Aboriginal Homelessness and PiT Counts in Canada

Despite the extent of Aboriginal homelessness in Canada, there exists limited national and regional data enumerating Aboriginal homelessness. Of the PiT Counts that have been conducted in Canada, Aboriginal Peoples were significantly overrepresented (Calgary Homeless Foundation, 2014; Chopin & Wormith, 2008; Hanselmann, 2001; Stroick, Hubac, & Richter-Salomons, 2008). However, a cross-country enumeration of Aboriginal homelessness has never been conducted, and many Canadian PiT Counts have employed different methodologies and definitions of homelessness that potentially exclude Aboriginal people experiencing homelessness (Echenberg & Jensen, 2008; Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, 2012).

Research has shown that Aboriginal Peoples are likely to be significantly undercounted during PiT Counts. This is due to numerous factors including: their overrepresentation among hidden homeless populations (Distasio, Sylvestre, & Mulligan, 2005; Stroick et al., 2008), movement between urban communities and reserves (Belanger et al., 2013), and expressed unwillingness to participate in PiT Counts (Letkemann, 2004, p. 242; Peters & The Prince Albert Grand Council Urban Services Inc., 2009). Both the lack of data and the identified methodological challenges make it difficult to estimate national and regional statistics on Aboriginal homelessness. 

Urban Aboriginal Homeless as Percentage of Overall Homeless Population, Select Canadian Cities
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While acknowledging these obstacles, Belanger and colleagues (2013) have used available data to establish an approximate rate of Aboriginal homelessness in select communities across Canada, and they found:

  • The Aboriginal homeless population accounts for 29 percent of the overall homeless population in Canada
  • Of the total 70,200 urban Canadians who identified as being homeless, 20,358 were found to be of Aboriginal descent
  • On any given night, 6.97% of all urban Aboriginal people are homeless, compared to 0.78% of the non-Aboriginal population
  • On any given night, 1 in 15 urban Aboriginal people experience homelessness, compared to 1 out of 128 non-Aboriginal people

Urban Aboriginal Homelessness in Canada

Given that these numbers do not reflect Aboriginal people at risk of homelessness or those who are provisionally accommodated, such as couch surfers, it is anticipated that Aboriginal homelessness is significantly greater than these data indicate. Based on these trends we can conclude that Aboriginal homelessness is endemic in Canada.

Gaps in Knowledge about Aboriginal Homelessness 

  • Limited data on the extent of Aboriginal homelessness in many regions
  • Limited quantitative knowledge about whether and how homelessness disproportionately affects particular Aboriginal people (e.g., First Nations, Aboriginal women, LGBTQ2ASS+ Aboriginal youth and adults)
  • Limited statistical data on what forms of homelessness are most pervasive among Aboriginal Peoples in different parts of the country
  • Limited statistical data on what forms of homelessness are most pervasive across different Aboriginal populations  

How Can a PiT Count Help Address Aboriginal Homelessness? 

  • Partnerships between mainstream and Aboriginal communities will improve Aboriginal participation in the count, and thus improve the count’s accuracy
  • Strong data enables key players, including all levels of government, communities and service providers to tailor policies, services, and funding to meet existing needs and prevent homelessness
  • PiT Count data can assist communities in establishing milestones for ending Aboriginal homelessness that are evidence-based, measureable, and realistic
  • Findings can increase public knowledge about Aboriginal homelessness
  • Communities can use findings to advocate for increased funding for housing and supports for Aboriginal Peoples
  • Partnerships between communities can be mobilized in future efforts to address Aboriginal homelessness locally and nationally