Dear CCP readers,
Written by: Varleen Kaur
Edited by: Jacqueline Cheung
If you are returning for more information regarding the current state of homelessness in Canada and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and the particular challenges faced by youth experiencing homelessness and those with animal companions, welcome back! If you are new to our blog, welcome to the community and thank you for your interest in learning more about issues regarding the homelessness crisis in Canada and beyond - you are one step closer to becoming a changemaker in your community, and you are in great company.
In this blog post, we will be discussing some of the myths and misconceptions related to the situation of homelessness and individuals facing homelessness.
25,000 to 35,000 people could be experiencing homelessness on any given night in Canada. More than 235,000 people in Canada experience homelessness in any given year.These high numbers reflect an inability to solve a nearly four-decade-old national crisis. What specifically led to such high levels of homelessness in Canada? Some people have brought up the lack of employment and domestic violence. Others have criticised the cost of urban housing as well as reductions in government funding for affordable housing. It is also common to blame people facing homelessness excuses like making poor decisions, abusing drugs, or preferring a life on the streets. Regardless, homelessness in Canada is becoming a booming epidemic.
Primary examples of homeless situations include living on the streets or in areas that are not intended for habitation. Other situations include staying in temporary or emergency shelters, hotels, hostels, or rooming houses. Another situation known as “hidden homelessness” involves residing with friends, family, or strangers, commonly known as “couch hopping”.
In this blog, we are going to debunk some of the most common myths associated with homelessness.
Myth - Majority uses drugs and alcohol.
Fact - It is very common for people to believe that the majority of the individuals facing homelessness are on drugs, but the reality is actually very different. A survey was conducted from 2016 and 2018 in various communities facing homelessness in Canada, and it was found that a quarter of the individuals were addicted or substance use. It is very easy for people who have roofs on their heads and the means to read this article to jump to conclusions.
Myth -They are dangerous and violent.
Fact - Someone walking on the streets sees an individual lying on the side of the street, would tend to walk away, protect their stuff and children or even maybe change their routes. We often assume that people living on streets could be dangerous. However, more often than not, those who are facing homelessness become the target of violence. In most of the situations, any violence committed by these individuals is in self-defence. In fact, some individuals facing homelessness may use violence in situations other than self-defense, but this rarely results in harm to those who aren't experiencing homelessnes.
Myth - People choose to be homeless.
Fact - Facing homelessness is not easy or comfortable. It is dangerous, stressful and may feel humiliating. Sometimes people prefer to sleep on streets rather than staying in shelters, mainly because of various shelters’ unfriendly policies relating to pets, belongings or perhaps the environment could be unsafe. Shelters may also have screening programs, which could leave the most vulnerable people on the streets. Another reason could be domestic violence - people may need to leave their homes because of unsafe situations at home.
Myth - Homeless people lack ambition
Fact - It is often assumed that people facing homelessness are lazy and do not want to work. People who face homelessness are frequently exhausted, cold, wet, and ill. They can be spending the entire day travelling to get to eat before they need to look for a safe place to sleep, all the while attempting to keep their personal belongings secure, especially if they have no means of transportation and limited money. In addition, a large number of people experience the trauma of homelessness while suffering from incapacitating disorders such as severe mental illness and chronic medical diseases. Moreover, with the rising cost of living every year, specifically in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, and with a minimum wage, it is almost impossible to pay bills.
Myth - They are criminals.
Fact - A person who is homeless is no more likely to be a criminal than a housed person. They are more likely to be associated with criminal justice intervention as they are often involved in minor offences like trespassing, loitering or littering. In fact, a person facing homelessness is more likely to be the victim of a violent crime, especially if they are a woman, teen, or child.
MYTH: It is a waste of public resources to provide homeless services to certain people who don’t “deserve” them, such as addicts.
Fact - Homelessness is a result of systemic issues. It is a result of structural and economic factors such as a lack of affordable housing, a high cost of living, low-paying jobs, limited access to health care, and a lack of assistance for mental health and chemical dependency. The concept of deserving and undeserving is harmful, none of us do have the right to decide for it.
Hopefully, revealing the truth against these myths gave you some insight into the perspectives of people facing homelessness. We cannot just wait and watch for the government and for organizations to take action. We need to step up. This is a global and complex problem, which can be reduced to a great extent from combined efforts from all of us.
Practical ways to help homelessness:
1 - Donation - Every shelter homes and individuals on streets, appreciates groceries and monetary donations. You can think outside of the box when making donations. Try asking the individuals and organizations what they need specifically. Think about the season, while giving away summer or winter clothing, depending on the time of year. Consider toiletries and personal goods for personal hygiene (i.e., undergarments, and socks).
2 - Educate yourself - There are various reasons behind being homeless as highlighted above. Try understanding the stereotypes associated with them and learn about people facing homlessness in your own community.
3 - Offering aid - Helping individuals facing homelessness in getting out of the state of homeless, can possibly be the best help you can give. Here are few things you can do:
Help them find the right shelter, according to their needs, pets, belongings and family.
Help them navigate the employment process, if they are interested.
Involve local businesses to organize food and clothing drives.
4 - Volunteer your time - Monetary or material donations are not only the only ways to help out. Volunteer your time at the nearest shelter - shelters are often running on low budgets and serve a lot many families at one time. Children at shelters look for normalcy - if possible you can take children for an outing for example to a park nearby. You can even tutor these children in skills you are proficient in.
5 - Raise awareness - Shelters and organisations that support individuals facing homeless survive on donations. You can help them out by publishing information about them and the work they do. You can even handle the social media accounts of shelters and agencies to raise awareness. Overall you can endeavour to educate those in your own community.
6 - Call 311 - 311 provides residents, businesses and visitors with easy access to non-emergency City services, programs and information 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Canada. 311 can offer assistance in more than 180 languages. Also, the Salvation Army outreach team drives around the city looking for homeless people out in the cold, delivering blankets, gloves and other essentials.
The Canadian Courage Project is Canada’s first non-profit organization to support youth facing homelessness and their animal companions, we strive to promote the mental well-being of youth through mindfulness, education and resources. Our mission is to support youth transitioning out of shelters into independent housing with the different programs and services we offer and by increasing the awareness of the United Nations 17 Sustainable development goal. You can learn more about us through our instagram and website. We often have open volunteer opportunities which are usually posted on instagram, so always keep an eye out for it. You can also support us through donations, purchasing care packages or our merchandise at our website.
Thank you for reading our blog! Feel free to leave a comment with your feedback and/or insights to help us enrich the quality of future posts and cater to the interests of our community of change makers.
The CCP Team
1- Mila Kalajdzieva. (October 28, 2022). Homelessness in Canada: What’s going on? Reviewlution Canada. Retrieved on November 16, 2022 from homelessness-in-canada.
2- Hulchanski, J.D. (18 February 2009). Keynote address (PDF). Growing Home: Housing and Homelessness in Canada. University of Calgary.
3- Health Canada. (2013). Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey 2012 (CADUMS): Retrieved from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-concerns/drug-prevention- treatment/drug-alcohol-use-statistics/canadian-alcohol-drug-use-monitoring-survey- summary-results-2012.html
4- Kirst, M., & Erickson, P. (n.d.). Substance Use & Mental Health Problems among Street-involved Youth: The Need for a Harm Reduction Approach. Homeless Hub. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from https://www.homelesshub.ca/sites/default/files/attachments/11KIRSTweb.pdf
5- Overcoming Employment Barriers. National Alliance to End Homelessness. (2013, August 21). Retrieved on November 1, 2022, from,https://www.thecanadiancourageproject.org/post/abuse-in-homelessness-victims-of-domestic-violence