The Definition of Homelessness

Homelessness doesn’t just affect the people we see on the street, it exists in invisible ways within our community: people living in abandoned buildings, those camping, or couch surfing, those living in overcrowded homes. Many people experiencing homelessness or those at risk of homelessness, experience poor physical, emotional, and mental health, and are often unable to plan and save for thriving futures.

The Canadian Homelessness Research Network has developed a definition of homelessness that is uniquely Canadian. The Coalition proudly endorses this definition that addresses Canadian issues and provides a common way for us to speak to each other.

The Canadian Definition of Homelessness


This includes people who are absolutely homeless: those who live on the streets, or in places where humans aren’t meant to live, such as parks, vacant buildings, cars, tents, or garages.

Emergency Sheltered

This describes the people who stay in overnight shelters. These shelters usually meet people’s immediate needs, like shelter, meals and showers, while also linking them to supportive services.

Provisionally Accommodated

This refers to people who don’t have their own home and are living without the security of permanent housing in the foreseen future. This can include those in transitional housing, in motels, or hostels. This also refers to people who are couch surfing staying with friends’ or strangers’, and those leaving institutional care without prospects of housing in place upon their discharge.

At Risk of Homelessness

This describes people who are “at risk” of homelessness: families and individuals living in unsuitable homes, who may work pay cheque to pay cheque. These individuals face overcrowding and homes that do not meet public health and safety standards. Insecurely housed people may live under threat of discontinued supports or eviction or in abusive family situations.

Those who are in core housing need are also insecurely housed. This refers to those who are living in inadequate homes in need of repair; or non-affordable homes, where their rent is more than 30% of their total before-tax income; or their home is not suitable to the number of people residents.

While the definition covers a broad range of the population, not everyone fits into just one of these categories, or will stay in one for an extended period of time since homelessness is fluid. This definition is a fair and reliable resource that provides Canadians with tools for effective communication when discussing the complex issue of homelessness.

2 thoughts on “The Definition of Homelessness

  1. Marlene E. Simmons

    Thank you and i would like to get involved in some way. Please contact me with details of your organisation and what kind of volunteer help you may require.

    i have been giving a lot of thought to this issue and i have some very interesting ideas that I would like to share with you and would be happy to get behind and get something going under your aegis and within your organization.


    1. The Coalition Post author

      Hello Marlene,
      Thank you for your interest in the Coalition. For more information about us, please visit our website You will also find volunteer opportunities on the website.

      Have a great day,
      Greater Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness

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