Everyone is at risk of homelessness. A job loss, a house fire, a natural disaster, a relationship breakdown all bring with them the risk of losing one’s home and experiencing homelessness. For most people, structural factors play the biggest role in one's experience of homelessness although personal history and individual characteristics also play a role. Structural factors include: the growing gap between the rich and the poor, a lack of affordable housing, low social assistance and other income supports, low vacancy rates and discrimination (including racism, sexism, homophobia and ageism). Personal history and individual characteristics include: catastrophic events, loss of employment, family break up, physical or mental health issues, substance use by oneself or family members, a history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, and current or past involvement in the child welfare system. Homelessness exists in every community across the country even if it is not visible.
Homelessness is experienced differently by various populations. For example, the "working poor" and single-parent families with children often live in sub-standard or overcrowded housing. They are unable to afford a decent place to live in addition to paying other bills including food, health care, clothing and transportation. Often this group is part of the "hidden homeless" population; approximately 50,000 people are considered to be part of this group on any given night in Canada.
In this section, the challenges experienced by various sub-populations are detailed. We hope to help you understand the unique needs faced by people experiencing homelessness including youth, the elderly, families with children, newcomers, racialized communities, members of the LGBTQ2S community, Indigenous Peoples, women and men.
Understanding the variety of factors that may lead to homelessness is not easy considering the heterogeneity of the population. There are many pathways into and out of homelessness. It is often said that the only commonality amongst people experiencing homelessness is that they lack access to safe, secure and affordable housing. The collection of relevant and valid demographic data is a key factor in developing suitable and relevant programs. Service providers and researchers increasingly recognize that understanding the distinct challenges of sub-populations and providing supports and services directed to these needs will help improve solutions to ending homelessness.