Dear Homeless Hub, 
Which city in Canada has the most homeless people per capita and why? 
Patricia L. 
Toronto, ON

Given the lack of a national Point-In-Time count, it is impossible to report on this completely accurately. We have to use some best guesses and estimates and need to rely on those cities that do count or estimate their population of people experiencing homelessness.

In the State of Homelessness in Canada: 2013, we estimated that there are 200,000 people homeless in any given year; 30,000 on any given night. We also feel that about 50,000 may fit into the hidden homelessness category as well. Additionally, we reported that according to a March 2013 Ipsos Reid survey about 1.3 million people identified that they had experienced homelessness or extremely insecure housing at some point during the past five years.

In 2013, the Homelessness Partnering Secretariat released “The National Shelter Study: Emergency Shelter Use in Canada 2005-2009” by Aaron Segaert. This study found that there are about 150,000 different shelters users each year. In 2009, there were 147,000 different people who spent at least one night in a shelter, or about 1 in 230 Canadians. We know that the rate is much higher than this however, because Segaert’s study didn’t include those living unsheltered on the street, women and children in violence against women shelters, immigrant/refugee shelters, halfway houses etc. More information about the types of homeless people can be found in our Canadian Definition of Homelessness.

As you can see in the above table from our report, homelessness varies across the country. Obviously, as Canada’s largest city, Toronto also has the largest number of people who are homeless. Toronto also attracts specific populations, such as LGBT youth who come to a large city to find safety in their sexual orientation identity as well.

While Toronto’s number is the largest, it isn’t the greatest per capita; that “privilege” lies with Red Deer at .31% compared to Toronto’s .19%. Lethbridge and Saskatoon are the lowest at .12% while Calgary is second highest (.29%) followed by Vancouver and Edmonton (.27%) and Kelowna (.24%). All of these are obviously fractions of the total population. In all cases, the numbers of people who are homeless is much greater than the number of emergency shelter beds in that particular city.

Reasons for someone becoming homeless vary from person to person and can include family breakdown (divorce/separation, being thrown out), exit from the child welfare system, military/veteran history, eviction, mental health or addictions issues, loss/lack of job, lack of income, low rate of welfare, government benefits or salary and disaster (natural, house fire). In a significant number of cases the causes are systemic (lack of income/lack of affordable housing) versus an individual behavioural cause.

It’s also important to look at who is homeless as part of determining why someone might be homeless.

Young people aged 16-24 make up about 20% of the homeless population.

47.5% single adut makes between 25&55 years old.

In Segaert’s study he found that the prevalence rate for youth (ages 16-24) was very similar to that of homeless men, although there are more adult men experiencing homelessness. That is, there are 308 homeless youth for every 100,000 youth in Canada, Similarly, there are 310 homeless adult men between the ages of 25 and 55 for every 100,000 adult men in the Canadian population. Additionally, Segeart found that there were about 30,000 youth between 16-25 who experienced homelessness in 2009 and a further 1,500 (1% of the overall homeless population) were unaccompanied youth under the age of 16. Nearly 10,000 children used shelters in 2009 (not counting those who stayed in Violence Against Women shelters).

This post is part of our Friday "Ask the Hub" blog series. Have a homeless-related question you want answered? E-mail us at and we will provide a research-based answer.