GRSJ224/Homelessness and Discrimination

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A homeless individual is defined as "an individual who lacks housing (without regard to whether the individual is a member of a family)".[1] The individual is also characterized by a state of physical deprivation of a home.[2] People who are homeless usually reside at Homeless Shelters, Motels, Tent City, and Abandoned areas or buildings (Squatting). Homelessness in Canada is generally divided into Temporary and Long-term homeless. Among the Temporary and Long-term Homeless, the population could be divided into four types: (1)Unsheltered, (2) Emergency Sheltered, (3) Provisionally Accommodated, and (4) At Risk of Homelessness.[3] However, it is important to note that no matter which types of homelessness an individual is, they are all experiencing discriminations and social exclusions based on their own deprivation of a private and culturally defined place called home. However, the level of exclusion varies based on their background and situation. (see Forms of Discrimination)

Canadian Homeless: a History of Discrimination

In 1935, during the Great Depression Era, Reverend Andrew Roddan from the First United Church published a pamphlet called "Canada's Untouchables: the story of the man without a home."[4] In the pamphlet, Roddan quoted poems, photos, newspaper excepts about the homeless people living in Downtown Eastside. He cited The Life Insurance Sales Research Bureau figure to tell the population of the homeless.

Of 100 men-

37 fail for lack of industry

37 fail because discouraged

12 fail by not following instructions

8 fail for lack of knowledge

4 fail through dishonesty

2 fail because of ill luck

Followed by the Liberal Welfare Reform, the Canadian welfare system maintained the ideology of British Poor Laws at the time, and created a public conception of jobless people as "lazy, dirty, incompetent, mentally and physically ill and lacking the individual initiative necessary for finding waged work.” [5] With reference to the table listed above, homelessness was seen as a personal trouble rather than a structural issues. The wide spread perception at the time laid the foundation of the social exclusion of the homeless nowadays.

Crisis of Masculinity and the Homosexual Homeless Men in the Great Depression

In 1935, the time when most Canadian families had male to be the bread winner and female to take up the domestic role. This laid the foundation of the crisis of masculinity during the Great Depression when there were a lot of industrial workers became unemployed. Some of these men later became homeless, and were residing at Downtown Eastside, Vancouver.

According to Roddan's written account, the homeless people who were straight men were seen as lazy and discouraged to work. Furthermore, men who were homosexual were seen as sinful and evil. In the Pamphlet, Roddan labelled the homosexual homeless man as 'wolf', and were 'dangerous' and 'fearful'.

"They have a special name for this type of man, he is called a Wolf. What would you expect from the life of these homeless men than a perverted sex nature. They are far removed from the influence of pure and true womanhood except as they meet them in a mission or welfare work.” (pp.73-74)[4]

Sommers[6] analyzed the relationship between social exclusions and the male homeless at the time,

“Skid row appeared as a representation of space that erased the subjectivities of its inhabitants, marking their bodies as indicators of a degenerate masculinity and making its territory into a dangerous wasteland in need of redevelopment. This kind of expulsion, or abjection, from the bounds of normal society is accompanied by a reinforcement of the lines of exclusion.”

In addition, Maynard[7] and Ekers[5] also mentioned the 'crisis of masculinity' contributes to the discrimination of homeless man under the context of white and christian dominated social structure at the time. Focusing on the problem of an individual, the “relief work must be sufficiently punitive and ungenerous in order to discourage the “able bodied” from seeking relief.”  More often, the homeless population is over-generalized as the lazy, drug addicted, mentally ill and weak man in 1935.

Forms of Discrimination in recent years

Under the historically rooted stigmatism towards homeless people in Canadian Society, there are still different forms of discrimination existing nowadays. In particular, Snow and Anderson coined the term "master status" to define homelessness is the outcome of a combination of multiple risk factors. In a sense, homelessness is not a cultural group that share common characteristics, but rather a similar fate and determination. Hence, in terms of intersectionality, gender, sexuality, age, and race are four major factors that contribute to the social exclusion to the homeless.

Age Discrimination: the Seniors, the Youth and the Able-bodied Adult

The Seniors

According to the National Shelter Study[8], there are approximately 8.3% of the sheltered homeless are older than 55 years old. Moreover, they have a longer duration of being homeless than the younger adults. The seniors experience discrimination in labor market, and thus, they are lack of income to pay for rent. [9]Moreover, some of the elderly are in disability and mental illness, that needs to have intensive health care supports. However, in Vancouver, the supports are minimal, and quite often, the case workers could not find suitable places for the elderly homeless to stay in.[9]

The Youth

As of 2018, at least 349 homeless youth (aged 13 to 24) were counted on the street. [10] More than half of them told researchers that family conflicts is the major reason of being homeless. However, among the youth homeless, the indigenous and LGBTQ2S are overrepresented as of 42%. (See Racism and Sexual Discrimination) Moreover, youth who are down out on the street are often stigmatized as gang members or drug addicts, and they are often excluded by their peers, that leads to further marginalization. [11] When they step into adulthood, they could not form social connections with non-homeless people, and then started to lose faith on getting back to a housed life.

Able-bodied Adult

The able-bodied adult experiences discrimination when they are applying for social welfare or income assistance. It is important to note that the Canadian Income Assistance program do not provide adequate amount of financial support to able-bodied single adult. This strategy is to discourage the adults from getting help, and go to find a job. It is also important to note that the homeless do not have an address and phone contact are very difficult to apply for a stable-income job and income assistance[12]. More often, homeless adults find job through community workers from the non-profits[13], however, this excludes those who are staying away from case workers because of other reasons mentioned on this post.

More importantly, connecting to the historical findings, the Crisis of Masculinity is inherited in the modern society. The adult able-bodied adults, especially man, are expected to have income job and 'responsible' to himself and his family. However, the form of discrimination shifted to a more systematic fashion, that the welfare programs and case workers are often reluctant to give financial support to the homeless able-bodied adults.

Gender Discrimination: the Silent Sisters

Women are more vulnerable to domestic violence, and this is one of the major reasons of the female being homeless.[14] More often, women who are expected to be the caregiver and responsible to their children, and when they are experiencing domestic violence, they are more likely to first tolerate and keep silent.[15] Also, the mother in a family with substance misuses and mental health issues are lost their way to seek help, and fall into a state of fear being labelled as a bad mother. As a consequence, this often results in more serious events that could lead to a state of homelessness.

Racism: the Missing Indigenous Homeless Women

Missing Indigenous Women is a national crisis in Canada.[16] In 2018, The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association release a set of statistics claiming that the police officers conduct street check with racial preference. The indigenous population is over-represented in the data. [17] It is important to note that the police practices created a mistrust in the street community. Research found that such mistrust would lead to a further breakdown of the relationship between law enforcement units and the homeless people. [18]

Missing indigenous women is one of the outcomes of this disconnected relationship and racial preference of police officers. This mistrust and racial profiling increases the vulnerability of the indigenous women, and they became further marginalized in the community.

Sexual Discrimination: the Sexual Minorities

Sexual minorities is another over-represented population in the skid row community. It is important to note that the LGBT adolescents are more frequently left home and stay on the street. [19] Also, when these LGBT adolescents are out on the street, they are more likely to have substance abuses. [19] Another study also showed that the LGBT adolescents also have particularly high rates of mental health and substance use problems, suicidal acts, violent victimization, and a range of HIV risk behaviours. [20]

The high correlation between age and sexuality as the factors for being homeless reflected the complexity of the issue. It is also important to notice that once these youth step into adulthood, their life will become further marginalized.


  1. NHCHC (2018). "". National Health Care for the Homeless Council. External link in |title= (help)
  2. WONG, CHI PAN (2018). "Typology of Homelessness: The Construction of Deviance and Social Distrust in High Rent and Neoliberal Metropolitans". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. Gaetz, S.; Barr, C.; Friesen, A.; Harris, B.; Hill, C.; Kovacs-Burns, K.; Pauly, B.; Pearce, B.; Turner, A.; Marsolais, A. (2012). "Canadian Definition of Homelessness". Toronto: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Roddan, Andrew (1935). Canada’s untouchables: the story of the man without a home. Vancouver: The First United Church.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ekers, M. (2012). "The Dirty Scruff: Relief and the Production of the Unemployed in Depression-era British Columbia". Antipode. 44(4): 1119–1142.
  6. Sommers, J. (1998). "Men at the Margin: Masculinity and space in Downtown Vancouver". Urban Geography. 19(4): 287–331.
  7. Maynard, S. (1998). "On the case of the case: The Emergence of the Homosexual as a case history in Early Twentieth Century Ontario". On the Case: Explorations in Social History: 65–87.
  8. Aaron, Segaert (2012). "The National Shelter Study: Emergency Shelter Use in Canada 2005-2009" (PDF). Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. 9.0 9.1 R. Woolrych, N. Gibson, J.Sixsmith and A. Sixsmith (2015). “No Home, No Place”: Addressing the Complexity of Homelessness in Old Age Through Community Dialogue. Journal of Housing For the Elderly.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. BCNPHA (2018). "Homeless Count 2018". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  11. Kidd, Sean A. (2009). Social Stigma and Homeless Youth. ISBN 978-0-7727-1475-6.
  12. Legal Services Society (2017). "How to Apply for Welfare". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. Canham, O’Dea and Wister (2017). "Evaluating the Housing First Approach in the Metro Vancouver Region". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. FEANTSA (2007). "Homelessness and Domestic Violence: Tailoring services to meet the needs of women who are homeless and fleeing domestic violence". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. Ralston, Meredith L. (1996). "Nobody Wants to Hear Our Truth: Homeless Women and Theories of the Welfare State". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. Bailey, Jane; Shayan, Sara (2016). "Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Crisis: Technological Dimensions". Canadian Journal of Women and the Law. 28(2): 321–341.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. The Canadian Press (2018). "Groups alleging racial profiling demand probe into Vancouver police street checks".
  18. Stuart, Forrest (2016). Down, Out, and Under Arrest: Policing and Everyday Life in Skid Row. University of Chicago Press.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Bryan N Cochran, Angela J. Stewart, Joshua A. Ginzler and Ana Mari Cauce (2002). "Challenges Faced by Homeless Sexual Minorities: Comparison of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Homeless Adolescents With Their Heterosexual Counterparts". American Journal of Public Health. 92(5): 773–777.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. Alex S. Keuroghlian, Derri Shtasel and Ellen L. Bassuk (2014). "Out on the Street: A Public Health and Policy Agenda for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth Who Are Homeless". Am J Orthopsychiatry. 84(1): 66-72.