The Importance of Including Older People in Canadian Strategies on Homelessness

The number of older people who are homeless is expected to increase across Canada. Strategies to combat homelessness tend to neglect this group and this can be problematic as older homeless people have unique needs.


Grenier, A., Barken, R., Sussman, T., Rothwell, D. W., & Bourgeois-Guérin, V. (2016). Homelessness among older people: Assessing strategies and frameworks across Canada. Canadian Review of Social Policy, (74), pp.1-39.

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What is this research about?

Homelessness among older people is becoming increasingly common all across Canada.  This can be attributed to the aging of people who are already homeless and an increase in the number of people that are becoming homeless for the first time in later life. Strategies and initiatives to end homelessness in Canada tend to target specific groups such as youth, women, and indigenous people, but older people are often overlooked as a target population. Older homeless people have unique needs that require targeted strategies and support. This research examines the extent to which homeless older people are included in strategies to eliminate homelessness in Canada.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers conducted a survey of government strategies on homelessness at local, provincial, and federal levels. The planning documents were identified through the Canadian Health Research Collection and Canadian Health Research Index databases. A total of 42 planning documents were included in the review, 7 were at the federal level, 13 at the provincial level, and 22 at the municipal level. The documents were then categorized into one of three categories; no discussion of homelessness among older people, minimal discussion of homelessness among older people and significant discussion of homelessness among older people.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that 16 strategies contained no discussion of homelessness among older people. 22 of the planning documents had minimal discussion of homelessness among older people, mentioning for example, older people as one of many at-risk groups without further elaboration. Only four of the planning documents had a significant discussion of homelessness among older people. These documents considered the unique challenges that older homeless people face and outlined specific strategies to help meet their needs. The review also revealed that more recent documents were more likely to mention older people in some capacity.
These findings demonstrate that the needs of the elderly are largely absent from strategies and initiatives to eliminate homelessness across Canada. The researchers suggest that government at all levels consider models from other countries which address older homelessness through the development of permanent housing, integrated health supports, and a consideration of the risk profile that can lead to homelessness for the first time in later life.

How can you use this research?

This research can be used by municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government to improve their strategies to combat homelessness among older people. In addition, support groups that provide programs for the homeless can use this research to better understand the needs of the older people they serve.

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