The main causes of family homelessness tend to be structural – a lack of affordable housing and ongoing poverty due to low wages, un/underemployment and low rates of government assistance. According to the State of Homelessness in Canada: 2013 there are many warning signs that may indicate homelessness risk. These include:
- It is estimated that there are roughly 380,600 households living in severe housing need (living in poverty and spending more than 50% of their income on rental housing).
- 10% of Canadian households live below the Low Income Cut-off (LICO). In some cities, the percentage is even higher, such as Vancouver (16.9%) and Toronto (13.2%), both of which also have the highest housing costs in the country.
- 10% of Canadian families fall below the Market Basket Measure (MBM) poverty threshold, meaning they do not have enough money to meet even the most basic needs.
- 8.2% of Canadian households are experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity.
- Between 1980 and 2005 the average earnings among the least wealthy Canadians fell by 20%, even as the country went through a period of sustained economic and employment growth.
These factors put many families on the edge of homelessness and just one illness, layoff, disaster, or loss of childcare provider can put a family over the edge. As well, rapid economic growth can put housing out of the affordable range for many working families.
The number of homeless families continues to rise due to a dwindling number of low-cost rental units, the withdrawal of federal and provincial support for housing and the increase in poverty.