Homelessness During the Holidays

Canada has a very big problem with homelessness, especially in big urban cities like Vancouver and Toronto. There is no exact number known for how many people experience homelessness during the year, but the estimate is between 150,000 and 300,000 people. Even though there are more and more organizations working to decrease these numbers by providing resources, shelter and donations to the homeless population, there isn’t nearly enough being done to accommodate every person who is currently living on the street.

The Stigma

There is a huge stigma around homelessness in Canada. The assumption is that homeless people have put themselves in situations where they acted irresponsibly in a way that resulted in financial peril and forced to live on the streets. People think that if they had made better life choices, this wouldn’t be their reality. However, this is far from true. A study found that one-third of the homeless population suffered from some sort of mental illness that is functionally impairing. With a lack of resources available to help treat these illnesses, like medication or therapy, the ability for people with these mental illnesses to hold down a job and live on their own is extremely difficult. Aside from mental illness, things like socioeconomic disadvantage, the increased price of housing, and other social factors such as lack of social support and alienation, none of which are a choice, can result in homelessness.

The Winter Months

During the winter months especially, living on the street can turn into a matter of survival. Without a place for shelter, the sub-zero temperatures that Canada experiences during these months can be brutal for anyone on the streets. In harsh winter conditions, the risk of weather-induced health problems, like hypothermia and frostbite, skyrockets. Research done by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that, in the winter of 2018, at least 78 homeless people died on the streets because of weather conditions. This claimed to average out to at minimum two deaths a week.

The two major problems that homeless people face during this time of year is the lack of shelter and the lack of winter clothes. Without these things, especially during the cold winter months, life can be extremely hard. But there are many ways to help:

1. Donate money or time to shelters or programs ​

There are lots of homeless shelters and programs that offer food and shelter to homeless people during the winter holidays. Donating money can help fund blankets, food and other services for people during the holidays, and can even be put towards the expansion of these facilities so they can house more people. Donating time during the holidays is also a great option for people looking to get more personally involved in this cause. Many shelters have lots of volunteer opportunities for serving food, community involvement and much more that all goes towards making the lives of the homeless better. 

2. Donate clothes

Winter clothes are very expensive and are usually not a purchasing option for many homeless people. Donating any old clothes, especially old jackets, can be extremely useful for someone else. Sweaters, socks, pants, jackets and other winter items can go along way for people who are on the streets during the winter months, providing life-saving warmth. 

There are usually clothing donation boxes around big cities, and smaller organizations (both local and global) that will take clothing donations and give them to a person in need. For volunteering, look online in your local area for shelters and organizations that offer donation and volunteer opportunities!