8 Things to Know from Canada’s Point in Time Count

The preliminary results of Canada’s 2020-2022 point in time (PiT) homelessness counts have been released: https://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/homelessness-sans-abri/reports-rapports/pit-counts-dp-2020-2022-highlights-eng.html

Here are 8 things that stood out to me:

  1. Canada is leading the way in facilitating PiT counts that include comprehensive and diverse experiences of homelessness. Enumerating homelessness can be contentious and a very political process. Where homelessness is most narrowly defined as only including street homelessness, counts will be low. Where the methodology for doing counting only includes those most visibly homeless, counts will be low. The Canadian methodology is trying hard to get at all forms of homelessness (by either the Canadian definition or UN definition) and means that counts are most reflective of those in need of housing.
  2. On a single night in Canada, 32,000 people were experiencing homelessness (in just the 59 communities included). This is a 12% increase from 2018, which confirms what Canadian providers and researchers have been stating: that it appears that homelessness has been increasing.
  3. The potential number of people experiencing homelessness in Canada one or more times over a given year is now up to 263,200. The former calculation and much used statistic has been 235,000. Taking the above noted 12% increase we get 263,200. That equates to more than 1 in 200 Canadians encountering homelessness in a year. Where I live in London, that’s about 2,000 people (which is actually low, reflecting how large urban areas have higher rates of homelessness than the average).
  4. People experiencing chronic homelessness has increased from 60% to 71%. Chronic homelessness is defined as six or more months of homelessness.
  5. Housing First and a focus on chronic homelessness do not outpace a broken system. As I recently reflected in my editorial, Housing First as a tertiary response to homelessness does not end homelessness if pathways into homelessness are accelerating, and housing/support options out of homelessness are maxed out. This is not to suggest that Housing First should not be the philosophy guiding our system, but rather to note that until we get serious about cross-sector primary prevention I see no outcome other than falling further behind.
  6. Men account for only 62% of those enumerated. It has long been my contention, since being invited into work on women’s homelessness, that much research and policy vastly overstates the proportion of men experiencing homelessness. As Canada’s enumeration methods have improved, the proportion of men to women has been decreasing, meaning we are better getting beyond those who are most visibly homeless (which skews male). If you encounter oft-stated numbers like 70% + male, question where those numbers are coming from the bias that may be present in the enumeration.
  7. Indigenous people are drastically over-represented in experiences of homelessness from coast-t0-coast-to-coast. 35% of respondents identified as Indigenous as opposed to 5% of the overall population. All efforts to end homelessness in colonial societies must prioritize initiatives created by, led by, and designed for Indigenous peoples, and higher order structural reconciliation continues to be urgently required.
  8. 2SLGBTQI+ youth are drastically over-represented among youth who experience homelessness. In the enumeration, 24% of youth identified as 2SLGBTQI+. In a time when anti-woke movements are threatening to set back efforts to make 2SLGBTQI+ people safer in society, we are seeing that existing prejudices already impact their social well-being. Movements for the rights of, and support for, 2SLGBTQI+ identified people are part of creating a society that is strong in primary prevention of homelessness.
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