Homelessness: In Montreal and Across the Globe

Published on November 11, 2020

Submitted by Penny Rankin-MCW President Nov 2020

In 2005, the United Nations conducted a global survey in which they reported that 100 million people were homeless and further to that as many as 1.6 billion people lacked adequate housing. In the 15 years since, it is now estimated that almost 2% of the global population-or close to 150 million people are homeless today. The impact of rising waters, draughts, wars, fires and storms all contribute to this exponential growth in numbers that is now being further exasperated by Covid-19.

So, how is homelessness defined? There are three general categories used to define homelessness. Data varies depending on the exact criteria being applied. Irrespective of variations in data and category terminology applied, all forms of homelessness manifest themselves in the Canadian context:

  1. The Chronically Homeless/The Unsheltered are most frequently people who live on the periphery of society and who often suffer from mental illnesses and/or substance abuse.
  2. The Cyclically Homeless/The Emergency Sheltered are individuals who have lost their home as a result of some change in their situation, such as loss of a job, a move, a prison term or a hospital stay.
  3. The Temporarily/The Provisionally Sheltered (short term) Homeless are individuals whose personal situation is altered and who access accommodation with no prospect of permanent housing.

Historically understood to be an urban crisis, homelessness is also increasing in both suburban and rural communities. In the Canadian context, victims include women fleeing violence, youth, veterans, new immigrants, people with disabilities, families with children, individual men and women, those suffering from mental illnesses and/or abuse problems as well as other disenfranchised individuals.

Canadian data suggests that over 300,000 Canadians (.8% of the overall population) experienced homelessness in 2018; with more than 35,000 Canadians homeless on any given night. As for the issue of “adequate housing” in Canada please check out this publication by Habitat For Humanity Canada.

A few facts-According to a study conducted by Homeless Hub in 2016:

  • 129,000 Canadians needed emergency shelter that year.
  • The number of Seniors (65+) seeking support is increasing.
  • The Canadian Indigenous population (4.3% of the general population),comprise 28-34% of the shelter population.
  • 75% of homeless people in Canada struggle with mental illness.


Reaching Home: Canada's Homelessness Strategy. The Government of Canada has committed $2.2 billion to tackle homelessness across the country. The goal is to reduce chronic homelessness nationally by 50% by fiscal year 2027 to 2028. To view the comprehensive report.

Closer to Home: Montreal and the impact of COVID-19 on services available to our Homeless population.

Here in the Greater Montreal area, there are many organizations including some of our MCW Federates, whose primary focus is on both serving those affected by homelessness as well as advocating on their behalf. The MCW, encourages all efforts to end homelessness in our city, and we celebrate the work of our Federates.

Our advocacy in recent years is to have called on the city to support those organizations whose work provides a sense of community. Beds are indeed important, however, in the absence of a place to call home day centres and those that adopt a holistic response are vital in reducing and ending homelessness.

The following is the result of an informal survey of our Federate members dedicated to this work and issue. The conversations focused on the impact the pandemic is having on their clientele and the ability of the centres to meet the evolving needs of those they serve.

We asked about…

Most centres have seen a dramatic increase in the number of clients accessing their services – some reported almost double the clientele. It was recognized that this was in part due to other centres having been closed while the volume of people seeking support has not abated.

Had there been a Demographics shift?
Some Yes, some No. Of those that had seen a shift – new clients seeking aid were:

  1. Families, many with young children.
  2. Under-employed. People who have work, but still can’t make ends meet.
  3. More people who do have housing but who, due to the severe financial stresses needed and need help to get by.

What of your usual clientele?
Deteriorating Mental health issues (as well as physical health) is common as is the increase in drug/alcohol related problems. Essentially, all clients have been affected during the pandemic, resulting in a corresponding greater need for intervention work, referrals and some centres have increased their hours of service as they seek to meet health and safety guidelines related to gatherings etc. (i.e. respecting social distancing measures).

How are you managing with Staffing (Volunteers and Regular staff)

  • Many centres lost volunteers -particularly those 60+ years in age.
  • Since then, young volunteers (college students and young professionals) have stepped into that void. Some centres are currently looking for more volunteers.
  • Some centres have had to let go of one or two of their professional staff, others have shortened hours and some have hired new staff to cope with the numbers and to add security personnel.

Were you able to get PPE?

Initially there had been problems- the situation, overseen by Santé Publique has improved greatly!

What do you Need?

  1. Food - The demand is increasing even more towards the end of each month when social assistance cheques /CERB were/ and other assistance program funds are running out.
  2. Winter Clothing, sturdy cold-weather clothing, boots, socks, underwear and toiletries/personal items are welcome. (Please check in advance as some centres are not accepting clothing- while others that do ask that you please sort and tag your bags before delivery)
  3. Volunteers (those working on site- not in a vulnerable demographic)
  4. Partner organizations- such as MCW – who advocate and help raise awareness
  5. Donations! $$ Greater resources needed to meet the ever-growing demand for help.



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