How big is the issue?
Available research underestimates the scale of women’s homelessness in Canada. Because women are more likely to experience hidden homelessness, they are less likely to appear in shelters, drop ins, public spaces, or social services. This means that women are undercounted in data, research, and PiT Counts.
In the absence of more comprehensive research, we need to ‘piece together’ data to understand the scale of women’s homelessness. Here are some indicators that women’s homelessness and housing need is much larger than we might think:
The Real Scale of Women’s Homelessness & Housing Need in Canada
of women-led households in Canada are in core housing need
of people experiencing homelessness in Canada are women-identified
of women in Canada have experienced hidden homelessness at some point in their lives
of women living on reserves live in houses that need major repairs
of families using emergency shelters are headed by single women
of single mothers in Canada raise their children in poverty
Approximately 699 women and 236 accompanying children are turned away from domestic violence shelters across Canada each day
Causes & Conditions of Women’s Homelessness
The causes and conditions of homelessness are unique for women, girls, and gender diverse peoples. Studies from around the world show that:
- Intimate partner and/or family violence is a key pathway into homelessness for women and girls
- Women and girls are more likely to experience ‘hidden homelessness’, exhausting all informal supports and resources before seeking formal services
- Women and girls’ face unique and profound forms of violence once they enter homelessness, including much higher rates of involvement in human trafficking
- Women’s experiences of homelessness, and use of services and supports, is critically impacted by whether they have dependent children
- Poverty and exclusion are key drivers of homelessness for women and girls.
Indigenous Women & Homelessness
Homelessness amongst Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse peoples in Canada is directly linked to ongoing colonialism and genocide being committed against Indigenous peoples. The settler colonial project of Canada, beginning in the 1600s, upholds structures that undermine the position of Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse peoples. Colonial structures dehumanize and oppress Indigenous women, subjecting them to poverty, rape, sexual violence, and murder. Colonialism creates the conditions for homelessness and housing need amongst Indigenous women.
To learn more, read the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Are we doing enough?
Available data and research indicates that women’s services, shelters, and housing are underfunded and operating at (or over) capacity. Data shows:
- In Canada, there are less women-specific emergency shelter beds – across the system there are 30% dedicated to men, compared to 13% dedicated to women.
- On any given night in 2014, 92% of Canada’s shelter beds were in use. In 2005, by comparison, just over 80% of shelter beds were in use across Canada.
- All three territories in Canada report a total of only 2 women-specific emergency shelters, with a total of 37 beds across them.
- Some provinces and territories had 0 women-specific emergency shelters, including PEI and the Yukon.
- 70% of northern reserves having no safe houses or emergency shelters for women escaping violence
- Despite the profound violence and trauma that women and their children face on the streets, each day many are turned away from domestic violence and homelessness shelters due to capacity issues.
- Amongst women leaving domestic violence shelters, about 1 in 5 return to live with their abuser.
As we continue to underfund homelessness and VAW shelters across Canada – and these critical services operate at or over capacity – we threaten the lives of women, girls, and gender diverse peoples.