The homelessness we see every day across Canada is just the tip of the iceberg. For every homeless person we see there are conservatively three more people who are part of Canada’s hidden homeless population. What this means is on any given night, 50,000 Canadians are homeless. Canada’s mostly uncounted homeless are families, women and children, with most choosing to stay with extended family or friends because they perceive shelters as unsafe, and they don’t want to disrupt the children’s schooling.
A Raising the Roof report from 2014 points to an upward trend in homelessness, with family shelter usage increasing 40 per cent from 2008 to 2009. The length of time a person spends in these shelters has tripled from 2005 to 2009.
Hidden Homelessness Defined
The hidden homeless population is made up of Canadians who are Provisionally Accommodated (technically homeless). These individuals find places to stay but have no opportunity for permanent shelter. These shelters would include interim housing (also referred to as transitional housing), “couch surfing” with extended family or friends, temporary rental accommodations, individuals in institutions who do not have a place to go once discharged, and reception centres for recent immigrants and refugees. All of these groups of people are considered homeless because they do not have any prospects or means of obtaining permanent shelter.
Causes of Hidden Homelessness
There are many reasons that can contribute to someone becoming homeless, and they can be organized into three categories that combine to leave people out in the cold.
Family/Individual Causes: A breakdown of family relationships can leave people vulnerable. A parent or parents with a disability often struggle to cover the basics of life. Other factors can include job loss, sudden illness or injury, or a significant, unexpected expense.
Systems Failure: Homelessness can be caused by the failure of our major institutions in providing support to vulnerable families. These include people living in poverty, experiencing family violence, addiction or mental illness, or those fleeing conflict and attempting to resettle in Canada. System complexity can prolong homelessness by focusing on emergency services and/or enforcement of criteria before a family is “ready” for housing. The lack of coordination between government branches of housing, legal, and child welfare can cause prolonged homelessness.
Structural Causes: To make real progress against the homeless problem, barriers to housing need to be addressed. Factors leading to family poverty need to be engaged. Based on a 2014 report, the minimum wage in Ontario was $11.00/hr. Unfortunately, $16.50/hr. was the cutoff point for a livable wage. Add to this an upward trend in precarious employment, deteriorating social safety net, lack of affordable housing (158,445 Canadians are waiting for social housing), childcare costs, and the price of higher education, family poverty is alarmingly high. According to the report 1 in 7 (967,000), Canadian children live in poverty. For indigenous children, the number is 1 in 4. These poverty numbers are very likely to have been under reported since 2010, when the federal government cancelled the long-form census.
Many other factors can put families at risk of homelessness. They include precarious employment, sudden underemployment, supports about to be discontinued, those facing eviction, and those in insecure housing. Those living in uncertain conditions live in homes requiring significant repairs (mould problems, inadequate heating or water supply, structural damage, etc.) or find themselves in deep financial situations (over 50 per cent of income goes to rent).
Impact on Children
The effects of poverty and homelessness vary among children. The evidence suggests precarious housing is linked to poor physical health, mental health, and developmental outcomes. Many children are exposed to traumatic events before homelessness. This lack of affordable, safe housing can result in numerous school interruptions and lower academic success.
Efforts to prevent homelessness are required. When that isn’t possible, every effort must be made to reduce the amount of time a child experiences homelessness to minimize the negative impact.
You can make a direct impact on 26 families this year, and 250 families in the next three years by becoming a Hope Builder today. Your monthly donation ensures that we can help the greatest amount of families in the shortest amount of time, meaning you can help us reach our goals of completing our homes on time and on budget, making sure those in need can move in as soon as possible.
Donating items to Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga is unbelievably easy. Starting a kitchen renovation? Get help from our Kitchen Removal Experts. Also be sure to keep Habitat in mind when discarding office furniture, scrap metal and other household items, because those items may be fit for resale at our ReStore. You can also easily Schedule a Pickup of your items, so check out our list of accepted items.
Without your help, we cannot make an impact in the regions of Halton and Mississauga. We hope to provide affordable housing to change the lives of hard-working, low-income families, and we rely on the help of our community to reach our goals. Help us conquer Canadian homelessness today!