National study reveals shelter demand approaching 2009 levels

Use increases by 10 per cent from 2005-14

Demand for shelters and beds in Canada is approaching levels not seen since the 2008/09 economic downturn, with a 10 per cent increase in use from 2005-14, according to a new study.

The National Shelter Study 2005–2014: Emergency Shelter Use in Canada released this week by the federal Employment and Social Development Canada ministry revealed that, on an average night in 2014, 13,857 Canadians slept in an emergency shelter, using more than 90 per cent of Canada’s 15,000 shelter beds. By comparison, in 2005, average nightly shelter use had reached slightly more than 80 per cent of capacity.

At its peak in 2009, the national shelter occupancy rates was at 94.6 per cent.

There are about 15,000 emergency shelter beds at 400 emergency shelters across Canada. The number of shelters and beds has changed little between 2005 and 2014, but demand for shelter beds has increased, noted the study.

Although the annual number of shelter users has fallen from 156,000 in 2005 to 136,000 in 2014, emergency shelters served an average of 800 more people per night in 2014 compared to 2005.

Duration of shelter stays has also increased, especially among families and people 50 and over. A typical shelter stay by a family was more than 20 days in 2014, twice as long as a stay by individuals. People over 50 typically spent eight or nine more days in shelter than people under 50.

While the duration of shelter stays increased over the period from 2005 to 2014, only a minority of shelter users repeatedly used shelters year after year. Over the five-year period from 2010 to 2014, an estimated 450,000 people used an emergency shelter. Fewer than two per cent of this total used a shelter in each year of the five-year period.

The report also noted the rate of shelter use for Indigenous people from 2005-14 was 10 times higher than for non-Indigenous people. An estimated 38,080 to 45,820 Indigenous people used a shelter in 2014.

The National Shelter Study used emergency shelter data from the Homeless Individuals and Families Information System, the City of Toronto, BC Housing and the Province of Alberta.

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