About homelessness


Québec’s national policy to fight homelessness – Together to avoid and get off the street (Politique nationale de lutte à l’itinérance – Ensemble pour éviter la rue et en sortir) defines homelessness as being “a process of social disaffiliation and a situation of social exclusion characterized by a person’s difficulty in having a stable, safe, adequate and healthy home due to a lack of housing or his or her inability to maintain one and, at the same time, in maintaining functional, safe and stable relationships in the community. Homelessness is explained by a combination of social and individual factors that constitute the life experience of men and women”.

According to this definition, homelessness is a process that causes someone to live increasingly on the fringes of society. This process is called “social disaffiliation”. It is this gradual withdrawal caused by an accumulation of events in the course of a person’s life that leads him or her to break ties with the people and resources.

Homelessness is characterized by the inability to have or keep a home. A home is more than just a shelter. It is a place where one feels comfortable and protected. It is one’s own place, a place that others recognize as such. It is a place where one goes to rest and find privacy. Some people have no home. Such is the case, for instance, for people with no fixed address. It is also the case for people who live in unsafe or very unstable housing conditions. These people can end up living on the street or temporarily in a shelter or with people they know.

Homelessness is also characterized by difficulty in maintaining relationships with others and participating actively in society. The feeling of having a home surpasses the fact of having a place to live. It is a feeling that is at the core of a person’s needs and helps him or her to feel good and develop self-esteem and self-confidence. This encourages participation in society and in relationships with those around him or her. Not having a home is much more than just being without shelter for the night.

Types of homelessness

The duration and frequency of homelessness varies according to people and factors that lead to that situation.

There are generally 3 types of homelessness:

  • Situational homelessness: A situation in which people are temporarily without a place to live but who manage to find one after experiencing some time without shelter. This is the most common type of homelessness
  • Cyclical homelessness: A situation in which people alternate between periods of having a place to live and living on the street
  • Chronic homelessness: A situation in which people have not had a place to live for a long period of time. This is the most visible type of homelessness. Although less common than situational homelessness, it generates a lot of interventions and significant social costs

Places where homelessness exists

Homelessness is a phenomenon that mainly affects large and mid-size urban areas. Montreal has the highest concentration of homeless people in Québec. Homelessness can also be found in cities that are far from major centres and experience rapid economic growth, like Sept-Îles and Val-d’Or. There is a shortage of housing, people’s lifestyles change and the gap between the rich and the poor widens. As such, building a united community is more difficult.

The reality of homeless people is very similar from one place to another. However, the environment in which they live and the services available to them can vary greatly. The stakes are different in major urban centres, where the concentration of homeless people is higher. There are challenges in terms of services available to the homeless, public safety, coexistence and sharing of public places.

Risk factors

It is often the accumulation and interaction of many factors that can lead someone to experience homelessness.

The risk factors of homelessness can be:

However, not everyone who presents with these risk factors will necessarily end up homeless.

Social factors

The main social risk factors for homelessness are the following:

  • Poverty
  • Difficulty or inability to access clean, safe and affordable housing
  • Social isolation
  • Difficulty reintegrating into the community after spending time in an institution (hospital, prison, etc.)

Individual factors

Certain factors particular to individuals and their life trajectories can lead to homelessness. The main individual risk factors are the following:

  • Having already experienced homelessness
  • Psychological problems, including a fragile mental health
  • Physical health problems
  • Intellectual or physical deficiency
  • Addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling
  • Isolation
  • Certain life events, such as:
    • Bereavement
    • Family problems
    • Separation (a breakup or estrangement from one’s community, for example)
    • Physical and psychological negligence
    • Abuse
    • Repetitive stays in protection and rehabilitation services for youths in trouble of adaptation or foster families during childhood
    • Running away from home repeatedly
    • Dropping out of school
    • Domestic violence or sexual assault  

Supporting someone who is at risk of becoming homeless

You can support people at risk of becoming homeless.

If you know someone at risk, there are several measures you can take.

Measures to take

  • Show empathy to the person in difficulty; show him or her that you are able to put yourself in his or her shoes and understand what he or she is going through. Avoid preaching or telling the person what you would do in his or her place.
  • Make sure the person has someone to confide in. If possible, offer to listen to him or her.
  • If possible, offer the person your support. Your support is particularly important if the person is in a period of transition. Here are a few examples of transitional periods:
    • Has recently been released from a health and social services institution or prison
    • Has lost a job
    • Has gone bankrupt
    • Has separated, especially if it is a woman who has just escaped domestic violence 
  • Encourage the person to visit an organizations. Organizations can inform people in difficulty and support them in their efforts, such as by helping them escape poverty. They can, for example:
    • Inform people in difficulty about available financial aid
    • Offer training that teaches them how to be financially independent
    • Help them access the job market

Help and resources

Help is available at all times for:

  • Homeless people or those at risk of becoming homeless
  • Those who are close to the above-mentioned

Whether you are homeless or close to someone who is, here is a list of resources for information or services.

Resources for help and support 

Resources for care and services

Last update: February 23, 2023


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