Insufficient Income is the Leading Cause of Homelessness in Canada

Canadian Homelessness

For years, Invisible People reporters have been debunking the myth that addiction and mental illness are the leading causes of homelessness in the U.S. and directing the public’s attention to the actual leading cause – the lack of affordable housing.

Since a lack of affordable housing has stood as the leading cause of American homelessness for years on end, it’s easy to assume this would be the case in other industrialized nations as well. However, a closer look at Canada proves this is overwhelmingly not the case. A lack of affordable housing is actually the second leading cause of homelessness in the Great White North, leaving room for a new and novel first cause.

Given the false opinions of the general public, it’s easy to assume that the primary component driving residents into homelessness in Canada would be something to the effect of addiction, mental health conditions, or some combination of the two.

Alas, no. This is simply not the case. It proves once and for all that these causes are always secondary, even in situations where the root cause of homelessness is something other than a lack of affordable housing.

In the case of Canada, the number one leading cause of homelessness is insufficient income. Here’s what that means for industrialized countries grappling with a homeless crisis.

Currently, One out of Every Seven Canadians is Poverty-Stricken

From a statistical standpoint, Canada is the sixth-richest country on the planet. However, that wealth is so unevenly distributed that one out of every seven Canadians is afflicted with poverty. And for the next generation, the outlook is even bleaker.

Due to insufficient income, one in five Canadian children lives impoverished. Half of all Indigenous Canadian children fit this exact description. How did we get here? More importantly, what’s being done to combat this disparity?

Factors Contributing to Insufficient Income

Insufficient income is the result of multiple flaws in the social structure. Some of the most prevalent contributors to insufficient income include:

  • Stagnant Wages. According to Global News, the average hourly wage in Canada has remained stagnant for an awe-inspiring four decades and counting. This means today’s Canadian workers, on average, earn roughly the same amount as Canadian workers did in the late 1970s. At the same time, the consumer price index has steadily risen by approximately 4.8% each year. Anytime prices outpace wages to such extreme, crippling poverty is sure to follow.
  • Working Poor. Many homeless Canadians are part of the working poor, a group of individuals who, despite working long hours in exhausting laborious jobs, simply are not paid enough money to live. In 2014, 746,000 Canadian households fit this description where the primary breadwinner was a member of the poor working class.
  • Decline in Upward Income Mobility. One overlooked factor that plays a pivotal role in insufficient income is the general decline in upward income mobility. This term refers to an individual’s ability to out-earn the previous generation by climbing more rungs on the corporate ladder. The prevalence of upward income mobility potential initially made capitalist societies so attractive. As low and middle-income earners experience sharp declines in this sector of the economy, it could be argued that capitalism without the potential for upward income mobility is more of a caste system where people live and die in the socioeconomic status that was generationally passed down to them.  

Lack Of Affordable Housing Trails Behind Insufficient Income but Still Plays a Massive Role in Creating Canadian Homelessness

With so many Canadian workers living in utter poverty, the need for affordable housing is even more ubiquitous. In 2011, it was concluded that 30.5% of all Canadian residents were precariously housed with insufficient income. This led many of them down a dark and winding path into homelessness.

The bottom line is that just because a Canadian resident is without a stable place to live does not mean that they’ve “chosen” homelessness. Nor does it mean that their desolate state of existence results from any decision they made, bad or good.

Canada’s homeless issue exhibits a slightly different leading cause than other industrialized nations. However, the lack of affordable housing is still a close second contributing factor. What is clear is that homelessness is almost always the result of structural flaws as opposed to personal decisions. That said, you do have a choice. You can choose to contact your representatives.

Urge Your Lawmakers to Prioritize Housing and Wages

Now that you know the leading cause of homelessness in Canada, it’s time you inform your lawmakers of the need for both higher wages and more affordable housing units. Please urge the people in positions of power to act in accordance with public interest by making wages livable and by making housing a human right.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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