Fast Facts on Homelessness

General Homeless Population

Who are Canada’s Homeless?

  • A report  by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness estimates that 235,000 individuals, youth and families experience homelessness per year (Gaetz, Richter & Gulliver, 2014).
  • 35,000 Canadians experience homelessness on any given night, and as many as 50,000 make up the ‘hidden’ homelessness (‘couch-surfers’ or individuals who stay with family, friends, or others because they have nowhere else to go) (Gaetz, Richter & Gulliver, 2013).
  • The Homelessness Partnering Strategy report stated that in 2009, 147,000 unique individuals stayed in an emergency shelter. This number does not reflect the thousands of families staying in violence against women (VAW) shelters (Segaert, 2012).
  • Approximately 20 % of the homeless population are young people between the ages of 16-24 (Gaetz, Donaldson, Richter & Gulliver, 2013).
  • Several studies have found that youth experiencing homelessness have disproportionately been involved in child protection services or foster care in their lives. This number ranges from close to 30% to 49% (Clarke & Cooper, 2000; Leslie & Hare, 2000; McCarthy, 1995; Kaus & Dowling, 2003; Raising the Roof, 2009; Gaetz et al. 2010).  
  • Individuals of First Nation, Inuit and Metis descent are dramatically overrepresented in Canada’s homeless population; in large urban areas new Canadians, particularly those of colour, are increasingly vulnerable to experiencing homelessness
  • The average life expectancy of a person experiencing homelessness in Canada is 39 years (Trypuc & Robinson, 2009).
  • Contrary to popular misconception, schizophrenia is only present in approximately 6% of Toronto’s homeless population (Frankish, Hwang, & Quantz, 2005).
  • Homelessness costs the Canadian economy $7 Billion each year - not only through emergency accomodations but also through the use of social services, health care, and corrections (Gaetz, 2012)
  • Housing First has emerged as a best practice for providing housing for individuals with mental health and addiction concerns, and has been extended across Canada to other populations. Housing First has been shown to be successful in housing retention, reducing unnecessary emergency room and hospital visits, reducing criminal justice involvement, and improving the quality of life for residents (including reductions in health and mental-health related symptoms and addictions) (Gaetz, Scott & Gulliver, 2013).
  • Overall, Canada’s response to homelessness remains based on emergency accommodations and an uncoordinated use of public systems and services. There is much more work to be done in prevention – or preventing homelessness from occurring in the first place.

Child & Family Homelessness

Who is homeless in Canada?

It is estimated that each year, across Canada, 235,000 individuals experience homelessness. (Gaetz, Richter & Gulliver, 2014). Families with children form a growing part of that number.

Why do families become homeless?

There are many reasons, including:

  • a shortage of affordable housing
  • poverty – often related to employment that does not pay a living wage
  • sudden unemployment or injury
  • violence or abuse in the home
  • poor physical or mental health

Fewer affordable homes

  • One in four [3.2 million] households in Canada are paying more than 30% of their income on housing.  Almost 1 in 9 households spend more than 50% of their income on housing. Shapcott, M. (2013). Housing insecurity and homelessness: What should be done? [PowerPoint presentation to the Wellesley Institute].
  • Rising rental costs and reduced availability have put 1.5 million Canadian households  into core housing need (lacking affordable, adequate and suitable housing),  with 3.4 million households waiting for subsidized housing (Wellesley Institute, 2010).
  • Over 27% of Canadian households are living in core housing need, with 10.5% (about 380,600 households) living in severe housing need (CMHC, 2010).

Reliance on shelters

From Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Homelessness Partnering Strategy, The National Shelter Study (2005-2009)

  • Between 2005 and 2009, the estimated number of children using emergency shelters grew from 6,205 to 9,459 (not including those staying in Violence Against Women (VAW) shelters)
  • Between 2005 and 2009, the average age of children in shelters was 6.5 years
  • Corresponding with the growing number of children using shelters, the sharpest increase in shelter use has been at family shelters. In 2005, the average family stay was around 30 nights; by 2008 that average had risen to 50 nights
  • In 2009, an estimated 147,000 people, or about 1 in 230 Canadians, stayed in an emergency homeless shelter. Although that number did not change significantly over the period 2005-2009, many more of the shelter users were children and families.



  • Nearly 1 in 7 children lives in poverty                                                                                                                 (Statistics Canada. CANSIM table 202-0802 LIM-AT 2011).
  • Forty per cent of Canada’s  indigenous children live in poverty (Macdonald, D. & Wilson, D. (2013). Poverty or Prosperity: Indigenous Children in Canada).
  • The rise in temporary and precarious employment over the last few years has meant that many parents who do find work are employed in jobs that are part-time, insecure, and do not provide a decent wage or essential benefits. (Citizens for Public Justice. (2013) Poverty Trends Scorecard: Fact Sheet Series).
  • 10% of Canadian households live below the Low Income Cut-off (LICO) as defined by Statistics Canada
  • Over 10% of Canadian families fall below the Market Basket Measure (MBM) threshold, meaning they do not have enough money to meet even the most basic needs 
  • In Canada in 2011, 12.3% of households did not have secure access to food, with 8.2% of Canadian families experiencing moderate or severe food insecurity   
  • (Gaetz, S., Donaldson, J., Richter, T., & Gulliver, T. (2013). The State of Homelessness in Canada 2013).


Domestic violence or abuse

  • According to Krause and Dowling (2003), 40% of families experiencing homelessness cite violence as an important factor
  • Decter (2007) highlighted national data that showed that 76% of women and 88% of children in shelters were escaping violence/abuse in Canada 


Homeless Youth

  • Youth make up about 20% of the homeless population. (Gaetz, S., Donaldson, J., Richter, T., & Gulliver, T. (2013). The State of Homelessness in Canada 2013).
  • In the past 25 years there has been a 450% increase in the number of youth shelter beds in Toronto. (Toronto Community Foundation (2009). Independent Living Accounts: Leaving Homelessness in the Past).
  • 1,500-2,000 youth are homeless in Toronto on any given night; approximately 10,000 different youth at any point in any given year. (Toronto Community Foundation (2009). Independent Living Accounts: Leaving Homelessness in the Past).
  • Suicide attempts amongst street-involved youth are 10.3 times that of the national average for Canadian youth. (McKay, E. (2009). Seeing the Possibilities. The Need for a Mental Health Focus Amongst Street-Involved Youth: Recognizing and Supporting Resilience. Toronto: Wellesley Institute).
  • Mortality rates amongst youth experiencing homelessness are quite high, conservative estimate of up to 11 times the general youth population. (Kidd, S. A., & Davidson, L. (2009). Homeless Youth: The Need to Link Research and Policy. In: J. D. Hulchanski, P. Campsie, S. Chau, S. Hwang, E. Paradis, (Eds.), Finding Home: Policy Options for Addressing Homelessness in Canada (e-book). Toronto: Cities Centre, University of Toronto) ).
  • 61%  of youth (n=43) reported being either physically or sexually abused by an adult at some point in their lives. (McKay, E. (2009). Seeing the Possibilities. The Need for a Mental Health Focus Amongst Street-Involved Youth: Recognizing and Supporting Resilience. Toronto: Wellesley Institute).
  • Housing issues have been reported to be a factor in one of every five cases where a child is brought into care in Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. (Chau, S., Fitzpatrick, A., Hulchanski, D., Leslie, B., & Schatia, D. (2001). One in Five: Housing as a Factor in the Admission of Children to Care. Toronto, ON: Children's Aid Society of Toronto & the University of Toronto).
  • Youth who stay on the street for two years are less likely to leave – making an intervention within the first two years key to solving the problem. (The Yonge Street Mission. (2009). Changing Patterns for Street Involved Youth).
  • One in four youth leave home before the legal age. The younger they are, the more likely their stay on the street will last longer. (The Yonge Street Mission. (2009). Changing Patterns for Street Involved Youth).
  • It costs an estimated $30,000 – $40,000 a year to keep a youth in the shelter system and over $100,000 per year to keep one youth in detention.  (Laird (2007). Homelessness in a Growth Economy: Canada’s 21st Century Paradox. Calgary, AB: Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership).