6 Lessons to Learn About Homelessness

Winter will soon by winding-down and warmer weather is coming. However, the issue of homelessness does not go away when the weather improves.

However, when the temperature drops below -20 C (-4 F) and stays that way for days or even weeks on end, it’s difficult to imagine homeless people surviving on the street.

In Canada, The Salvation Army operates 50 shelter and hostel programs throughout the country, providing over one-third of all shelter beds in the country each night for those without an alternative place to sleep. At that, it only scratches the surface of solving the problem.

Here are 6 things you need to know about homelessness:

1. Homelessness becomes a life-or-death issue in Winter

  • Humans cannot survive outdoors overnight in temperatures below -15 degrees.
  • Temporary shelters sometimes find it necessary to turn people away.

2. Homelessness is a growing problem in Canada

  • In Toronto, the City’s first official homeless census counted over 5,000 homeless in the city in 2006.
  • In Calgary, 3,436 homeless individuals were counted in 2006, nearly twice the 1,737 from 2002, and dramatically higher than the 447 people identified in the first such study in 1992.
  • In Vancouver, a 2005 study showed that the homeless population had nearly doubled since 2002, to over 2,100 people.
  • In Edmonton, a 2004 study found that 2,192 homeless were living in the city, up from 836 when the first survey was conducted in 1999.

3. More and more families across Canada are without a permanent place to live

  • While traditionally the realm of single men, increasingly women and families are joining the ranks of Canada’s homeless.
  • In Calgary, The Salvation Army has seen the problem of homeless families explode – from 17 homeless families two years ago to over 100 families receiving assistance today.
  • In Edmonton, the number of homeless families has more than doubled since 1999, according to a study by the Joint Planning Committee on Housing.

4. A key cause of homelessness is the shrinking market of affordable housing

  • Prosperity has indirectly caused housing prices to soar, leaving many working individuals and families unable to afford adequate housing.
  • According to a 2002 report by the Calgary Homeless Foundation, half of that city’s homeless population have jobs but cannot afford housing.
  • The Pivot Legal Society reported recently that the lack of affordable housing would lead to a tripling of the homelessness population in Vancouver by 2010.

5. Most homeless people are dealing with more than one life issue and do not “choose” be homeless

  • While the lack of affordable housing is a critical component of the problem, most homeless are dealing with a combination of factors that may include, job stability, domestic issues, physical or mental illness, substance abuse or other problems.
  • As a result, a comprehensive, comprehensive approach to treatment is the only way to provide a long-term solution for those experiencing homelessness.
  • A common misconception is that most people “choose” to be homeless. This is not the case.
  • Services such as The Salvation Army’s Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness program at the Belkin House in Vancouver are working to end the “revolving door” of homelessness.

6. Private charitable support is critical to sufficiently combat the problem

  • The federal government provides significant financial support to address homelessness, particularly by funding emergency shelter service programs.
  • However, to adequately fund comprehensive programs that work to combat homelessness at its source, private charitable support is needed.

The statistics above are merely a snapshot and even they do not reflect the scope of the homelessness problem in Canada. While exact national numbers are difficult to come by, even conservative estimates indicate that the homeless population in Canada numbers around 235,000 people.