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Facts on Homelessness

Homelessness affects many Canadians. It is estimated that approximately 35,000 Canadians experience homelessness on any given night, and at least 235,000 Canadians are homeless in any given year

Homelessness in the National Perspective

People experiencing homelessness in Canada are quite diverse in terms of age, gender, and ethno-racial background. However, some groups are more at risk of becoming homeless, including single adult men, people dealing with mental health issues or addictions, women with children fleeing violence, and Indigenous people. There is also an assumption that homelessness is an urban phenomenon. In fact, homelessness also exists in rural areas and on reservations, even if it is less visible than it is in cities.


Adults between the ages of 25-49 make up 52 per cent of those experiencing homelessness in Canada. Seniors (65 years and older) make up a small percentage of the Canadian homeless population (less than 4 per cent of shelter users. However, seniors and older adults (50-64) are also the only groups whose shelter usage has increased over the past decade.

According to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, mass homelessness in Canada emerged as a result of government cutbacks to social housing and related programs starting in 1984. In 1993, federal spending on the construction of new social housing came to an end. In 1996 the federal government transferred responsibility for most existing federal low-income social housing to the provinces.


The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness defines homelessness as:  “The situation of an individual or family without stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it. It is the result of systemic or societal barriers, a lack of affordable and appropriate housing, the individual/household’s financial, mental, cognitive, behavioural, or physical challenges, and/or racism and discrimination. Most people do not choose to be homeless, and the experience is generally negative, unpleasant, stressful, and distressing.”


Homelessness can be experienced through different kinds of housing and shelter situations, over a short or long period of time.  The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness has organized these situations into four groups: unsheltered, emergency sheltered, provisionally accommodated and at risk of homelessness.

Unsheltered Homelessness

Refers to people who are absolutely homeless and living on the streets or in places not intended for human habitation.

It includes the temporary occupation of public space (i.e. sidewalks, parks, and forests). It could also refer to people living in cars, in garages, attics or closets, or in makeshift shelters, shacks or tents.


Refers to those staying in overnight shelters for people who are homeless, as well as shelters for those impacted by family violence.

These places are often full and/or over-crowded and sometimes have long wait lists to access. 

Emergency shelters are meant to be a temporary and short-term solution to homelessness.

Provisionally Accommodated/At-Risk

Refers to those whose accommodation is temporary or lacks security and those whose current economic and/or housing situation is precarious or does not meet public health and safety standards.

This could include “couch surfers,” or people staying at rooming houses.

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Homelessness in South Simcoe

There are a number of factors influencing the rate of homelessness in our area.  For a person experiencing homelessness in many parts of South Simcoe, help can seem unattainable.  Without access to a local safe place to rest, a person experiencing homelessness will often resort to accepting a situation that can leave them vulnerable to being taken advantage of or victimized.   


S.H.I.F.T.'s Emergency Overnight Shelter Program is funded almost entirely by the generosity of our community of private supporters, currently operates during the winter months only, prioritizing the cold winter months to help provide lifesaving shelter to those that are experiencing homelessness, with no other housing alternatives.  There are currently 8 beds available through this program.  There are no other emergency shelter programs operating in the area of South Simcoe.  With no other local options in place, the closest options for available shelter are Barrie, Collingwood, Orillia, Orangeville, Newmarket, or Toronto.  Many individuals experiencing homelessness feel forced to become displaced from their community and established supports in order to access resources and services for their situation.


Data from the Simcoe County Homeless Enumeration completed in January 2022 demonstrates an increase in homelessness in Simcoe County since the previous enumeration of November 2020.  January 2022 data counted 722 individuals compared to 563 in November 2020, an increase of 159 individuals.  Inflows into homelessness can be attributed to the following factors:

  • Economic conditions, including loss of employment.

  • An elevated private resale market wherein homes containing second suites were sold and tenants displaced.

  • Escalating and costly private rental rates.

  • Demand for affordable housing outpacing current supply.

  • Early release from incarceration as a direct response to the pandemic.

  • Factors related to chronically homeless individuals living with the challenges of mental health and addiction, further compounding the ability to secure and/or retain housing.


What we know to be true is that these numbers aren’t painting a full picture of the state of homelessness in South Simcoe—due in large part to the unique challenges of serving a predominantly rural area.  Rural homelessness in Canada has only recently been acknowledged, and several gaps remain in our understanding of the phenomenon and how it is influenced by the rural context.  Limited services, and low housing stock in the rural environment contribute to challenges with overcoming homelessness.

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