Executive Summary – Defining and Enumerating Homelessness in Canada

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(Disponible en français : Résumé – L’itinérance au Canada : définitions et recensements)

In 2019, the Government of Canada implemented Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, which replaced the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. A key goal of Reaching Home is to increase government and community understanding of homelessness by ensuring that communities have the information and tools – analyses of shelter capacity, shelter use data, and nationally coordinated point-in-time (PiT) counts – they need to prevent and reduce homelessness.

Defining and enumerating homelessness is essential in order to understand the nature and extent of the problem, who is affected by it and how to address it. Most definitions of homelessness take into account two important facets of homelessness: the specific housing situation and the duration and/or frequency of homeless episodes. The Government of Canada’s Homelessness Strategy Directives, which are part of the Reaching Home initiative, provide a definition of homelessness, founded in large part on the definition established in 2012 by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

Despite the persistent visibility of homelessness in Canada, it is challenging to count a population that lacks a permanent address or fixed location, that includes many “hidden homeless” and that is always in flux, as individuals move in and out of homelessness. In Canada, governments and other stakeholders have made efforts to enumerate homelessness by measuring shelter capacity, measuring shelter occupancy rates and using PiT counts (which offer a snapshot of homelessness in a community, generally in 24 hours).

More recently, the federal government, to overcome the shortcomings of previous efforts to assess the extent of homelessness in Canada, has provided communities with resources to support a national approach to enumerating the extent of homelessness in the country through nationally coordinated PiT counts. The first nationally coordinated PiT count took place in 2016 in 32 communities and the second count took place in 2018 in more than 60 communities; the third count was planned for March and April 2020. Many municipalities had to postpone their PiT counts because of public health measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full text of the Background Paper: Defining and Enumerating Homelessness in Canada

Authors: Havi Echenberg and Laura Munn-Rivard, Library of Parliament



Categories: Executive Summary, Social Affairs and Population

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