Cost Effectiveness of Ending Homelessness

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An adequate supply of safe, affordable and appropriate housing is a prerequisite to truly ending homelessness in the long term. This includes ensuring that people who are chronically and episodically homeless are prioritized and that systems are in place to enable such persons to receive housing and supports through Housing First programs. In a tight housing market, implementing a Housing First agenda becomes that much more challenging. It is also important to address the supply of affordable housing, in order to broaden access for other priority populations, including women fleeing violence, Indigenous Peoples, families, seniors and youth, for instance.

Ultimately, addressing Canada’s housing crisis comes down to money, which then begs the question about our national priorities.

Canadian homeowners enjoy over $8.6 billion in annual tax and other benefits. This kind of investment in home ownership is important because it benefits millions of middle-income households.

Spending on affordable housing for Canada’s poorest households, however, is less than one quarter of that invested in homeownership at approximately $2.1 billion per year and has declined quite dramatically over the past 25 years.

Ironically, it costs more to ignore our housing problem than it would to fix it. Consider the estimate that homelessness alone costs the Canadian economy over $7 billion per year. While the Government of Canada invests $119 million annually to address homelessness through the Homelessness Partnering Strategy (provinces and municipalities also invest), this is not sufficient to address the problem and as a result has not led to a noticeable reduction in homelessness.

By not investing adequately in housing for the poorest Canadians, health care, justice and other taxpayer-funded costs increase.

Put another way, as Canadians, we are spending more money on people who do not need help compared to those in greatest need. And by not spending on those in greatest need, we are not only creating hardship for many Canadian families, we are creating a considerably larger expense for the Canadian economy.

We can do things differently. In the State of Homelessness in Canada 2014, we propose a robust housing investment strategy that would cost the economy much less than the current costs of homelessness. The key elements of our strategy include the following proposals:

What will this cost?

Our proposed investment in affordable housing represents an increase in annual federal spending, from the projected commitments of $2.019 billion to $3.752 billion in 2015/16 with a total investment of $44 billion over ten years. These proposals have been carefully costed, drawing from the work of Jane Londerville and Marion Steele and the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.

While this significantly increases the current federal investment, we feel that in addition to it being the right thing to do, it is also something we can afford to do. Over the past 25 years, federal spending on low-income affordable housing (on a per capita basis) dropped from over $115 annually, to slightly more than $60 (adjusted to 2013 dollars). Our proposals would raise the per capita investment to approximately $106 per Canadian annually, or $2.04 a week (currently per capita spending amounts to $1.16/week). While this may seem like a significant increase over previous levels, it is still less than what we were paying in 1989. Additionally, it is necessary to address the accumulated affordable housing deficit built up over the past 25 years. Moreover, we propose that Canadians spend only an additional 88 cents per week to contribute to a realistic solution to homelessness and to the affordable housing crisis. To be clear, this proposal will not completely end homelessness in Canada, but it will dramatically reduce chronic and episodic homelessness.

What will be the outcome of this investment?

For years we have been investing in a response to homelessness that, while meeting the immediate needs of people in crisis, has arguably had no impact in reducing the scale and scope of the problem. Our proposal will contribute to an end to chronic homelessness and reduce the likelihood that many others will fall into homelessness in the future.

Reproduced from: Stephen Gaetz, Tanya Gulliver, & Tim Richter: (2014) The State of Homelessness in Canada 2014. Toronto: The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

The History Of Evictions

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Evictions in Canada have a long history, beginning with the forced displacement of Indigenous Peoples due to colonization and European settlement. In this three-part blog series focusing on shelter diversion and eviction prevention (SD-EP), we will explore past policies and governing documents that continue to contribute to homelessness and impact efforts in Canada today.

Shelter Diversion (SD) is a strategy that diverts individuals and families from entering the emergency shelter system by providing them alternate supports to prevent their homelessness. Supports can include providing immediate alternative housing and connections to various services, such as financial assistance. Similarly, Eviction Prevention (EP) initiatives support individuals and families so that they do not face eviction and avoid becoming homeless.

To develop effective SD-EP programs, it helps to begin with a historical perspective to understand the nature of the problem of eviction so that we can impact the underlying causes and avoid reproducing harms that evictions have caused over centuries. In this blog, we will focus on the Doctrine of Discovery and the National Housing Act as two examples that show the continuity of colonial policies and governing documents favouring the displacement of Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized groups.

The Doctrine of Discovery
“…invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit” – Pope Nicholas V (Papal Bull 1452)



Indigenous Peoples in Canada are overrepresented within the homeless population. Indigenous homelessness is fundamentally rooted in the Doctrine of Discovery, yet many people do not know about it. The Doctrine of Discovery is a 600-year-old governing document that led to and justified the original eviction of Indigenous Peoples from their homelands during colonization.

“Settler colonialism is founded upon the eviction of Indigenous Peoples from their homelands: it aims to force Indigenous Peoples out of place, temporally and spatially. Scholars of settler colonialism show that it is a “structure not an event,” and that the process of “settling” Indigenous lands is contemporary, persistent, and present.” – Buhler and Barkaskas, 2023

The Doctrine was used by European monarchies in the mid-1400s to legitimize the seizing and colonizing of Indigenous lands outside of Europe, leading to the forced displacement of Indigenous Peoples. The Doctrine set the stage for Indigenous Peoples to become homeless on their own lands and remains relevant to the context of Indigenous homelessness today, as it is still the basis for Canadian law.

This history needs to be taken into consideration when discussing Indigenous homelessness prevention and SD-EP initiatives. Preventing Indigenous homelessness requires a fundamental shift from denouncing the Doctrine of Discovery to dismantling it.

The National Housing Act
Another historical document that continues to shape the issues of homelessness and eviction today is the 1973 National Housing Act and its gradual cancellation as the federal government withdrew from the provision of social housing.

Through the Act, the federal government began investing in the development of up to 20,000 social housing units per year, and this continued through the 1980s, providing people with safe and secure housing. However, an international economic shift led to government cutbacks in the 1990s, and the programs under the Act were dismantled. These policies laid the groundwork for the onset of mass homelessness as we know it today. This crisis has specifically impacted Indigenous Peoples, continuing the state-backed displacement begun under the Doctrine of Discovery.

Since that time, the federal government has left the issue of homelessness to municipal governments. This has led to communities across Canada testing solutions and responses, such as prevention programs like SD-EP.



The Current Landscape of Homelessness
Thirty years later, mass homelessness in Canada continues to result from society’s failure to ensure that adequate systems, funding, and supports are in place to provide everyone with safe and affordable housing. An array of systemic and structural factors contributes to homelessness, including:

i) Siloed systems that discharge people into homelessness.

ii) Stagnant development in affordable housing and income security programs, compounded by the commodification of housing.

iii) Systemic discrimination.

iv) Continued colonization.

Service providers in the homelessness sector across Canada have spent decades confronted with the persistent growth of the issue and are looking for better ways to respond to homelessness and ultimately prevent and end it.

“If we want to stop people dying in the roads, we invest money in seatbelts, not the emergency department.” – Peter Jacobson, Manager, Youth Services, BCYF, Australia

In recent years, communities have begun to make the shift from managing the crisis of homelessness to preventing homelessness from happening in the first place. This is the context that has seen the emergence of SD-EP programs. However, for these programs to succeed, more direction and support from all levels of government are needed.

Moving Forward
The authors of this blog are researchers with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) who are working on a project to collect knowledge about SD-EP programs from across Canada. Our goal is to help build community capacity for developing SD-EP programs. Our project includes a literature review, an environmental scan, a national survey, case study interviews, and more. We will use the knowledge gained to co-create training and technical resources for organizations looking to start or improve an SD-EP program.

In trying to understand what allows these programs to succeed, the importance of history has been clear to us: the impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery and the National Housing Act continue to be felt. They influence the systemic and structural barriers that people experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity encounter and that SD-EP programs seek to overcome.

In the next blog in this series, we will share insights from our project development and highlight the key learnings that should be incorporated into SD-EP programs.

SD-EP | Shelter Diversion / Eviction Prevention

https://www.homelesshub.ca/blog/evictions-and-homelessness-canada-historical-perspective