Homelessness arises from the interaction of two types of factors:
Macro factors: large, structural factors like the economy, social policies and “system failures,” or what we as a community have failed to do about the issue of homelessness, and
Micro factors: an individual’s unique personal circumstances.
Generally, there are three main macro factors contributing to people’s experiences of homelessness:
Social policies on affordable housing, and
Changes in the economy may make it harder for people to earn enough money to pay for housing, putting them at risk of homelessness. This can be seen in Calgary, where economic growth has contributed to the increase of homelessness.
During the mid-2000s economic boom, Calgary saw an uptick in the number of people migrating to the city for work. This population growth drove up the demand for housing and rental stock and many rentals became too expensive for low-income families and individuals.
The correlation between homelessness, migration and the economy can be seen in the city’s 2018 Point-In-Time Count (the “PiT Count”) a demographic survey of people experiencing homelessness on the night of April 11, 2018.
Of the 2911 people surveyed, 33% said they had moved to the city for work. Of those participants, 24% came to Calgary searching for a job, while 9% had moved after securing employment.
Economic growth and the struggles that accompany it can therefore be common pathways to homelessness.
Changes to Social Policies
A decrease in the number of social policies aimed at creating affordable or government-subsidized housing is another macro factor that may contribute to a person experiencing homelessness.
In Canada, national investment in housing has fallen by 46% over the past 25 years, according to a 2014 report by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.
Calgary also has less affordable housing per capita than other cities, notes Our Living Legacy, a report looking back on Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. To reach the same amount of affordable housing stock in other cities, Calgary would have to build over 22,000 units by 2025.
A shortage of affordable housing contributes to homelessness, because it makes it more difficult for people to retain their housing and to move from non-market housing to rental accommodation, and finally, home ownership. Indeed, in the 2018 PiT Count, one of the most commonly cited reasons for loss of housing was an inability to pay the rent or mortgage.
System failures arise when people fall through the cracks of systems that are supposed to support them.
In Calgary, we have two major systems that help people:
Primary public systems of care, like Children’s Services, Health and Justice, and
Calgary’s Homeless-Serving System of Care (CHSSC), a network of agencies, including CHF, that help people who are experiencing homelessness.
Unfortunately, gaps exist in the primary public systems of care, which leads people to rely on CHSSC. Common examples of these gaps include youth who are leaving care and have difficulty transitioning into adulthood without help or individuals who have no permanent housing after leaving institutions like hospitals and prisons.
As a community, our willingness – or reluctance – to fix system failures reflects our beliefs and attitudes towards homelessness.
Special Focus: Macro Factors Affecting Indigenous Peoples
It is well known that Indigenous peoples are over-represented among the homeless population.
The 2018 PiT Count revealed that nearly half – 41% (1194) – of the 2911 people experiencing homelessness in Calgary that night had Indigenous ancestry, with 71% of those people identifying themselves as First Nations.
One-third of youth experiencing homelessness in Calgary are also Indigenous, making them ten times over-represented compared to the general Calgary population, says Our Living Legacy.
One reason why Indigenous individuals and families are disproportionately affected by homelessness is that they must contend with the macro factor of colonialism.
Colonialism is an ongoing experience that is deeply embedded in Canada’s structures and systems. It may take the form of colonial policies like assimilation in residential schools or The 60s Scoop, a practice that involved the mass removal of thousands of Indigenous children from their families and bands into child protection agencies and the foster homes of white families.
These policies and practices have resulted in inter-generational trauma, a loss of connection to community and culture, and a low sense of pride and self-worth – all of which place Indigenous peoples at greater risk of experiencing homelessness, according to Indigenous Elders in a 2019 engagement report.
Even factors that are typically viewed as “micro factors,” or circumstances unique to the individual, can be linked to trauma arising from colonial policies and practices. For example, in a 2019 engagement report, Indigenous youth observed that their parents’ alcohol and drug addictions were rooted in a lack of connection to their community – an effect arising from colonial policies like residential schools and The 60s Scoop.
Colonialism is therefore a macro factor that uniquely affects Indigenous peoples and puts them at risk of homelessness.
Micro factors – or an individual’s unique personal circumstances – are the factors that attract the most attention and that are often blamed for causing homelessness.
While micro factors may contribute to a person’s experience of homelessness, it is important to remember they are never the sole cause. Macro factors play a huge role in putting people at risk of homelessness, and we risk losing sight of that fact if we fixate on an individual’s personal challenges.
Some micro factors that may increase the risk of homelessness include:
Chronic health issues
A strong correlation exists between trauma and homelessness. According to Our Living Legacy, long-term users of shelters in Calgary had suffered childhood trauma at a rate five times higher than the general population. This included neglect, domestic violence, abuse and parents with addictions.
Chronic Health Issues
Mental health, physical disabilities, and substance misuse issues may contribute to a person experiencing homelessness, though they may also arise as a result of the stress and insecurity that individuals experience when they do not have a permanent home.
In the 2018 PiT Count, participants cited addiction or substance use as one of the main reasons why they had lost their housing and was the second most cited reason after job loss.
Domestic violence is a micro factor that can put women and families at risk of homelessness.
In 2017, the 24-Hour Family Violence Helpline operated by Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter received 11,886 calls, notes Our Living Legacy. The shelter also reported serving 14,387 clients in one year.
These tragic statistics reflect the fact that a woman is killed every six days in Canada by her intimate partner. The reality is worse for Indigenous women, who are six times more likely to be killed than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
For more information about how domestic violence affects women’s experiences of homelessness, please visit Who Is Experiencing Homelessness to learn more. [NTD: insert link]
Systemic cissexism and heterosexism, as well as homophobia and transphobia from family, friends and the larger community, are factors that contribute to youth experiencing homelessness.
Youth who identify as LGBTQ2S+ are over-represented among the homeless population.
According to Our Living Legacy, approximately 25-40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBTQ2S+ compared to 5-10% of the general population. That means on any given night, 100 out of the 286 youths experiencing homelessness in Calgary are LGBTQ2S+.
Calgary Homeless Foundation
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Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2G 4T8