Toronto’s homeless population continues to grow, according to the interim findings of the city’s Street Needs Assessment 2013. Toronto reports 5,219 people who were homeless in 2013, up slightly from the 5,169 in 2009 and up 5% from the 4,969 people reported homeless in 2006.
In percentage terms, the biggest increase in homelessness is in violence against women shelters (an increase of 108% since 2006); correctional facilities (up 51% since 2006) and city homeless shelters (up 8.7% since 2006).
Toronto’s Street Needs Assessment uses a method to count homeless that is challenged by some academic and other experts. However, it represents perhaps the most comprehensive snapshot of homelessness in Toronto, and – since the same methods have now been used for three separate counts – it provides information on trends over time in homelessness.
Among the key findings reported in the interim report:
- People who are homeless on Toronto’s streets are outside for an average of 7.5 years, far longer than any other category of homelessness.
- The number of street homeless in Toronto is up 24% since 2009, but down 39.1% from 2006. This suggests that the social and economic impact of the post-2009 recession may have had an impact in boosting street homelessness.
- More than one-third of street homeless are Aboriginal, even though Aboriginal people represent a tiny fraction of the overall Toronto population.
- More than 15% of street homeless claim military service.
- Almost one-in-five homeless youth identify as gay/lesbian/bi/trans/queer, and about one-on-ten of the overall homeless population identify as LGBT.
- The share of seniors in Toronto’s homeless population has more than doubled since 2009.
- Virtually all homeless people (93%) want permanent housing – shattering the persistent myth that people who are homeless ‘choose’ to be homeless.
- About half the homeless population are on the city’s record-breaking wait list for affordable housing.
- Fully 81% of homeless people have lived in Toronto for more than a year – shattering another persistent myth that Canada’s largest city is a “magnet” for homeless people.
While overall homeless numbers are trending up in Toronto, recent homeless counts in Calgary – which has adopted an effective 10-year plan to end homelessness – show that the growth in homelessness in that city has stopped. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has reported that preliminary results from the latest Vancouver homeless count show a significant drop in the number of street homeless.