What is Homelessness?

In the NSHTF action plan, the term ‘homelessness’ is used to include the absolute homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless. The absolute homeless refers to people who are living on the street, including back lanes, parks, alcoves, and so on, as well as people who do not have a place of their own and who stay with and move between friends and family “couch surfing”. People at risk of becoming homeless include those living in places that are not safe, secure or affordable and further marginalized people such as those with disabilities who may lose vital services that allow them to maintain their housing and therefore become homeless.

Related Definitions:

Adequate Income:
Income sufficient to cover cost of food, clothing, household supplies, personal care, transportation, shelter, and child care expenses.

Affordable Housing:
Housing which costs no more than 30 percent of a household’s pre-tax income, provided that it is appropriate, in good repair, and has secure tenancy.
Families spending more than 30 percent and/or living in housing that fails to meet these criteria are said to be in core housing need.

Families spending more than 50 percent of their pre-tax income on shelter are called INALH (In Core Need and Paying at Least Half of their Income on Housing) and are at risk of homelessness.

Appropriate Housing:
Includes the following:
The housing should be in good repair with no health hazards and there should be sufficient bedrooms so that:

  • there shall be no more than 2 or less than 1 person per bedroom
  • Spouses and couples share a bedroom
  • Parents do not share a bedroom with children
  • Dependents aged 18 or more do not share a bedroom
  • Dependents aged 5 or more of opposite sex do not share a bedroom

Continuum of Support Services:
A continuum of support services is defined as an interconnected system of services that provides people with the support that meets their immediate and personal needs over time. As identified above, there is a close relationship between many support services and different types of housing provided under the continuum of housing.

Emergency Shelter Services:
Emergency shelters, safe houses, and transition houses are defined as housing of last resort for those who have no other options. These facilities provide temporary housing and the maximum length of stay at one of these facilities is usually 30 days and are provided free of charge. The expectation is that those who make use of one of these facilities will eventually move along to another suitable from of housing.

Eviction Prevention Services:
Services and resources extended to tenants in the event of eviction, when eviction threatens, or for other eviction-related issues. Provides information to tenants and agencies about their rights and responsibilities.

Family Counselling and Support Services:
Services which:

  • help families stay together peacefully (requiring only one domicile)
  • help people manage on their income, avoiding eviction
  • help with substance abuse problems of family members

Food Security:
The long-term goal of community food security is to create a supportive environment where people can easily make healthy food choices. Community food security exists when people are able to access affordable, nutritious food through a sustainable food system that maximizes healthy food choices and community self-reliance (Hamm and Bellows, 2003). Food security includes being able to make a living by growing and producing food in ways that protect and support both the land, sea and the food producers. It ensures that there will be healthy food for our children‟s children.

Health Services:
The NSHTF recognizes housing and homelessness are determinants of health, as are education, employment, income, adequate nutrition, social supports, social networks and access to health care services. The 2005 GVRD homeless count revealed that 75 per cent of those counted reported having one or more health condition. Those who were street homeless were more likely to report more than one health concern. The incidence of reported health conditions in 2005 shows an increase when compared to the 2002 homeless count, especially in the area of addictions.
Health status can also be correlated with an individual’s history of homelessness. Although those who are chronically homeless make-up approximately ten percent of the homeless population, they account for a disproportionately larger demand for shelter beds and health care services in comparison to those who are homeless for a transient period of a few weeks or months. The latter group of homeless tends to be relatively healthy, whereas those who are chronically homeless have a high incidence of severe mental illness, substance abuse, and medical conditions.

Independent Affordable Housing:
Independent affordable housing refers to permanent housing that is affordable to households with low and modest incomes, and who can live independently in the community with little or no support services.

Life Skills Related to Employment & Income:
Continuum of services to assist people with:

  • writing resumes
  • completing job applications
  • employment planning
  • conducting job searches
  • job interview skills
  • job training
  • budgeting

Mental Health, Addiction and Abuse Prevention Services:
Mental health services: Services that support a state of emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society, and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life.

Addiction services: Services that address a compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms of withdrawal.

Adult Abuse and Neglect Prevention Services: Adults who are abused, neglected and self-neglected and are unable to seek support and assistance on their own due to:

  • Restraint
  • Physical or mental limitation or illness
  • Disease
  • Injury
  • Other conditions that affect their ability to make decisions about the abuse and neglect

Outreach Services:
Community based services that attempt to reach those who cannot or do not access supports and services elsewhere. Outreach interventions are typically focused on maintaining personal safety and well being by ensuring basic needs are met as well as mental and physical health. Outreach services can reach people in their homes, on the street, or in strategic locations where those in need tend to congregate.

Rental Assistance Programs:
Subsidies that enable households to obtain or remain in appropriate dwelling units despite rents that exceed what is defined as affordable.

Supportive Housing:
Supportive housing is affordable housing that is linked to support services that will assist individuals to thrive in the community. The support may be temporary or ongoing and could include the development of life skills, training and support with housekeeping, meal preparation, banking support, budget management, and access to medical care, medication management counseling, referrals, crisis response and intervention. Some support services are provided on-site, while other services may be available at other locations within the community. Supportive housing may be located in purpose-built dedicated buildings or in scattered site apartments.

Transitional Housing: 
Transitional housing is affordable housing where people can remain for a limited period of time (for example, 30 days to 2-3 years). The expectation is that residents will move to permanent housing once their living situation is stabilized. Support services are generally provided to help provide develop skills and acquire the resources needed to achieve independence.