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Report released on World Homeless Day finds homelessness not declining in Canada, calls for national housing strategy, more federal funds

Toronto, October 10, 2016

By Leslie Shepherd

Dr. Stephen Hwang
Dr. Stephen Hwang

Homelessness is not declining in Canada, despite 10-year plans in several major cities, and is actually growing among specific groups such as families, youth and seniors in some cities, a new research report concludes.

The report, released on World Homeless Day, says a comprehensive national housing and homelessness plan is urgently needed to replace the existing patchwork of federal and provincial programs and modest, short-term funding.

“Cities are woefully underfunded by senior levels of government when it comes to ending homelessness and they have limited jurisdiction and authority over the key drivers of homelessness and precarious housing in Canada,” said Dr. Stephen Hwang, director of the Centre for Urban Health Solutions of St. Michael’s Hospital.

“We need a strategic federal response that addresses the underlying structural causes of poverty and homelessness, that is coordinated with the provinces and which dedicates, new long-term funding at the levels required to end homelessness in Canada.”

The report comes as the federal government is seeking public input into a new national housing strategy and as the mayors of the country’s largest cities urge Ottawa to set aside $12.6 billion over the next decade to build new affordable housing units.

The report, “Ending Homelessness in Canada,” is based on a study led by Dr. Hwang as head of the Research Alliance for Canadian Homelessness, Housing and Health. The alliance, known as REACH3, includes some of Canada’s leading academic researchers and community organizations with expertise in homelessness. They tracked approximately 1,200 homeless and vulnerably housed adults in Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa over four years.

The report found that despite efforts by cities to tackle homelessness, the number of Canadians who remain homeless or vulnerably housed has stabilized but has not declined. An estimated 235,000 Canadians face homelessness in a year, or 35,000 on any given night. Dr. Hwang said the number is probably much higher because many people move in temporarily with friends or relatives so do not come into contact with emergency shelters or support services.

The report found that 10-year plans for ending homelessness are “severely under-funded, given inadequate senior government investment.”

In many cities, new affordable housing units barely offset losses in the private rental market and the majority of new units remain largely unaffordable to Canada’s lowest income earners.

In Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa, which maintain centralized waiting lists for affordable housing, the number of people on the lists continues to grow. In Toronto, 91,032 households (or 167,616 people) were on the waiting list in 2014, up from 76,549 just five years earlier.

Since the cancellation of federal housing programs in 1993, very little rent-geared-to-income housing has been produced in Canada. In Toronto, that means even a studio apartment is unaffordable to people living on minimum wage or social assistance.

The report noted that many municipalities and community organizations are embracing the Housing First concept, which involve moving people into independent and permanent housing as quickly as possible with no preconditions (such as being sober or abstaining from drugs) and then providing them with additional supports and services as needed.

The At Home/Chez Soi study, funded by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and co-led in Toronto by Dr. Hwang, demonstrated that a Housing First approach led to more stable housing than a “treatment first” approach and was also more cost-effective.

Noting that the root causes of homelessness and precarious housing are varied and can be addressed only through policy and legislative change at the provincial and federal levels, the report also called for an increase in minimum wage and social assistance levels. It also recommended tax and other incentives to encourage the private sector to build more affordable housing.

The research received funding from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.


This paper is an example of how St. Michael's Hospital is making Ontario Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

Media contacts

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Leslie Shepherd
Manager, Media Strategy, St. Michael's Hospital
416-864-6094
shepherdl@smh.ca