Canadian Definition of Homelessness

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) has developed a definition and typology of homelessness intended to improve understanding, measurement and responses to homelessness in Canada by providing a common ‘language’ for addressing this complex problem. Working in collaboration with national, regional and local stakeholders, including people with lived experience, we have developed a definition that draws on our shared history of attempting to define homelessness in Canada, but also on effective models from other jurisdictions (most particularly, the ETHOS definition from Europe). The result is a useable, understandable definition of homelessness that is uniquely Canadian yet allows for national and international comparison.

Based on national consultation, the definition was revised in 2017.

Download the Definition and related documents

Canadian Definition of Homelessness
La Définition canadienne de l’itinérance
This is where the Canadian Definition of Homelessness can be found. It includes an overall definition and a typology of homelessness and housing exclusion.

Canadian Definition of Homelessness - One Pager
La Définition canadienne de l’itinérance - Un document d'une Page
This document includes an overall definition and a typology of homelessness and housing exclusion.

Making the Case for the Canadian Definition of Homelessness
Introduction à la Définition canadienne de l’itinérance
This document answers the question: Does homelessness really need to be defined? Here we make the case for the necessity and uses of a Canadian Definition of Homelessness.

Backgrounder to the Canadian Definition of Homelessness
In this document, a comparative analysis is undertaken to identify the key strengths and weaknesses of different national and international definitions. In addition to an exploration of how homelessness has been defined in Canada, this backgrounder reviews definitions from: a) the United Nations, b) the United States, c) Australia, and d) Europe (the ETHOS definition developed by FEANTSA).

Last updated: December 6th, 2012

The COH's Canadian Definition of Homelessness is endorsed by:

National Endorsements
Raising the Roof
Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness
National Aboriginal Housing Association
Eva's Initiatives
Wellesley Institute

Community Endorsements
Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee
Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa
Alpha Court Non Profit Housing Corp., Thunder Bay
Boys & Girls Club – Region of Peel
Brandon Community Advisory Board for Homelessness
Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation
Burnaby Task Force On Homelessness
Calgary Homeless Foundation
Choices for Youth – St. John’s, NL
Choices Youth Shelter – Orangeville, ON
City of Calgary
City of Lethbridge, Community and Social Development Group
City of Ottawa - Housing Services Branch
City of Red Deer
Community Action Group on Homelessness, Fredericton, NB
Community Social Planning Council of Greater Victoria
Edmonton Small Press Association (ESPA)
Elizabeth Fry Society of Peel-Halton
Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness
Homeward Trust Edmonton
John Howard Society of Peel, Halton, Dufferin
Knight’s Table, Brampton, ON
Medicine Hat Community Housing Society
Nanaimo’s Community Advisory Board on Homelessness
Nanaimo’s Working Group on Homelessness
Newfoundland and Labrador Housing & Homelessness Network
Ontario Works – Region of Peel
Our Place Peel
Paul Dowling Consulting– Region of Peel
Peel SharED
Regeneration Outreach Community, Brampton, ON
Regional Municipality of Waterloo
Salvation Army – Cuthbert House, Brampton, ON
Salvation Army Peel Regional Residential Services
Saskatoon Homelessness Advisory Committee
Saskatoon Housing Coalition, Inc.
Stella Bury Community Services, St. John’s, NL
St. John's Community Advisory Committee on Homelessness
St. Leonard’s Place Peel 
Street Soccer Canada – Region of Peel
The Dam, Mississauga, ON
United Way of Sault Ste. Marie
United Way of York Region
Victim Services – Region of Peel
Vita Centre, Mississauga, ON

Academic Endorsements
Uzo Anucha, York University
Tim Aubry, University of Ottawa

Yale Belanger, University of Lethbridge
Celine Bellot, Université du Québec à Montréal
Catherine Charette, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Isolde Daiski, York University
Jino Distasio, University of Winnipeg
Margaret Eberle, BC Non-Profit Housing Association
Cheryl Forchuk, Western University
Stephen Gaetz, York University

John Graham, University of Calgary
Hirsch Greenberg, University of Regina
Roch Hurtubise, Université de Sherbrooke
Stephen Hwang, University of Toronto
Jeff Karabanow, Dalhousie University
Roger Keil, York University
Kathy Kovacs Burns, University of Alberta
Dianne McCormack, University of New Brunswick
Peter Menzies, University of Toronto
Janet Mosher, York University
Bill O’Grady, University of Guelph
Anita Palepu, University of British Columbia
Bernie Pauly, University of Victoria
Cheryl van Daalen-Smith, York University
Jeannette Waegemakers-Schiff, University of Calgary


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