A report prepared for the Homelessness Hub on the State of Homelessness in Canada in 2014 shows that over the past decade declining wages, reduced benefit levels including, pensions and social assistance, and a shrinking supply of affordable housing have placed more and more Canadians at risk of homelessness.
In particular, Canadians facing physical and mental health challenges when combined with a lack of affordable housing solutions are increasingly at risk of becoming homeless.
The report’s authors estimate that more than 235,000 Canadians will experience homelessness in a year, with more than 35,000 Canadians homeless on any given night. The estimated cost of homelessness to the Canadian economy was at least $7.04 billion dollars annually in 2013.
Based on evidence and best practices from successful strategies, such as the At Home/Chez Soi pilot project, the authors of the report note the following challenges and key strategies regarding ending homelessness in Canada:
- Cash help and access to social housing (housing benefit) is the key to preventing homelessness.
- Chronic and episodically homeless – individuals who have major challenges, including mental illness, alcoholism and other substance abuse issues — are best aided through the application of Housing First (HF) principles, where housing is provided without conditions.
- HF is a sound investment. For every $10 invested in HF services resulted in an average savings of $21.72 since these individual spend less time in hospitals, shelters or jails.
- Homeless individuals also need other supports, such as assistance to reduce the harm of an addiction.
Conclusions and Recommendations
- The past decade has revealed extensive research on what causes homelessness and the best practices strategies that can help to end it. The success of the At Home/Chez Soipilot projects across Canada clearly demonstrate that with housing and the right supports, chronically homeless people such as people experiencing mental illness can become and remain housed.
- Areas that still need more work include: solutions for youth homelessness, women fleeing violence and Aboriginal homelessness.
- One missing piece of the puzzle, however, is affordable housing. The decline in availability of low cost housing (and in particular, rental housing) contributes to inappropriate housing and homelessness for many Canadians, especially young people setting out on their own, single parents, people working for low wages, the elderly and people with chronic physical and mental illnesses.
The State of Homelessness in Canada 2014 sets the course for ending homelessness in Canada and proposes the following strategies:
- A new federal, provincial and territorial affordable housing framework agreement
- Investments to target chronically and episodically homeless people
- Direct investment in affordable housing programs
- A housing benefit – a new program to assist those who face a severe affordability problem in their current accommodation
- Create an affordable housing tax credit.
- Review and expand investment in Aboriginal housing both on and off reserve.
The authors estimate that the funding for these proposed investments in affordable housing represents an increase in annual federal spending, from the projected commitments of $2.019 billion to $3.752 billion in 2015/16 with a total investment of $44 billion over ten years.