Women are largely overrepresented amongst the population of peoples experiencing homelessness in Canada, and face many unique challenges. Unfortunately, many of these challenges remain invisible and unaddressed in the homelessness sector, in part because women-identified peoples and their children are more likely to experience forms of hidden homelessness and complex forms of social exclusion. Research around women’s unique experiences of homelessness and housing precarity is underdeveloped, resulting in key gaps in knowledge. These gaps in knowledge create barriers to adequately responding to women’s unique needs through policy and practice.

Last week, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) announced funding for a joint research project focused on women and girls’ homelessness. This joint research will be conducted by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness with the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) as a partner and fund holder through the CAEH Women’s Homelessness Advisory Committee. This work will provide one of the most comprehensive collections of scholarship on women’s homelessness and housing need in Canada, combined with an unparalleled national engagement of women and girls. 

Through the CMHC’s National Housing Strategy (NHS) Research and Planning Fund Initiative, the team was awarded $100,000 to explore 3 key questions:

  • What are the key system drivers of homelessness and housing need for women and girls in Canada?
  • How can Canada’s housing system best support the unique needs of diverse women and girls over the life course?
  • What policy and practice changes are needed to effectively prevent homelessness and fulfill housing need for women and girls in Canada? 

This work is broken into three phases:

  • Phase 1: A comprehensive, systems-level, intersectional review of existing scholarship on women and girls’ experiences of homelessness and housing need 
  • Phase 2: An extensive national consultation with women and girls with lived experiences of homelessness and/or housing need across Canada. This will include a large national survey, as well as regional focus groups with women-identified people experiencing homelessness or housing precarity. 
  • Phase 3: An Indigenous-led national consultation with Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse peoples on their unique experiences of homelessness and housing need. We have partnered with the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) on this phase of the research.

Through this work, we will generate a comprehensive, systems-level, intersectional understanding of homelessness and housing need for women, girls, and gender-diverse peoples in Canada. As Arlene Hache, CAEH Board Director and Women’s Homelessness Advisory Committee Co-Chair, explains: “If we don’t have the best and most accurate information, how can we expect to end women’s and girls’ homelessness in Canada? Poverty, lower wages, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, addiction issues, and mental and physical health challenges are some of the many factors that make women vulnerable to homelessness. These factors feed into why women experience homelessness differently than men.”

Through this program of research, we hope to create a strong intersectional evidence-base that can inform the implementation of both the NHS and Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy. Given the National Housing Strategy’s commitment to allocate at least 25% of funding toward women, we hope this research can drive programs and policies that meaningfully deliver on women’s right to housing.