Housing Vulnerability and Health: Canada’s Hidden Emergency

A report on the REACH health and housing in transition study

November 2010

For the first time in Canada, we have the numbers to show that people who are vulnerably housed face the same severe health problems – and danger of assault – as people who are homeless.

The number of people experiencing the devastating health outcomes associated with inadequate housing could be staggering. There are about 17,000 shelter beds available across Canada every night, but almost 400,000 Canadians are vulnerably housed. This means that for each person who is homeless in Canada, 23 more people are vulnerably housed – paying more than half of their monthly income for rent, and living with substantial risk of becoming homeless.

Key findings: People who don’t have a healthy place to live – regardless of whether they’re vulnerably housed or homeless – are at high risk of serious physical and mental health problems and major problems accessing the health care they need. Many end up hospitalized or in the emergency department. 40 per cent of people who don’t have a healthy place to live have been assaulted at least once in the past year, and one in three have trouble getting enough to eat.

Key recommendations: We’re calling for the federal government to respond by setting national housing standards that ensure universal, timely access to healthy (i.e. decent, stable, and affordable) housing.

About the research team: The Research Alliance for Canadian Homelessness, Housing and Health (REACH3) is coordinated by CRICH and led by CRICH Scientist Dr. Stephen Hwang. It includes some of Canada’s leading academic researchers and community organizations with expertise on homelessness.

About the study: The Health and Housing in Transition Study is tracking the health and housing status of 1,200 vulnerably housed and homeless single adults in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa over a two-year period. This is the first study to report on longitudinal changes (i.e. changes over time) in the health and housing status of vulnerably housed and homeless people in Canada, and the first to compare their health outcomes.