Canadian Definition of 'Ending Homelessness' Released Today

National organizations ask: "What does 'ending homelessness' mean and how do we know when we've reached that goal?"

TORONTO, Feb. 23, 2017 /CNW/ - In Canada, there has been no single, agreed-upon definition of what it means to end homelessness. The Government of Canada, in preparation for Canada's first National Housing Strategy, has encouragingly identified ending homelessness as a priority. Communities, policy makers and advocates across the country have done the same. However, until today, there has not been a cohesive vision of what an end to homelessness in Canada really looks like.   

In a major step forward, The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) of York University, The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) have released Canada's first definition of ending homelessness. The definition is based on consultations conducted across the country.

"A national definition can help us address concerns and skepticism about what it really means to end homelessness and help drive our efforts by providing clear goals," said Alina Turner, lead author and Fellow with The School of Public Policy. "There was so much variation internationally in the definitions and the measures different communities used, that it was difficult to see what progress was being made. This makes it difficult to determine the benchmarks for success."

The definition comes at an opportune time: "As the Government of Canada takes steps towards launching a National Housing Strategy, we need to have agreement on what ending homelessness means. Then, we can all hold ourselves accountable to achieving that goal," said York U Professor Stephen Gaetz, director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (Homeless Hub).

The national definition takes into account factors such as poverty, access to affordable housing, mental health and life cycle stage. These factors interact in complex ways to impact homelessness.

It also takes into account the perspectives of people who have experienced homelessness. For many, an end to homelessness means more than housing. It means safety, security and affordability.

"We need to be able to spell out exactly what we mean when we say we're ending homelessness; this needs to be backed up by evidence and it has to resonate with those experiencing homelessness," said Dr. Turner.

Future work will include how to implement the definition in communities across Canada. Adaptations of the definition for key groups, including youth and Indigenous peoples, will be explored as well.

Some of the indicators in the new definition include:

  • Participants in a homeless-serving system must report high satisfaction and have been included in the decision-making to develop and deliver services.

  • All unsheltered persons should be engaged with services and have been offered low-barrier shelter and housing at least every two weeks.

  • The total number of unsheltered persons and emergency-sheltered persons is consistently decreasing year over year towards zero; the community has reduced its initial baseline total unsheltered and emergency-sheltered count by 90 per cent.

  • The length of stay in emergency shelters and length of being unsheltered is consistently decreasing year-over-year towards zero. The community has reduced the initial baseline length of stay in homelessness (unsheltered and emergency sheltered) by 90 per cent.

  • No more than 10 per cent of those who exit programs return to homelessness within 12 months.


The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness is a non-profit, non-partisan research institute at York University that is committed to conducting and mobilizing research so as to contribute to solutions to homelessness.

The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness leads a national movement of individuals, organizations and communities working together to end homelessness in Canada.

The School of Public Policy is Canada's leading policy school. The School was founded in 2008 by renowned economist Jack Mintz with a vision to drive policy discourse with relevant research, outreach, and teaching. Its faculty is composed of scholars with exceptional credentials, and experienced practitioners, working together to bridge the gap between government, business, and academia.

SOURCE Canadian Observatory on Homelessness

For further information: Dr. Alina Turner, Research Fellow, School of Public Policy, University of Calgary, Principal, Turner Research and Strategy, 403-872-8722,; Dr. Stephen Gaetz, Director, Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, Professor, York University, 416-668-7321,; Tim Richter, President & CEO, Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, Cell: 587-216-5615,; Dr. Ronald Kneebone, School of Public Policy, University of Calgary, 403-220-4603,


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Canadian Observatory on Homelessness

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Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness

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