Indigenous homelessness in Canada has persisted for over 200 years, yet little has been done to remedy the issue. Housing conditions among First Nations peoples have been extensively documented for years as falling far below the standards of broader Canadian society. Various homelessness studies in Canada have indicated that Indigenous Peoples are overrepresented among the visibly homeless and hidden homeless populations, and many First Nations peoples and families do not have their own dwellings and/or live in overcrowded homes. 

To better understand these challenges, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) commissioned the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) to conduct a literature review. Today, we’re pleased to announce the release of Endaamnaan: Homes For All Nations. Endaamnaan represents the only systematic analysis of First Nations homelessness in Canada and provides an extensive review of all available data on the issue. Our findings and recommendations have been developed to reflect and address the reality of First Nations homelessness. This review will also inform the development of AFN’s First Nations Homelessness Action Plan.

Considering the disproportionate rate at which First Nations peoples experience homelessness on and off-reserve, a goal of this review is further research and advocacy on First Nations homelessness. Ultimately, we hope to mobilize long-lasting change that respects the dignity, autonomy, and security of First Nations peoples.

About the Literature Review

As a settler organization, the COH understood that it could not conduct this work without proper engagement and collaboration with Indigenous stakeholders. We asked an Elder to lead us in ceremony and to name the project to begin this work in a good way. We were also supported by our Indigenous Advisory Circle who guided us throughout all steps in the process.

We used multiple data sources, including non-academic literature, technical reports, position papers, policy reviews, news articles (especially from First Nations organizations), academic databases, non-profit organization websites, and government websites. Throughout the review, we highlight qualitative literature to amplify the perspectives, opinions, and experiences of First Nations peoples. This literature review also addresses current gaps in research and provides recommendations for rectifying the disproportionate rate of homelessness among First Nations peoples in Canada. 

The review was organized into four topics:

  1.  Understanding First Nations Homelessness: How do First Nations peoples describe and understand the concept of home and homelessness? How do these descriptions differ from Western definitions? What is the current state of First Nations homelessness in Canada? What are the various forms of First Nations homelessness?
  2. Experiences of First Nations Homelessness: How do First Nations peoples experience homelessness? How do factors such as location (on and off-reserve), migration, gender, and age impact experiences of homelessness?
  3. Pathways into Homelessness: Why are First Nations peoples overrepresented in the homelessness population? What are the root causes of this overrepresentation? How is homelessness among First Nations peoples connected to the legacy of residential schools, discrimination, colonization, intergenerational trauma, physical and mental health, and systemic racism and sexism? 
  4. Approaches to First Nations Homelessness: What solutions or preventative strategies are there to address homelessness among First Nations peoples? What works? What are innovative ways to better understand and address homelessness among First Nations peoples?

Understanding First Nations homelessness, along with First Nations peoples’ lived experiences, and pathways into homelessness is fundamental to establishing a knowledge base from which informed solutions can be developed. Although there is overlap in experiences of and solutions to homelessness between Indigenous and First Nations peoples, the recommendations discussed in Endaamnaan speak to the unique and distinct realities of homelessness among First Nations peoples.

Indigenous Peoples are not a homogeneous population. Any policy or programmatic response to Indigenous homelessness, and First Nations homelessness specifically, must first acknowledge that the state of Indigenous homelessness today is rooted in processes of violent colonization, particularly the multi-generational impact of residential schools. For this reason, a strategy for First Nations housing must meet the requirements of all First Nations members, regardless of whether they live in their First Nation.

As a settler organization, the COH continues to offer our solidarity and support for all Indigenous Peoples and communities. The COH is committed to working with its Indigenous partners and communities to contribute to a future of healing and reconciliation. We would like to thank everyone who contributed to the release of Endaamnaan: Homes For All Nations.