. In Toronto, for example, only 0.5% of the general population is Indigenous, and yet they make up about 15% of those who are experiencing homelessness. What is more, Indigenous Peoples make up to 90% of those experiencing homelessness in northern Canadian cities like Whitehorse or Yellowknife, while making up roughly only a sixth of both cities' populations.
A number of different circumstances can account for this overrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples amongst those experiencing homelessness. This includes the historical trauma and oppression faced by Indigenous Peoples, who were subjected tomaltreatment and cultural erosion through the exploitations of colonization, residential schools and the 60s Scoop. The aftermath often includes unstable families and homes, and various issues within Indigenous communities such as substance use, addiction, community violence and health issues.
Addressing these issues is not as simple as connecting individuals and families to social services and general resources. Cultural considerations need to be taken into account in order to properly address the issue of homelessness specific to Indigenous Peoples.
For example, within Indigenous cultures, the conceptualization of “home” and therefore what it means to experience homelessness, is more than simply having or lacking a roof over one’s head. Homelessness also includes variables such as relationships and connections to human kinship, earth, lands, waters and territories, animals, plants, spirits, elements, traditional songs, teachings, ancestors and names.
Furthermore, Indigenous homelessness does not fit neatly into the four Canadian categories of homelessness: unsheltered, emergency sheltered, provisionally sheltered, and at risk of homelessness. To address this issue, the COH published the Definition of Indigenous Homelessness in 2017.
Racialized Groups and Homelessness
Canada is comprised of a number of racially diverse groups, some of who are at an increased risk for experiencing homelessness:
- In Canada, 1 in 5 racialized families will live in poverty compared to only 1 in 20 non-racialized families.
- Racialized women earn an average of 32% less in the workplace.
- Youth who end up experiencing homelessness are more likely to belong to a marginalized and discriminated against group in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.
- 28.2% of those experiencing homelessness are members of racialized groups, compared to the Canadian average of 19.1%.
- Indigenous Peoples make up only 4.3% of the overall Canadian population but comprise 30.6% of the youth homelessness population.
Refugees and Newcomers to Canada
Many of the challenges faced by refugees and newcomers to Canada parallel those faced by Canadians who are at risk of experiencing homelessness. For example, newcomers frequently struggle with finding good quality, permanent, appropriately located, yet affordable housing.
Refugees to Canada who are not privately sponsored are given help from settlement agencies to find housing arrangements -- but contrary to popular belief, they do not get to jump the waitlists for affordable housing. As a result, settlement agencies often look outside of subsidized housing and to the private housing market, which can be risky due to the chance of finding housing that is too expensive, overcrowded or illegally rented.
In addition to struggling with the need to find suitable housing, many refugees deal with a number of personal problems such as psychological distress, unemployment, a lack of social capital, language barriers, discrimination, lack of access to transportation and lack of credit history.
The barriers that newcomers and refugees to the country face put them at an increased risk for homelessness and core housing need compared to other groups. For example, 10.1% of newcomer youth experience homelessness.
What Can Be Done?
Taking into account the many cultures present in Canada is an important step towards providing effective services. It has been said that homelessness is a culture, and that services delivered by individuals with first-hand experience may contribute to better outcomes. This may mean having more staff with a history of experiencing homelessness, or perhaps hiring more ethnically diverse teams to help administer services in a culturally appropriate way. This will mean taking into account the historical, social, political and economic contributions that have created homelessness for people from various backgrounds.
In Canada, the social services and health sector is often criticized for being predominantly white and middle class, although the populations that most frequently access these services tend to be members of various racialized and marginalized communities.
Marginalized groups, which often include non-English speakers, racialized communities, those who are experiencing homelessness and newcomers to the country, tend to deal with more health problems for a number of reasons, including a lack of information and difficulties accessing health care. As the service models offered are more likely to reflect white, middle class values, the needs of racially and ethnically diverse groups may not be adequately met.
Across Canada, a number of culturally diverse services have emerged in hopes of providing services that will address the needs of Canada’s many groups and communities.