Youth and Philanthropy Initiative


A homeless person sits on the sidewalk as many people walk by.

What is it?

Homelessness describes the situation of a person or a family who don’t have stable, permanent or appropriate housing, or who wouldn’t have the means and ability to find that kind of housing in the immediate future. When we think of homelessness, we often imagine someone living on the street, but there are several different ways people can be homeless, including:

  1. Unsheltered, or absolutely homeless and living on the streets or in places not intended for a person to live 
  2. Emergency Sheltered, including those staying in overnight shelters for people who are homeless, as well as shelters for those impacted by family violence
  3. Provisionally Accommodated, referring to those whose accommodation is temporary or lacks security (for example, a person or family staying with friends or “couch surfing”)
  4. At Risk of Homelessness, referring to people who are not homeless, but whose current financial and/or housing situation is precarious or does not meet public health and safety standards.

Not all homelessness is easy to see, so the statistics of people experiencing homelessness can seem quite high.

This infographic shows an overview of the numbers from the 2016 State of Homelessness in Canada Report.

Causes of Homelessness

Homelessness is a complex issue and each case is unique, but is usually the result of several factors operating together. You can take a more in-depth look at the causes of homeless here, but in general these factors include:

Structural Factors

Structural factors are the way the entire social and economic system is working. Examples may include: lack of affordable housing, jobs and access to health.

System Failures

Occur when the systems designed to care for and support people fail. For example, when a refugee arriving in Canada is not connected with supports and has to sleep on the street, or a young person living in foster care turns 18 and has to leave their group home.

Individual Circumstances

This is the personal situation of an individual or family and can include: job loss, domestic violence, mental health and substance use challenges, having a disability, family breakup, etc.

Approaches to Ending Homelessness

  • Housing First is an approach to ending homelessness that centers on quickly moving people experiencing homelessness into independent and permanent housing and then providing additional supports and services as needed, such as employment, mental health and addictions and education.
  • Emergency shelters, where individuals and families can stay on a short-term basis.
  • Transitional housing, where a person or family stays for several months while they receive support to find and keep permanent housing.

Find Your Community

Using this tool by the Homeless Hub, lookup the latest statistics and data for how homelessness affects your community.
Icone d'ampoule

What you can do

  • Find out what a homeless program in your community needs most and collect money from your friends, neighbors, and family. Then buy and deliver those items to the program or donate the money!
  • Collect blankets, hats, and gloves for people who are living on the street and deliver these warm items to them.
  • Teach other people about homelessness, its causes and how to solve it.
  • Write to your national, state, and local government representatives who make the laws that affect homeless people. Tell your representatives what you have learned about homelessness and ask them what they plan to do to help these people.
Scroll to Top