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Indigenous Homelessness

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

A common way to define homelessness is to refer to the lack of affordable housing or shelter as the crux of the issue, but evidence from Indigenous communities would say otherwise. The term Indigenous people is used to represent First Nations, Métis, and Inuit individuals. Indigenous homelessness is more than just a lack of housing; it is the isolation of individuals, families, and communities from their relationships to the Earth, their families, each other, cultures, languages and identities.[1] These individuals who struggle with Indigenous homelessness often are unable to connect with their Indigeneity or lost relationships.1

There are many factors that have contributed to Indigenous homelessness including racism and discrimination, rising housing expenses, insufficient health care, and limited opportunities.[2] The first event that has led to homelessness among Indigenous communities were the actions of Canada to assimilate them into Western Canadian culture through various means like residential schools.2 It is estimated that 150 000 of Indigenous children went through the residential school system, with 60% mortality rates at some residential schools.[3] A significant number of homeless Indigenous people have actually either attended residential schools, or had parents that attended a residential school.2 Residential schools had detrimental effects on these individuals including physical, and psychological trauma, an alienation from proper education resulting in high rates of illiteracy, and a disconnect from mainstream society.2

Housing cuts, which led to a decrease in affordable housing and an increase of rent, is another cause of homelessness for many Indigenous people. Urban Indigenous people (those who live off reserves in urban areas) have a higher rate of homelessness than the general population. 1 in 15 urban Indigenous people face homelessness in comparison to 1 in 128 of the non-Indigenous population facing homelessness, showing that Indigenous individuals are 8x more likely to be homeless than non-Indigenous individuals.1 Urban Indigenous homelessness also varies across Canada, with 90% of the homelessness in cities like Yellowknife and Whitehorse being made up of Indigenous people, to 15% of the homeless community in Toronto being made up of those who are Indigenous.1 While the Indigenous community makes up less than 4% of Canada’s population, more than 10% make up the homelessness community.2

Indigenous homelessness continues to be a problem for many Indigenous people today. While there are multiple federal programs in place today for tackling Indigenous homelessness, the most effective program has been implemented in multiple provinces and is a “housing first” model which provides people with immediate housing.2 This model also provides harm reduction services and staff visitation, which seems to be the most effective in breaking the cycle of Indigenous homelessness.2



[1] Thistle, J. (2017.) Indigenous Definition of Homelessness in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[2] Leach, Andrew. The Roots of Aboriginal Homelessness in Canada [online]. Parity, Vol. 23, No. 9, Nov 2010: 12-13. Availability: <;dn=601585091656266;res=IELHSS> ISSN: 1032-6170

[3] Staff. (2015, May 29). By the numbers: A look at residential schools. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from

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