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Are Poverty and Homelessness The Same Thing?

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Man opening up wallet with no money inside experiencing poverty

Homelessness and poverty affect thousands of Canadians. Many people lack the essential care everyone needs. These issues aren’t individually focused—families and communities can experience poverty and homelessness.

Are poverty and homelessness the same thing? Continue reading to learn more about these problems, including if they’re the same concept and how Canadians can help. 

What is Poverty? 

About 1 in 7 Canadians (4.9 million total) live in poverty. Low-income families are more vulnerable to poor health than those with a living wage. Poverty leads to sickness because of poor housing, nutrition, and less access to preventive health care.  

There are 2 different perspectives on the definition and overall cause of poverty. One of these is that poverty falls on the individual. 

Someone won’t or can’t maintain their life, making poverty a personal failure. People with this view of poverty typically believe support for impoverished people encourages laziness. 

The other viewpoint on poverty is that this issue stems from systematic inequalities in the economy and society. It’s the result of factors outside the control of the individual, such as: 

  • Lack of work
  • Low wages
  • Discrimination 

It’s important to remember that the above factors are more prevalent in some populations than others. Around 1 in 2 Status First Nations children live in poverty, and 1 in 5 racialized families live in poverty. Meanwhile, only 1 in 20 non-racialized families are impoverished

Living vs. Minimum Wage

Most people are familiar with what a minimum wage is. It’s the lowest amount a business can pay an employee. This wage is set by each province or territory, influenced by economic conditions, cost of living, and several other factors

The problem with minimum wage is that many Canadians still struggle to afford basic necessities. Rent, gas, utilities and other costs have increased faster than wages have. 

A living wage differs from minimum wage. It reflects what someone needs to earn based on the actual cost of living in a specific area. This wage ensures a family can afford food, clothing, housing, childcare, and adequate transportation. 

Poverty is a significant issue—approximately 9% of Canadian minimum wage workers live underneath the low-income cut-off line (LICO). 

This line is the threshold below which a family will likely spend a larger share of its income on necessities like food, shelter, and clothing than the average family

Many people making minimum wage live above this cut-off line. However, they aren’t typically the sole breadwinner of the family—they’re a secondary form of income in their household. Canadians living alone on minimum wage may struggle to meet their needs. 

Poverty is closely tied to homelessness, which many Canadians experience. 

What is Homelessness? 

The Canadian definition of homelessness is the situation of an individual, family, or community without stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing or the immediate prospect, means, and ability to acquire it. This definition is appropriate, but it doesn’t describe every person’s unique experience. 

Homelessness isn’t only a problem of housing instability. With the complexity of this issue, it can be hard to address the overall problem. There isn’t a single solution because each individual’s experiences are different. 

There are many reasons someone might become homeless. 

What Causes Homelessness?

Homelessness is a unique experience for each person. A group of people experiencing homelessness may have nothing in common outside of lacking the support needed to help them stay housed.

There is a myth that homelessness occurs due to laziness, and anyone experiencing it can work their way out. However, this isn’t the case for someone experiencing homelessness. There isn’t a single reason someone is homeless—it’s typically a combination of several factors. 

Some of the causes of homelessness include

  • Structural factors 
  • Poverty
  • Housing
  • System failures
  • Personal circumstances
  • Relational problems
  • Domestic violence 

Poverty and homelessness leave many Canadians without the ability to meet their basic needs. With how closely these issues are related, are homelessness and poverty essentially the same? 

Woman Sitting Look Worried on The Stairway due to homelessness

Are Poverty & Homelessness the Same Thing? 

Poverty and homelessness are not the same, but they relate to one another. Poverty is one of the causes of homelessness. An impoverished person typically cannot afford necessities like food, childcare, health care, education, or housing. 

Many Canadians spend up to 30-50% of their income on housing. A home is unaffordable when shelter costs account for more than 30% of a household’s total before-tax income. Ideally, someone should be spending less than 30% of their income on housing. 

Canadians living above this percentage are in core housing need—an unsuitable, inadequate, or unaffordable home. Approximately 1 in 10 Canadians lived in core housing need in 2018. 

Overall, there is a lack of affordable housing across the country. With large amounts of income dedicated to housing needs, poverty can mean you’re an illness, accident, or paycheque away from experiencing homelessness

Poverty, along with other factors, can lead to homelessness. 25,000 to 35,000 Canadians experience homelessness every night, so how can Canada address this issue? 

How Can Homelessness Be Addressed? 

Homelessness prevention means establishing policies, practices, and interventions to help reduce the likelihood of someone experiencing homelessness. Besides prevention, it includes helping anyone currently experiencing homelessness obtain the necessary resources and support to stabilize their housing. 

There are 3 identified ways to confront homelessness: 

How You Can Help

Addressing homelessness is a large-scale problem. It can feel like there’s nothing you can do to help people in need, but you can make an individual impact. 

You can help combat homelessness by: 

There are many ways you can impact your community—all you need to do is reach out. If you want to help make a difference, contact us today

Written by Dan Gibson

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