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What Help Is Available for People Who Are Experiencing Homelessness?

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Mother and child experiencing homelessness sitting on steps while eating.

In a single year, approximately 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness. For these people, access to social care programs and donations can be crucial to their survival. If you want to support your community and help those in need overcome homelessness, you may consider becoming a volunteer.

What Defines Homelessness?

Homelessness can be defined as the absence of adequate, permanent, or sustainable access to shelter. This also includes those who live full time in their vehicle or couch surf at family and friend’s homes. Most people experiencing homelessness do not have enough income to sustain their most basic needs. Homelessness is a systemic issue but can also be the result of poor mental and physical health, subjection to previous violence and abuse, and a shortage of affordable housing. If you want to lend some support to the homeless population in your community, you can find somewhere to volunteer or donate to as a way to help. 

What Factors Lead to Homelessness?

  • Poverty
  • Unemployment
  • Inadequate Housing
  • Divorce and family disputes
  • Addiction to drugs and alcohol
  • Lack of access to education
  • Lack of access to social programs
  • Physical and violent abuse
  • Mental and physical trauma
  • Sexual trauma

What Challenges do the Homeless Face?


People experiencing homelessness lack reliable pieces of identification which can further alienate them from society and make overcoming homelessness difficult. Without identification, people experiencing homelessness cannot easily apply for jobs or social programs. Regeneration Outreach has an ID clinic that can help those without reliable pieces of identification receive a birth certificate. A birth certificate can help them apply for other forms of ID and receive other social benefits. 

Donation box filled with clothing

Clean Clothing and Personal Hygiene Equipment

People experiencing homelessness will oftentimes not have access to clean, adequate clothing. Also, they often lack access to personal hygiene equipment (like showers, soap, and hair trimmers). This can contribute to an increased rate of illness, decreased self-esteem, and dignity. 


Illness is a prominent concern for people experiencing homelessness, as they often do not have adequate access to healthcare. Proof of address is mandatory for procuring an OHIP card in Ontario, which blocks those who do not have a permanent address from receiving the care they need. Regeneration Outreach has partnered with 

Homeless Health Peel by accessing nurse practitioners and a hepatitis support team to help with prominent illnesses. 

Physical Safety

Without protection from natural elements and potential accidents, people experiencing homelessness are at more risk of receiving serious injuries. Along with this, a lack of access to healthcare means that their injuries can go untreated and possibly become life-threatening.

Emergency Homeless Shelters

Emergency homeless shelters start due to a need to support the local homeless community and the efforts of individuals and sponsors (like hospitals, companies, professionals, etc.). Homeless shelters address the complications that homeless people face by creating specific programs that can help them overcome their current situation.

Some specialized programs that homeless shelters can provide are:

  • Rehabilitation
  • Employment guidance
  • Education guidance
  • Financial guidance
  • ID clinics
  • Cooking clinics

Along with these programs, emergency homeless shelters can provide meals and safe places to sleep for those without access to basic necessities.

Usually, individuals will be admitted to an emergency shelter during a specific time period at night and will be given a meal and provided a shower. They are allowed to stay for the night in a clean bed and will have access to different amenities. The next day, if they want to stay another night, they will need to come back at the previously established time period and get readmitted.

Canada’s Affordable Housing Program

Housing programs are another avenue of social support aimed at combating homelessness. Housing in Canada is considered to be affordable if it costs less than 30% of a household’s before-tax income

The National Housing Strategy was announced in 2017 to ensure that Canadians could access housing that was affordable and could meet their needs. The NHS is a detailed 10-year, $40 billion plan that promises to deliver results and benefit all Canadians. The primary focus of this plan will be on meeting the needs of vulnerable populations, such as:

The NHS is working towards building more affordable, accessible, inclusive, and sustainable homes. To learn more about Canada’s Affordable Housing Program, visit the CMHC website.

Donating to the Homeless

Volunteering Your Time

Checking with local homeless shelters to see if they are in need of new volunteers is a great way to provide help to the homeless population in your area. Helping out at your local shelter can provide the workers there with more on-hand help, and can provide visitors with a kind face that they can look forward to seeing.


People will not always have access to shelters, so making sure that they are prepared for the current weather is important for survival. There is a need and demand for clothes in all seasons. 

Having a good pair of shoes is critical for individuals experiencing homelessness; people are constantly walking and on their feet and a person experiencing homelessness may not have several pairs to switch between. 

Non-perishable Food & Supplies

Small care packages of non-perishable items, dried food, and spices can significantly help homeless people get through any given day and can add some variety to their meals. 

Donating things like sunscreen and bug spray can also help homeless people stay more comfortable and safe during the summer months.

Towels & Toiletries

Lots of people use shelters to look after their hygienic needs. Toiletries and towels can be essential products to shelters for use by people without access to their own hygienic amenities.

Transit Tickets 

Transit tickets can help people with low income get to where they need to go. Some people experiencing poverty may be able to get a job, but do not have access to the transportation needed to get there. Transit tickets can help alleviate these kinds of complications.

Written by Dan Gibson

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