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HAT Forum: Homelessness; proposer Marilyn Wilcoxen

  • The 519 Community Centre, Room 303 519 Church Street Toronto, ON, M4Y 2C9 Canada (map)

Homelessness: there are a number of definitions for homelessness. Some broaden the definition to include those who are vulnerable to housing insecurity as well as those who sleep rough and those who use the shelter systems. In Canada there are roughly 235,000 individuals who are without housing during the course of the year. 150,000 of those will use the shelter system about 30,000 individuals on any given night. This is about 1% of the population. In the US the rate is 1.7%. Until the 1960’s the homeless were considered to be transient men who could find low-cost housing in rooming houses. Or with charity groups such as the Salvation Army.  In the 1960’s and early 70’s there was the expansion of youth shelters for the transient baby boomers thought to be hitchhiking from one part of the country to another.  Shelter’s for women originally fell into this category until it was realized that most women were actually fleeing abusive relationships. In Toronto between 1988 and 1993, there was a 75% increase in those in need of shelter. Currently the largest increase in shelter usage are people classified as Seniors, over the age of 51 and refugees.

Although there are many “pathways to homelessness”*, the predominant ideological cause being promoted in Canada and the US in 2017 is lack of affordable housing and inadequate incomes. There have been a number of public policy changes from the 1980’s on that have had a negative impact on affordability and income for personal housing needs. Federal monies have been used to increase the shelter system and continue to do in the last budget rather than address the income and affordability disparities. Cost supporting a person without housing through community services and agencies is $66,000-$125,000 per yr; cost of supporting a person or family in housing with or without supports is $5,000- $14,000 per yr.


1.       How much is being without shelter a personal responsibility vs societal and policy changes?

2.       Were the impacts of policy+ changes unforeseen consequences or deliberate outcomes? (+changes to CMHC funding for affordable housing construction in 1980’s, changes in EI qualifications, 1990’s welfare reform, and 1980’s deinstitutionalization.)

3.       As homelessness does not decrease at the same rate of increase in good economic times versus poor economic times, how will it effect the overall quality of life of society as a whole during the next economic downturn?

4.       Although the majority of Torontonians see homelessness as a severe problem (according to a recent media study). Most do not think a shelter or affordable housing would be appropriate in their neighbourhoods. How could this conundrum be addressed?

*pathways to homelessness: unable to pay rent, loss of income, family violence, entanglement with the criminal justice system, discharge from hospital due to mental or physical health issues, discharge from foster care, substance abuse.



Marilyn Wilcoxen April 2017