A staggering 83 per cent of rural homeless populations in Canada are made up of people who identify as Indigenous.
That’s according to Dr. Cheryl Forchuk, who is leading a homelessness study to get a clear picture of the number of homeless people in Canada.
Dr. Forchuk and her team recently held a forum at the Sanderson Centre in Brantford as they visit 28 communities across Canada to gather data and information on homelessness in the country.
In urban areas, the number of homeless people who are Indigenous is around 28.6 per cent, which is still disproportionately high considering Indigenous people only make up three per cent of Canada’s total population.
The reason rural Indigenous homeless rates are so high is because Indigenous people are more likely to live in rural areas, close to their reserves.
Homeless data has always relied too heavily on urban counts, which she said skews the data and doesn’t paint a real picture of how many homeless people in Canada are actually Indigenous.
“There’s an underestimate because of reliance on larger urban communities,” said Dr. Forchuk.
“We found much greater percentage in the smaller communities than in the larger communities.”
“We need to have a more inclusive way of including data,” said Dr. Forchuk, who has a background in psychiatric nursing.
Homelessness has gotten worse during the pandemic, she said, and it’s more likely in rural areas because they have less housing stock than urban areas.
She said a lot of rental stock was lost during the pandemic. Many people who were renting out their homes ceased renting and moved back into their homes during the pandemic, she noted.
Dr. Forchuk and her team are in year three of their four-year cross country homelessness study.
With the 15 months they have left, they’re looking to hear from as many communities as possible about the homelessness in their areas.
Specifically, they’re looking for more input from Indigenous communities.
One thing she did note was that Indigenous people are more likely to face homelessness than other demographics because of intergenerational trauma.
In general, she said, most people who experience homelessness experienced some kind of childhood trauma.
“You have to ask about trauma and abuse, particularly early childhood trauma and abuse. 100 per cent of people experiencing homelessness had some form of early childhood abuse. There very much is a relationship with those life experiences.”
In addition, substance is also very highly-correlated to early childhood abuse.
“Homelessness is truly a national problem. It’s everywhere.”
Dr. Forchuk has been working closely with the several federal government agencies (the Public Health Agency of Canada and Reaching Home) to work on generating more accurate national numbers on homelessness across the country. The research team, since Jan 2021, have travelled to 28 location across Canada to meet with organizations, community leaders and those with lived experience and now they are circling back to a large number of these communities to conduct separate forums in each community. The forums will outline some preliminary findings, and will allow the opportunity to come to the table and share some of their thoughts, ideas and concerns. The purpose of the project is to get a clear picture of the number of homeless people in Canada, who they are (in terms of age, genders, identifiable groups, etc.) to then help work towards more targeted services and more access to services.