Carleton University Research Fellow Nick Falvo recently completed a report entitled, The long-term impact of the COVID-19 recession on homelessness in Canada: What to expect, what to track, what to do, for Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

“A lot of households may lose their housing during the current recession,” said Falvo. “To stop them from experiencing absolute homelessness, senior orders of government need to get money into their hands quickly and help them stay housed.”

Falvo’s report argues the COVID-19 recession’s contribution to rising Canadian homelessness

is complicated by a lag effect of up to five years, many unknowns and differences from one community to another. In order to monitor these complex factors, the report recommends indicators for ESDC to track.

The report also identifies several policy changes that could prevent a rise in homelessness. At the federal level, this includes an enhanced Canada Housing Benefit and a soft approach to recovering Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) overpayments from social assistance recipients. At the provincial and territorial level, it recommends increases to social assistance benefit levels, the reinstatement of social assistance eligibility for recipients who became ineligible due to the CERB, and the encouragement of housing-focused practices at emergency shelters. The report also recommends that ESDC introduce a new funding stream that would focus on prevention.

There is a lag effect of up to five years from the time of a recession’s onset to its impact on homelessness. People fight to hold onto their homes and the social welfare system—including Employment Insurance and social assistance—help people to stay in their homes.  This means it could be years before we see the full impact of rising homelessness in Canada as a result of the COVID-19 recession. It also means that there is time for preventive measures to be implemented and to take effect.

The current recession is very deep, and it is unusual that it was caused by a public health crisis. It is hard to predict how long it will take for Canada’s labour market to rebound. Further, it is hard to know how much longer different social policy measures will remain in place or what new policies may be put in place. It is also difficult to predict the impact the recession will have on fundraising in the homelessness sector.

The effect of the recession on homelessness will vary across Canadian communities.

Housing markets, income assistance systems and homelessness system planning frameworks vary across Canada. Migration patterns over the next several years will be hard to predict. As a result, it is challenging to say which communities will see rising homelessness at what junctures in time. However, we do know that young people, women, non-married persons and those without high school accreditation have been most affected.

The report recommends that ESDC track the following indicators as the recession continues: the official unemployment rate, the percentage of Canadians falling below the poverty line or the Market Basket Measure (MBM), social assistance benefit levels, median rent levels, the rental vacancy rate, the percentage of households with extreme shelter cost burdens, evictions and average nightly occupancy in emergency shelters.

Tracking these indicators should emphasize both how they have changed since the start of the pandemic, and how this change varies across both geographical areas and specific demographic populations.

Media Contact
Steven Reid
Media Relations Officer
Carleton University

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Thursday, December 10, 2020 in
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