Timeline & Background

of Indigenous Homelessness

Key Drivers & Historical Context

Indigenous homelessness has a diverse, long, and complicated history in Canada.

Overall, Indigenous people comprise less than 4% of the Canadian population, but more than 10% of the homeless population1. Indigenous people in Canada are not only more likely to become homeless, but also less likely to use shelters and other support services, and more likely to remain homeless.

Why does homelessness affect Indigenous people at much higher rates than non-Indigenous Canadians?

The ultimate goal of the colonial effort was to dismantle and eradicate Indigenous knowledge systems through attacks on Indigenous culture, family and communal systems, and identity. Colonization can be understood as a distal determinant of health for Indigenous people, who continue to experience the long-lasting legacy of intergenerational trauma and inequities across proximal determinants of health (e.g. housing, employment, food security).

Indigenous homelessness is tied to the history of colonization in Canada. Events such as land displacements, the residential school system, the Aboriginal wardship in the child welfare system, outlawing of cultural practices, the sixties scoop, and the marginalization and discrimination of Indigenous peoples in Canadian society all contributed to the loss of culture, economy, and community. This history is unique to Indigenous people, being the only group to experience these in Canada, affecting all Indigenous peoples, and creating challenges, barriers, and damage that still persists today.

The majority of Indigenous people experiencing homelessness:

  • Attended residential school
  • Had parents who attended residential school or had been in jail, or
  • Had harmful experiences with child welfare authorities.2

Nearly a third have been institutionalized.2

Overall, Indigenous people comprise less than 4% of the Canadian population, but more than 10% of the homeless population.

Overall, Indigenous people comprise less than 4% of the Canadian population, but more than 10% of the homeless population.

The Current Situation – An Overview

1 in 15 Indigenous persons in urban centres experiencing homelessness, compared to 1 in 128 for the general population.3

Because of these historical and continued effects, Indigenous people in Canada face greater mental health and addiction challenges among, especially youth, as well as evidence of a more problematic role of child protection. Female and sexual and gender minority youth are at even greater risks of homelessness and violence in addition to child-protection involvement.3

Indigenous people in major urban centres are 8 times more likely to experience homelessness.3

  • 6.97% of Indigenous people in cities experience homelessness
  • 0.78% of the general population in cities experiences homelessness4

This means that Indigenous peoples in Canada, who have been deprived economic, educational, cultural, health, and funding supports and services, suffer from greater levels of mental health issues, lower levels of education, higher barriers for employment, higher rates of incarceration, higher levels of children in care, will experience higher rates of violence, racism, and discrimination, and much higher rates of homelessness.

  • 32% of homeless people were Indigenous, even though Indigenous people account for only 2% of the general population in the region
  • Almost half (45%) of homeless women identified themselves as Indigenous
  • 41% of homeless youth identified themselves as Indigenous2

41% of homeless youth identified themselves as Indigenous.

41% of homeless youth identified themselves as Indigenous.

Regional and Homeless Population Diversity

In some Canadian cities, such as Yellowknife or Whitehorse, Indigenous people make up 90% of the homeless population. Places like Thunder Bay and Winnipeg fare somewhat better, with an average of 50-70% of homeless people being Indigenous. In Toronto, Canada’s largest urban centre, Indigenous people constitute around 15% of the city’s homeless population, even though they make up only around 0.5% of the total population. These statistics reveal that urban Indigenous people are eight times more likely to experience homelessness than non-Indigenous people.5

Indigenous homelessness is represented in urban areas, as well as on reserves and in rural areas. Chronic underfunding, historical discrimination and traumas, as well as lack of access to supports, services, and resources means that Indigenous homelessness affects both on-reserve and off-reserve, within and outside Indigenous communities, as well as both urban and rural areas. Each region of Canada’s diverse landscape has its own challenges and strategies. Diverse challenges require equally diverse and region-specific solutions.

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