This question came from Shayne W. during our latest website survey: “What are the best practices in employment strategies currently utilized by the federal government? What are the numerical outcomes?"

While not all people experiencing homelessness are unemployed, employment is an important issue for many. Though there are many reasons why employers would and do want to hire people experiencing homelessness, there are many barriers to securing long-term, well-paying jobs. Our Employment Support section lists some of these as:

  • no or limited access to a phone,
  • no permanent address to give to potential employers,
  • not having work-appropriate (or interview-appropriate) attire,
  • problems with resume creation and distribution (including printing and mailing costs and computer access for online applications),
  • gaps in and/or inadequate employment history to include on an application,
  • transportation issues (inability to afford a vehicle or public transit fares) to get to interviews and/or employment,
  • difficulties with obtaining identification and access to financial institutions,
  • conflict between hours of work and hours of operation of homeless services including shelter access and meal programs.

Additionally, people experiencing both homelessness and unemployment often find themselves in a double bind: it is much easier to find good, long-term and stable housing if one has a well-paying job; and vice versa. Depending on the person’s situation, there may also be issues in securing positive references (due to behaviour and unpredictability), which are often key to getting a job.

Education and training are also important factors, as they are associated with higher chances of getting well-paying, long-term jobs. Furthermore, research has found that building “social capital,” feeling productive and being employed can be a crucial part of recovery for people diagnosed with mental illness or substance abuse issues. Respondents from one U.K. study said that an increase in confidence was the most important change in their lives post-employment, but many had been employed for a very short time ­– meaning the long-term effects were not explored.

Employment services infographic
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Employment programs in Canada

Due to the complexity of why people become homeless and live in poverty, there’s no clear-cut response to Shayne’s question, but I’ll do my very best to summarize the programs that are available.

Employment is very tied to education, which is under provincial and territorial jurisdictions in Canada. (For example, Ontario has its own employment and skills programs that can all be explored here.) When it comes to promising practices, a review of existing Canadian literature pointed to a handful of programs that all emphasize support and flexibility.

The federal government provides support mostly through student loans and grants, tax incentives, labour market agreements with provinces and territories (money transfers) and employment insurance. In a 2010 report, Federal Poverty Reduction Plan, a standing committee reviewed current programs and made a long list of suggestions of what could be improved. In the government’s response, they claimed that nearly 900,000 Canadians benefitted from programs and services through labour market agreement programs. Other claims included:

  • “Under the Economic Action Plan, LMDA funding provided to provinces and territories was temporarily increased by $500 million for each of two years (2009-2010 and 2010-2011), and LMA funding was increased by $250 million annually through the Strategic Training and Transition Fund (STTF) over the same period.
  • The Economic Action Plan committed $50-million in 2009 and 2010 to reducing barriers to credential recognition among newcomers.
  • The Government provides support of up to $4,000 to apprentices through the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant (AIG) and the Apprenticeship Completion Grant (ACG). To date, the AIG has provided support to over 185,000 men and women, while the more recent ACG has already been provided to more than 38,000 people.
  • In 2010-2011, the Government allocated over $38 million to the Office of Literacy and Essential Skills (OLES), a national centre of expertise providing information and resources to improve adult literacy and essential skills.”
  • Over five years, the government has provided $1.6 billion for the Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy (ASETS) to support a continuum of skills development for Aboriginal women and men; and $210 million over the same period of time for the Skills and Partnership Fund (SPF), a partnership-based, opportunity-driven fund that encourages innovative projects. The response claims that these new programs and their predecessors “assisted over 593,000 Aboriginal people to create career-focused employment action plans, helped approximately 185,000 Aboriginal people return to work, and supported 65,000 Aboriginal people in returning to school for training.”
  • The Opportunities Fund has “helped over 60,000 Canadians with disabilities improve their labour market integration by supporting training and skills development.”
  • In 2010, YES served almost 86,000 youth.

Jobs are not always the answer

Considering that government officials have been known to spend millions on advertising for job skills programs that don't exist, it's important that we look critically at these claims and consider other factors. The problem with these numbers is that a lot of them don’t tell us who actually got and kept jobs over time, or even what kind of jobs were secured. When it comes to training and employment initiatives, the approach often seems to be “any job is a good job." In a society as dependent on capitalism as ours is, many people find themselves in a position where they must take work, regardless of return, cost or fit – this isn't ideal for anyone.

One Calgary study of employed people experiencing homelessness highlighted insufficient work, inconsistent pay, poor relationships with employers, temporary employment and undesirable employment as elements of the labour market that actually contribute to poverty and homelessness. The authors write:

In many ways, the labor market remains unregulated, and people are expected to adapt to employer needs and labor market structures as required. Temporary employment has become commonplace within contemporary labor markets; making insufficient work and pay an emerging sociocultural norm in North America.

To understand the quotes presented here fully, we need to think about homelessness in the context in which it exists. People who are homeless, literally, live day to day—concerned primarily with meeting their daily needs. Most people with homes do not live like this. When we think about major factors that contribute to people exiting homelessness we miss this aspect of poverty—people who are consumed with finding a way to meet their daily needs have less time to think about or make plans to improve their future. Temporary employment opportunities and other characteristics of the labor market help to maintain this cyclical pattern.

Focusing on employment and skills training, while sometimes very in helping someone, is not a perfect solution to homelessness. By being critical of the labour market and asking questions about what opportunities are available and why, we can then truly consider the systemic issues that lead to poverty and homelessness.

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.

Photo credit: Stafflink

 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. - See more at:
 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. - See more at: