The term “homelessness” refers to four types of living situations, ranging from no shelter on one end to insecure shelter on the other end:
When people think of the experience of homelessness, this is the category that usually comes to mind. Individuals who are deemed to be unsheltered do not have housing and do not use emergency shelters except during extreme weather.
In some cases, they may reside in public spaces such as squares, sidewalks, parks and forests, or in private spaces such as vacant buildings. In other cases, they may live in places not intended for permanent human habitation such as cars, makeshift shacks and tents, or garages, attics, closets or empty buildings.
Individuals and families who use emergency shelters are deemed to be emergency sheltered and are proof that you can have a roof over your head and still be experiencing homelessness.
Shelters are intended to be a short-term solution to the experience of homelessness. They are available at no or minimal cost to the individual or family and are provided and run by governments, non-profit and faith-based organizations and volunteers.
People use emergency shelters for different reasons. Some do not have permanent housing; others use shelters when they are fleeing from family violence or natural disasters such as fires or floods that have destroyed their homes.
Individuals and families who are provisionally accommodated live in temporary housing and have no immediate prospect of obtaining permanent housing. They tend not to access housing programs and supports; as a result, they do not show up in statistics and surveys on the experience of homelessness. For this reason, those who are provisionally accommodated are also known as the “hidden homeless” population.
There are two types of provisional accommodation:
Housing organized by the individual
Individuals and families in this category live with others but have no guaranteed continued residency or any immediate prospects of permanent housing. Couchsurfing with friends or family or living in a rental accommodation with no security of tenure are common examples of this type of housing.
Housing provided by governments and the non-profit sector
Individuals and families in this situation may be found in –
Transitional housing, which serve as a halfway point between emergency shelters and permanent housing, or
Institutions such as hospitals, jails or reception centres for immigrants and refugees.
Whatever the institution, the common factor linking people across these sites is that they do not have permanent housing once they leave the institution.
At Risk of Homelessness
Individuals and families in this category live in permanent housing, but their economic and housing situations are precarious or do not meet health and safety standards.
People may be be at imminent risk of homelessness for several reasons. They may live pay cheque to pay cheque, lose their jobs and have little financial savings, face eviction or live in supported housing that is about to be discontinued.
Others may suffer from chronic health issues that make it difficult to maintain permanent housing. They may be victims of domestic violence or find themselves without permanent housing when a household splits up during a separation or divorce.
A lack of affordable housing also places people at risk of experiencing homelessness. Many individuals and families cannot live in affordable homes because of the level of their income, the economy or the lack of affordable housing in the local market.
Homelessness in Calgary
Calgary is the epicentre of homelessness in Alberta and individuals and families experiencing homelessness in the city can be found in all four types of living situations – that is, unsheltered, emergency sheltered, provisionally accommodated and at risk of experiencing homelessness.
This was demonstrated in 2018 when Calgary conducted a Point in Time (PiT) Count, a survey that provides a snapshot of the population experiencing homelessness in the city on one night.
The survey revealed that 2911 people were experiencing homelessness in Calgary on the night of April 11, 2018. Nearly half of those individuals were emergency sheltered, with 1374 (47%) living in shelters.
Meanwhile, 1276 out of the 2911 people (44%) were living in transitional housing and 202 people (7%) were being housed by the health and justice systems, making them provisionally accommodated.
Of the 2911 people surveyed, only 59 (2%) were unsheltered.
There is no single factor that causes homelessness. Homelessness is an experience that arises from multiple factors interacting with each other. These include economic and social factors such as discrimination or a lack of affordable housing, as well as circumstances that are unique to the individual or family.