Blog Hero

What Is The Leading Cause of Homelessness?

Contact Us
Man with bags sitting down next to house cartoon on wall

Thousands of Canadians experience homelessness daily, utilizing shelters and other support programs to take care of themselves. Many organizations dedicate themselves to caring for these vulnerable people, but the average Canadian may not know what causes homelessness. 

Continue reading to learn more about the leading causes of homelessness, including what homelessness is and who experiences this problem. 

What is Homelessness? 

Many people have an incomplete understanding of what homelessness is. It’s not simply someone lacking a home or staying in an overnight shelter. 

The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness defines this issue as:

“The situation of an individual or family without stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means, and ability to acquire 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.”

Someone experiencing homelessness may be completely or partially unsheltered, staying in shelters, or even living from couch to couch. Homelessness is a complex issue with several contributing factors. 

Who Experiences Homelessness? 

Canadians who experience homelessness have diverse ages, genders, and ethno-racial backgrounds. Anyone can become homeless, but some groups may be more at risk than others. These groups include: 

  • Single adult men
  • Indigenous people
  • People with mental health issues or addictions
  • Women with children fleeing violence

Approximately 52% of people experiencing homelessness are adults between the ages of 25 to 49. Homelessness is a common problem for indigenous peoples (Métis, Inuit, First Nations), who make up between 28 to 34% of the homeless shelter population. Young Canadians (ages 13 to 24) represent over 18% of people experiencing homelessness

An estimated 35,000 people experience homelessness daily, and over 235,000 Canadians are homeless every year. With this issue being so large, what is the leading cause of homelessness in Canada? 

Person opening up wallet with no money inside

What is the Leading Cause of Homelessness? 

There isn’t one singular cause of homelessness; it’s typically a result of several different factors. These circumstances can include

  • Unemployment 
  • Poverty
  • Shortage of affordable housing 
  • Divorce, relationship, or family breakdown 
  • Violence 
  • Addictions 
  • Lack of social or family support
  • Lack of support or services for those transitioning from youth centres, hospitals, detention, etc
  • Discrimination 
  • Physical or mental health problems

Poverty, structural factors, system failures, housing, domestic violence, and personal circumstances and relational problems are the key factors affecting homelessness today.


Poverty and homelessness are strongly related to one another. Over 4 million Canadians live in poverty. There are generally two perspectives on what causes a lack of income. 

The first perspective is that poverty is the failure of someone to obtain the finances they need to live a safe and secure life. The second perspective is that poverty happens because of systemic injustice in the economy and society. It’s the result of many factors beyond the control of individuals, and some are more affected than others. 

Someone living in poverty likely cannot afford to pay for necessities like housing, food, or childcare. They may be one paycheque away from becoming homeless. 

Structural Factors 

Structural factors are the economic and societal issues affecting opportunities and social environments. Some of the key elements of this include lack of adequate income, access to affordable housing and health supports, and the experience of discrimination.  

System Failures

System failures happen when other care and support systems fail. This failure causes vulnerable people to turn to homelessness when other services may have prevented this. 

Some examples of this include difficult transitions from child welfare, poor discharge planning for people leaving hospitals, and lack of support for immigrants and refugees


The current lack of safe, stable, and affordable housing in Canada is a direct cause of homelessness. Many people spend between 30 to 50% of their income on housing, placing them at a high risk of homelessness. 

The lack of affordable housing across Canada is one of the major factors affecting homelessness today. 

Domestic Violence 

Domestic violence and homelessness have a strong connection. An estimated 237 people per 100,000 experience domestic violence, potentially forcing a person or family to leave their home suddenly without proper support. Some people may have to choose between an abusive relationship and homelessness. 

Women and youth experience this problem frequently; victims can struggle to leave their homes because they are financially dependant on their abuser

Personal Circumstances & Relational Problems

Every person has a unique experience in life, and some of these circumstances may lead to homelessness. These factors can include traumatic events like house fires or job loss, personal crises, and mental health and addiction challenges

Someone experiencing relational problems may have trouble with family violence, addiction, or mental health problems. 

You Can Help People in Need

No matter the reason someone is experiencing homelessness, they deserve safe and secure shelter. Many people can’t support themselves, and you can help them in several ways. Whether it be donating goods or volunteering, you can help people in need of support. 

If you’re interested in getting involved, contact us today. 

Written by Dan Gibson

More Articles By Dan Gibson
instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax