Teaching Guide


A) Introduction to Homelessness
B) Historical and Structural Issues
C) Poverty
D) Health (Physical & Mental Health)
E) Rural Homelessness
F) Family Homelessness
G) Homelessness and the Criminal Justice System
H) Oppressions and Isms Affecting Homelessness
I) Political Action


This curriculum is designed to assist the instructor by providing an outline of a lesson plan through provision of an objective, suggested readings, speakers, classroom activities, assignments and general information about the topic.

Each unit can be delivered independently or can be presented as a complete package. Units can also be used in any combination to highlight specific areas or topics.

If you decide to teach all of the modules you will notice some duplication in terms of suggested readings, speakers or films. The issues surrounding homelessness are interconnected, so it is only natural that there is overlap. Some instructors may only teach one or two of the modules therefore this duplication ensures that everyone has access to the best resources for that particular topic.

Several activities and assignments are suggested within each module. Instructors may choose to select one or several depending upon the timeframe available to them, interest level of the class and personal knowledge base.

In most sections there is a lengthy reading list. You may decide to assign students only one or two readings, or even just the highlights from one of them. The other readings, however, may be useful in providing background for you as the instructor.

If planning to deliver all or many of the modules, an interesting assignment is to have students create a journal that combines analysis of the readings with personal reflection on the experiences of the class. Many students will have experienced some form of homelessness or poverty in their life, and this is a great way for them to deal with the emotions that come up.

When looking for additional background information there are several useful sources.

  • To get contact information for any community-based service in Toronto simply dial 211 and you will be connected with an operator who can provide this information, or go to www.211toronto.ca on the web.
  • Most towns have a similar information service that can connect you with people working on homeless issues in your town. Look for staff at homeless shelters, abused women’s shelters, outreach and drop-in centres, meal programs, and community health centres.
  • Staff may also be able to connect you with a homeless or formerly homeless person who participates in community speaking engagements. This is a sensitive area, and you must be careful in setting it up. Be sure to pay an honorarium in recognition of the individual’s time.
  • Depending upon where you live you may even find a friendly municipal politician, Member of Parliament or Member of Provincial Parliament.
  • Tip! Make sure you talk to the potential speaker before inviting them to attend. Find out where they stand on the issues, their point of view on homelessness, and even their speaking ability!

Useful websites include:

Toronto Disaster Relief Committee - www.tdrc.net

Housing Again - www.housingagain.web.ca

Income Security Advocacy Centre - www.incomesecurity.org

Ontario Coalition for Social Justice – www.ocsj.ca

Ontario Coalition Against Poverty - www.ocap.ca

Daily Bread Food Bank - http://www.dailybread.ca/

Homelessness Action Group - http://www.homelessness.on.ca/

Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario - http://www.acto.ca/


Canadian Housing and Renewal Association - http://www.chra-achru.ca/


The Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation - http://www.equalityrights.org/cera/


Raising the Roof – www.raisingtheroof.org


Homeless Research Virtual Library - http://www.hvl.ihpr.ubc.ca/


Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association - http://www.onpha.on.ca/


Shared Learnings on Homelessness - http://www.sharedlearnings.org/


Co-Op Housing Federation of Canada – http://www.chfc.ca

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A) Introduction to Homelessness


  • To provide students with a basic understanding and overview of homelessness, and the underlying issues that impact upon it, to address common myths and stereotypes, and to understand the continuum of homelessness.

Suggested Readings:

·        “Homelessness in Canada, Question and Answer”, Raising the Roof, by J. David Hulchanski. http://www.raisingtheroof.org/lrn-home-QandA-index.cfm  

  • NAPO’s Myths on Homelessness
  • General Fact Sheet on Homelessness – Raising the Roof - http://www.raisingtheroof.org/pdf/GeneralWelfare.pdf
  • Gimme Shelter!  Homelessness and Canada’s Social Housing Crisis, N. Falvo, 2003 (29 pages);
  • Chapter 1, pages 9-21 “Today’s Urban Homeless” from On the Street – How We Created Homelessness  - Barbara Murphy;


  • “From Street to Stability: A Compilation of Findings on the Paths to Homelessness and Its Prevention”, Final Report, June 2001, Raising the Roof - http://www.raisingtheroof.org/pdf/street2stability.pdf;
  • Chapter 1, Introduction: Finding Room in the Housing System for All Canadians by J. David Hulchanski and Michael Shapcott, in Finding Room: Options for a Canadian Rental Housing Strategy (eds. Hulchanski and Shapcott);
  • Chapter 14, Housing by Michael Shapcott, in Social Determinants of Health, edited by Dr. Dennis Raphael, July 2004.

Background Information:

Homelessness is a growing concern in communities across Canada, both large and small. The number of people without homes is very difficult to determine, but is at least 250,000 people a year across the country. In Toronto, over 30,000 people are homeless every year. Additionally, a huge number of people are under housed or at risk for homelessness because of abusive living situations, financial insecurity, immigration or refugee status, disability or health status and many other factors.

In urban centres homelessness is often very visible. Everyday people are seen sleeping on the sidewalks, huddled up on a park bench or panhandling for spare change from passers-by. Many more people live in shelters or motels, trying to survive from day-to-day.

In rural communities, homelessness tends to be more hidden, but is equally pervasive. Individuals stay with friends until they wear out their welcome, and lacking access to a local shelter may make their way to the nearest city.

According to Partners in Time, a research and consulting firm, male homelessness can be divided into three stages. During the first stage (which affects 70% of men), homelessness is generally short-term and last up to six weeks with the average shelter stay being two days.  These men are able to extricate themselves from their situation with minimal supports and help from shelter workers.

The second stage, which affects 24% of homeless men, are those who stay in shelters generally from six weeks to one year. They need support to get them through the crisis they are dealing with, and to get stabilized into housing.

The remaining 6% of men are chronically homeless, and have generally destabilized to a point that makes it difficult for them to ever be housed without a large amount of support. This group consumes a significant percentage of homeless resources.

The experience of youth and women (especially with children) varies from the experiences of men, but research hasn’t been done that would make that comparison. Anecdotal information suggests that women tend to stay at home longer; especially if they have children, and therefore are often in Stage 2 by the time they actually become homeless having already exhausted any possible resources.

General Information:

Students will often ask at this stage about the issue of panhandlers, or express discomfort with the fact that they often get asked for money on the street. Tell them “It is your right to choose whether or not to give money to any individual. What most homeless people appreciate however is to be acknowledged. Look them in the eye and say ‘sorry not today’. So many people just ignore them, or worse, so they usually appreciate that little bit of human interaction.”   This kind of message seems to have a significant impact on students, and many will try to implement it right away.


Much of this session can be done without any outside speakers; however, if one is desired than the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee has a Speaker’s Bureau that would be able to assist. If you’re outside of Toronto you can find a similar speaker through a local shelter. See the Overview section for more information.

Classroom Activities:

1) Who are the Homeless and Why?

Have students brainstorm (individually, in pairs or as a class) a list of words that they think describe homeless people in general. Tell them to feel free to bring up things that they don’t believe to be true necessarily but words that they have heard in the media, from family and friends or just generally in society.

This generally takes some prompting as the list will start out with niceties, and it takes some work to create a freedom to express stereotypes.

This list can be used in a few ways.

a)      If you as a teacher feel that you have a good understanding of the issue you can highlight some of the comments and refute them.

b)      You can keep this list and refer back to it over the course of the lessons and have students help determine what the accuracy of each statement is.

c)      See the second entry under Student Assignments for another idea.

2) Video – Shelter From the Storm

This award-winning film by Michael Connolly highlights the experience of the (eventually) over 100 people living at Tent City in Toronto. It also showcases the efforts of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, and other activists, to get Tent City residents housed.

The video is about an hour in length and provides an up-close and personal look into the lives and experiences of homeless people living in Toronto.

Allow at least 15 minutes for debriefing following the video, as it can stir the emotions of students.

3) Continuum of Homelessness

a) Draw the following on the board:

Absolute Homelessness ß---à Concealed Homelessness ß---à At Risk For Homelessness

b) Read/circulate the following descriptions:

  • Absolute Homelessness: someone who does not have access to their own safe and affordable housing.
  • Concealed Homelessness: people who do not have their own safe and affordable housing, but are not seen by most people as being homeless.
  • At Risk for Homelessness: people who are housed but are at extreme risk of becoming homeless at any given point.

c) Ask students to think of types of people who would fit into each category.

Answers may vary (and cross into more than one category) but could include:

  • Absolute Homelessness: people living on the streets, in cars, in tents, in shelters.
  • Concealed Homelessness: children in foster care, people in jail or other institutions, people doubling up with friends and family.
  • At Risk for Homelessness: children in foster care, people in jail or other institutions, people living in abusive situations, people paying more than 30% of their income on rent, people who are unemployed, underemployed or on social assistance, refugees.

4) Homeless Tour

This is a great chance to learn and observe more about homelessness than can ever be taught in a classroom. Encourage students to bring sandwiches, drinks, fruit, granola bars etc. and go on a walking tour. During the winter warm blankets, socks, mitts/gloves, hats and scarves are also most welcome.

There are agencies that are willing to assist with this or you can develop your own walk.  Contact a local homeless agency in your town and see if they would be willing to allow you to have a tour, or if they could provide you with information on the best places to go to serve food to people living outside.

Toronto tour - Suggested sites to visit:

Holy Trinity Church – beside the Eaton Centre: Site of the Homeless Memorial; a listing of well over 300 names of men, women and children who have lived and died on the streets of Toronto as a direct result of homelessness.

Toronto City Hall – 100 Queen Street West: This is especially poignant for a late afternoon/evening tour when many homeless people are setting up camp for the night outside the front doors of City Hall.

St. Michael’s Hospital – Queen and Victoria: St. Michael’s is the home to the Rotary Welcome Centre which assists homeless people who are patients in the emergency room. Also the site of Inner City Health project.

Shuter and Jarvis: From here you can see the Moss Park Armouries which housing activists would like to turn into affordable housing. On the southwest corner is Harbour Lights, an addiction treatment facility. On the northwest corner is a Homes First building, next to that is the Good Neighbour’s Club for homeless and under housed men, and next to that at 178 Jarvis is Hazelburn Co-op which is a federal co-op with mixed income housing.

St. Lawrence Market area: located south on Jarvis, just below Front Street is the St. Lawrence community. This neighbourhood includes social housing, co-ops, market rent apartments and condominiums. It is an example of how to create a mixed housing community that doesn’t isolate those living in affordable housing.

Student Assignments:

  • Journal reflection – Analysis of the readings and personal response.
  • Have each student take 2 or 3 of the words/phrases identified in the “Who are the Homeless and Why” exercise, and try to determine the accuracy of it. I.E. if one of the words was “men”, the student could try to find a statistic to determine how many within the homeless population are men. These can then be brought back and shared with the class.
  • Write a personal reflection (250-400 words) on the video “Shelter from the Storm.” Explore the feelings you had while watching the film. Do you think the residents of Tent City were treated fairly by the City? What is your reaction to the death of the homeless man at the end?

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B) Historical and Structural Issues 


  • To provide students with an understanding of the government policy issues that led to the crisis of homelessness in Canada. To explore the “homeless-making process” and how current decisions of the government perpetuate the cycle of poverty and houselessness.

Suggested Readings:

  • Chapter 1, Introduction: Finding Room in the Housing System for All Canadians by J. David Hulchanski and Michael Shapcott, in Finding Room: Options for a Canadian Rental Housing Strategy (eds. Hulchanski and Shapcott);
  • Chapter 14, Housing by Michael Shapcott, in Social Determinants of Health, edited by Dr. Dennis Raphael, July 2004;
  • Chapter 1, pages 9-21 “Today’s Urban Homeless” from On the Street – How We Created Homelessness  - Barbara Murphy;
  • Did the Weather Cause Canada’s Mass Homelessness? Homeless-Making Processes and Canada’s Homeless-Makers. Discussion Paper. David Hulchanski, TDRC Research Department, March 2000.  


This is a topic that requires someone with an intensive knowledge of homelessness and government policy issues. One of the best speakers on this topic is Michael Shapcott, Chair of the National Housing and Homelessness Network. Another option, depending upon location would be a politician with an understanding of the history of the impact of the cuts.

Classroom activities

  • Using the "homeless-makers" worksheet from Dr. David Hulchanski, pick a sector (such as "housing" or "employment" and work through the three categories ("homeless-making processes", "Pressures Towards Homelessness", and "Homeless-Makers"). Explain the connections between the processes, pressures and homeless-makers, then list some solutions to the specific homeless-making processes that you have identified. For instance, increasing welfare rates is one way to deal with the problems of homelessness caused by inadequate welfare payments. (this is also listed as a possible assignment).

Student Assignments:

·        Journal reflection – Analysis of the readings and personal response.

  • Write an essay on one of the issues that led to the increase in homelessness in Canada. What could the government have done differently? What should they do now to fix the problem?
  • Using the "homeless-makers" worksheet from Dr. David Hulchanski, pick a sector (such as "housing" or "employment" and work through the three categories ("homeless-making processes", "Pressures Towards Homelessness", and "Homeless-Makers"). Explain the connections between the processes, pressures and homeless-makers, then list some solutions to the specific homeless-making processes that you have identified. For instance, increasing welfare rates is one way to deal with the problems of homelessness caused by inadequate welfare payments.

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C) Poverty


To help students understand the ways in which poverty contributes to the issue of homeless. A look at some of the key forms of income – Employment Insurance, Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program, as well as the issue of minimum wage and the working poor.

Suggested readings: 

  • Research letter: “Income and spending patterns among panhandlers” by Rohit Bose, Stephen W. Hwang in Canadian Medical Association Journal, Sept 3rd 2002; 170 (8), pages 477-479;
  • Myth Busting Fact Sheet 1: Welfare Fraud from Income Security Advocacy Centre;
  • Fact Sheet: Minimum Wage from Income Security Advocacy Centre;


  • Two Fact Sheets from Pay The Rent and Feed the Kids campaign – “Welfare: Myth and Reality”, and “General Fact Sheet”;
  • Research Bulletin #4 – How much difference would the NCBS (National Child Benefit Supplement) “clawback” make to food bank families?, Daily Bread Food Bank, August 31st 2004. http://www.dailybread.ca/media/publications/Research%20Bulletin%204.pdf;
  • “Somewhere to Live or Something to Eat: Housing Issues of Food Bank Clients in the GTA”, Daily Bread Food Bank, August 2004, http://www.dailybread.ca/media/publications/Food%20Bank%20Housing%20Report.pdf;
  • Where's Home 2004: A Picture of Housing Needs in Ontario, Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association and Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada – Ontario Region;
  • CMHC 2004 national numbers;

·    CMHC 2004 Rental Market Surveys - Ontario and Northern Ontario.


Background Information:

The 2001 census from Statistics Canada shows that the average income for all tenant households in the province is $40,132. Most economists say that households should pay no more than 30% of their income on rent. That means that the average renter household in Ontario can afford to pay no more than $1,000 in rent.

However, averages can be deceiving. A few very high-income households can drag the average incomes higher. Therefore, it is important to move beyond averages and look at actual incomes. Statistics Canada has reported that in 1999, two-thirds of the province's 1.8 million renter households had annual incomes less than $31,000. That leaves them with $775 each month to pay rent.

The poorest one-third of Ontario renter households - more than 590,000 households - had an annual income of less than $17,000 annually. Based on the 30% calculation, these households could afford only $425 monthly.

Another group of poor households are the working poor - households where the income comes from minimum-wage jobs. The general minimum wage in Ontario (as of February of 2005) is $7.45 per hour. A worker with a full-time job would earn slightly more than $15,000 annually. They could afford a monthly rent of $375. The student minimum age is $6.95, which leaves them with an annual income of $14,500. Students can afford a monthly rent of $360.

It is important to compare the amount of money that low, moderate and average-income households and the working poor can afford to pay for monthly rent with the rents that most landlords are charging in Ontario. Average rents in Ontario vary throughout the province, with the overall provincial average rent of $846 and a high of $1,052 in Toronto.

High rents relative to actual incomes means that more of the household's money is going to shelter, and less is available for food, energy, transportation, clothing and other necessities. There are food banks in almost every part of the province as poor households are forced to spend all or most of their monthly income on shelter. Other charities – such as Share the Warmth - were set up to help low-income households with the increasing expensive cost of gas and electricity. Some households make up the difference between their income and the cost of rent by doubling up (two or more families in a small apartment).

General Information:

This is a good time to talk about welfare fraud. The Income Security Advocacy Centre has some great readings that examine this issue in greater depth. Compare the rate of welfare and corporate fraud. Help students understand just what constitutes fraud – a mom helping her grandchildren by giving them clothing every season, or parents providing Sunday night dinner to their son who is on welfare. Do students think this is fair? Would they commit or help someone else commit “fraud” if it meant the difference between starving and being homeless, and staying housed and fed?


Across the province campaigns are being organized about the claw back of the National Child Benefit. A speaker from one of these organizations would be an interesting addition to the class and would show the link between income and increased risk of homelessness.

Classroom activities:

1) Student panhandling

Send a few students out to panhandle for 15 or 20 minutes. This is best done in groups of three. One student should have a cell phone (with your number), and stand a short distance away to observe the other two.

Have the three people (or groups) report back to the class. What did they do (i.e. Where did they sit, did they have a sign, what did they say?) How much money did they make? Who gave it to them? What comments were made to them? What did the observer notice about reactions of passers-by?

2) Panhandling article

This is a good article to provoke some discussion. With college aged students there are likely to be a number who smoke cigarettes and who drink (likely some who use other substances but depending on your class may or may not be willing to admit to that). Is that their right? Have a discussion on the rights of an individual to choose what they spend their money on. Would they like to be told how to spend their money - for those who receive grants/loans from OSAP, bursaries, or even money from their parents, do they have to account for it?

3) Poverty Game

a) There are different types of poverty games. This one is called the Low Income Survival Exercise and comes from Life*Spin in London, ON. Minor changes have been made as outlined below. http://www.execulink.com/~life/programs/mediation/income.html

It’s important to try to make the case scenarios relevant to both your community, and the lessons to date. If you’ve talked about abused women for example, you could make one of the stories about a woman who was abused who fled her home and is now starting over. You should also look up and insert the costs for your community with regard to rent, bus passes, utilities etc.

The rent is particularly important. Look up average rents in your community either through CMHC or even just by looking at apartment listings.

Break students into pairs and give each pair one of the three scenarios. If time is short for discussion give everyone the same scenario.

b) Step One Instructions: Read over the scenario. Pay attention to the specific costs/expenses outlined.

Case One:

  • Sole-support mother with one child, a boy aged 7.
  • Her rent is $800.00 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. The apartment is in an area of the city that isn’t close to stores (she had little choice because this is where the lowest rents are) so she has to pay for bus fare to the store and back.
  • Her heat is included but she has to pay her own hydro, which is $55 per month.
  • She attended college some time ago and is now required to pay back $155 per month towards her student loans.
  • The family has a dog that needs a $350 operation. This dog has been with them since the child was born.
  • The child is expressing an interest in sports and the school has advised that he must have non-marking shoes, which cost $55.

The following is provided for information, don’t worry about calculating this for the moment.

  • The mother receives $200 in child support from the boy’s father but this is deducted dollar for dollar.
  • Recently social assistance discovered that an administrative error had produced an overpayment to her for $4000 and she is required to pay this back through an automatic 5% claw back from each monthly cheque.

Case Two:

  • Sole support father with two children, a girl age 6 and a boy age 9.
  • He was attending a Computer Programming Course at college but was forced to drop out in his third year when Ontario Works was implemented and he was told that OW participants are only allowed to attend school up to grade 12. He owes $13,000 in student loans and is required to pay back $140 per month.
  • The six year old is lactose intolerant and the 9 year old is diagnosed with a learning disability, and attends school 14 kilometres from their home.
  • They have one cat and a hamster.
  • The rent is $840 per month plus heat and hydro for a two-bedroom unit.
  • The father takes one night class a week for three hours and has to pay a babysitter $4/hour for the course time plus one hour of travel time.
  • He also has to perform 70 hours a month in workfare placement and is provided half the cost of a $98.75 bus pass each month in order to get to his placement.

Case Three:

  • Two parent family with three children ages 7, 10 and 13. The mother was employed part time as a bank teller to supplement family income but was recently laid off due to corporate downsizing (she was allowed to keep a percentage of her earnings through the STEP program which amounted to an extra $150 per month but this is now gone). She didn’t qualify for Employment Insurance.
  • The rent for a three-bedroom town house s $1055 per month. In the winter they pay $100 per month for heat, hydro is $60 per month year-round. They drive an old car that costs about $30 per week to run.
  • Recently, the husband was told that he needed to have dental work to remove his molars, which are abscessed, and have them replaces with dentures. He can get emergency dental coverage through Ontario Works for two teeth but only for the “relief of pain”. He can get half the cost of dentures covered through special assistance at the city but will have to find $1200 to make up the difference for the best estimate he has been able to get from a dentist (for the extraction and dentures).
  • The husband has other health problems, severe asthma and arthritis, which exempts him from the mandatory job search that all welfare recipients perform. He applied for a disability allowance, which would mean more money for the family but was turned down. The decision is presently under appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal.
  • The children, all boys, are interested in sports and it’s a constant battle to provide them with proper footwear, as they go through running shoes at a fast rate.

c) Step Two Instructions: Complete an estimated budget for the family based on information provided, your own experiences and/or best guesses.  A sample budget chart can be found here.

d) Step Three Instructions:

Have each pair report back the total of their monthly budget. Write this on the board (all Case Ones together, all Case Twos etc.).

If different case studies were assigned have one person from each of the case scenarios read their case aloud.

Now, using Schedule C tables calculate how much each family would have received from Ontario Works and compare the results.

e) Calculation Results: available here.

f) Discussion:

  • How do the students’ results compare? Was anyone close (in most cases they are not)?
  • Ask pointed questions about some of the scenario issues.
    • Did anyone in Case One kill the dog?
    • In Case Two who gave away the cat or hamster (or even fed the hamster to the cat?)
    • Did the father get dentures in Case Three?
  • Go through some of the areas of the budget and discuss them; what was allocated, what value the students put on each of the items etc. For example:
    • Did they budget for a telephone? Is it an essential if you have kids and/or if you’re looking for work?
    • Did they budget for insurance? (Many people on welfare don’t pay for insurance and so are hard hit by a tragedy like a fire).
    • Non-prescription medication (Many times parents will ensure that their children have medication but will go without for themselves).
    • Under “Food” it is helpful to calculate the rates for the Nutritious Food Basket developed by some public health departments. If the rate shows as a weekly rate multiply by 4.33 to calculate the monthly rate. Did the students budget enough to properly feed the family? In Toronto, the current rates for these scenarios (assuming parents are 25-49) are:
      • Case One:  $50.28/week x 4.33 = $217.71 monthly cost
      • Case Two: $80.05/week x 4.33 = $346.62 monthly cost
      • Case Three: $150.93/week x 4.33 = $653.53 monthly cost
    • Please note: Public Health in Toronto uses a more complicated formula to determine actual costs because the per person cost of feeding a smaller group of people is actually higher than feeding a larger group. You can choose whether or not to incorporate this extra step.
    • http://www.city.toronto.on.ca/health/pdf/nutritious_food_basket.pdf provides information on the Toronto basket.
  • Given that the majority of students will be over budget, discuss what they would take away. If they are $500 over, for example, can they come up with $500 in cuts?


Student Assignments:

  • Journal reflection – Analysis of the readings and personal response.
  • Have students review their own monthly budget. How do their expenses compare to what they would have available to them on social assistance? What would they choose to give up? Have them ask friends and family about this as well. What do others determine to be the priorities in their expense spending; what is necessary and what is a frill?
  • Compare the income that a household would receive from welfare or minimum wage with the costs of shelter in the annual rental market survey from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

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D) Health (Physical & Mental Health)


To create an understanding for students of the links between physical health and/or mental health and homelessness, both as a causative and resulting factor. To draw attention to epidemics prevalent in shelters including TB, bed bugs and influenza. To discuss the benefits of harm reduction programs including wet shelters and needle exchange programs. To examine the issue of deaths within the homeless population.

Background Information:

Health, both physical and mental, is an important issue to explore when looking at the topic of homelessness. It is extremely difficult to stay healthy while homeless. Conditions in many shelters, especially in large urban areas, do not meet the United Nations standards for refugee camps. The cramped, shared living space has led to outbreaks of influenza, tuberculosis, and bed bugs in Toronto shelters.

Many people believe that mental illness causes homelessness, however studies have shown this to be true in only 3% of cases. While many people on the streets may have a mental illness of some kind, it is not the causative factor in most cases. What is known however is that life on the streets is very difficult and tends to exacerbate any underlying mental health issues, therefore bringing them to light. Additionally, being homeless often causes symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in individuals. As a result, this PTSD makes it difficult for someone to find housing or employment for himself or herself.

Research by Dr. Hwang found that in Toronto there are an average of 2-4 deaths a week amongst the homeless population. The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee and the Church of the Holy Trinity maintain a memorial in honour of all those who have lived on the streets of Toronto and died as a direct result of homelessness. It has well over 300 names on it, and more are added on a monthly basis.

Suggested readings:

·        Commentary: “Dying in the shadows: the challenge of providing health care for homeless people” by James J. O’Connell. Canadian Medical Association Journal, April 13, 2004; 170 (8); 1251-1252;


a) In Toronto and area: The Dream Team – www.thedreamteam.ca - The Dream Team is a coalition of psychiatric consumers and other users of supportive housing, their family members, and representatives of the Boards for Mental Health Housing Services who demonstrate the life-altering benefits of supportive housing for people living with mental illness by telling their personal stories.

To make a booking for a Dream Team presentation or workshop, call the Dream Team office.

Hours: Monday - Thursday 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tel. 416-929-1919, Fax. 416-504-0239, Email: info@thedreamteam.ca

Donations to the members who speak are encouraged.

b) Street Nurses or Parish Nurses – Street nurses are health professionals who provide direct service to homeless people; either though outreach or a community health centre. In some communities, this person may be known as a Parish Nurse and be connected with a church organization as well. 

c) Needle Exchange Program – Your public health department or AIDS service organization likely has a needle exchange program of some sort. Have them come and talk about the implications of such a program, and how it can work to help people who are homeless.

d) Seaton House– In the Toronto area, arrange for a speaker from Seaton House’s Annex program to come and talk about the wet shelter and infirmary programs. If possible, arrange for a class tour of Seaton House so students can see the programs in action.

Classroom Activities

1) Film: “Street Nurse” - A powerful point-of-view documentary that explores the streets of Toronto through the eyes of Cathy Crowe, a woman who calls herself a “street nurse” because her patients live there.  Directed, written and produced by Shelley Saywell.

2) Film: “The Dream Team” – approx. 15 minutes - This is a short film that highlights the work of the Dream Team. It captures members’ own experiences as well as the advocacy/lobby work of the team. Contact the Dream Team to obtain a copy.

3) Naming the Deaths: If your town doesn’t maintain a list of names of homeless people who have died on the streets, obtain a copy of the Toronto list from the TDRC office tdrc@tdrc.net . Have students stand in a circle and read the names by passing the list from one to another (have them read all the names for one year, or one column depending upon numbers).  Have a minute of silence at the beginning and/or end for “all these names and all others unknown”. Hold a discussion afterwards that examines the increase in names in the mid-90s after housing was cancelled and welfare rates increased; explore the link between policy and results.

If in Toronto, students could also attend one of the monthly homeless memorial vigils. These are held on the 2nd Tuesday of each month, at 12noon at the Church of the Holy Trinity (10 Trinity Square, beside the Eaton Centre).

4) Harm Reduction: Have a debate/discussion amongst the students themselves about harm reduction.

a) Ask students to give their definition of homelessness. Especially if the discussions in class or readings look at needle exchange and wet shelters the definitions will probably focus on that area. Possible answers will likely include: "Providing education and support to help people with their addiction", "Meeting people where they are at", "Preventing harm caused by addictions".

b) Then ask students for some other types of harm reduction programs (not including those in shelters). If they can't come up with a list you may want to make a couple of suggestions to start them off. Traffic laws (i.e. speeding, red light cameras, photo radar, RIDE programs, drunk driving prohibitions, seat belts, and child safety seats) are a large area of harm reduction methods that few people think about because they are so ingrained in our culture. Others include helmets (motorcycle, bicycle, and hockey), condoms for safer sex, and smoking by-laws re: second hand smoke.

Ask students if they think a wet shelter is a good idea? Should we have needle exchange programs? Ask the students to divide themselves up according to those who support, those who are opposed and those who are neutral (but encourage them to pick a side). Let them each state their opinion, starting with the no side and moving to the yes side of the room. Indicate before the debate starts that each side/person is entitled to their own opinion and while persuasive arguments are welcomed there must also be respect.

Student assignments:

  • Journal reflection – Analysis of the readings and personal response.
  • A key reason why many households have so much trouble finding or maintaining affordable housing is income. They simply don't have enough money to afford to pay the rents. But some people face special challenges - physical or mental health issues that make it harder for people to find a place to call home. Identify two or three health issues that would prevent a person from getting or maintaining housing, then offer some suggestions on the type of housing that might meet their special needs.


  • There are many "supportive" housing projects throughout Ontario. Find out about supportive housing in your community by contacting your municipal housing department. Describe the project, its goals and its programs and how the housing project meets the special needs of its tenants.
  • If there are no supportive housing projects in your community, then check these out: The biggest supportive housing landlord in Canada is called Mainstay Housing and has a Web site at http://www.supportivehousing.ca. Another project in Toronto is called George Herman House and has its own Web site at http://www.georgehermanhouse.ca.  Using the resources on the Web, describe how a supportive housing project meets the special needs of its tenants.
  • Divide students into groups to do research on harm reduction and have them come to class prepared to debate the issue.

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E) Rural Homelessness


To help students understand the differences between rural homelessness and urban homelessness. Are there issues particular to people living in small communities? How do services differ in smaller communities?

Suggested readings:

  • “Homelessness, northern style”, National Post, by Ed Picco, Dec 3rd 2004;
  • “Hard to Reach: Rural Homelessness and Health” from Healing Hands;
  • Rural Homelessness”, NCH Fact Sheet #13, Published by the National Coalition for the Homeless, March 1999;
  • Rural Homelessness: The Problem”, Information sheet from the Housing Assistance Council.
  • Aboriginal Homelessness, Shannon Boneschansker, Ryerson University, December 2004.


  • The Homeless Maze from Cornerstone Community Association in Oshawa, ON.  http://www.homelessmaze.com/

    “The Homeless Maze is an award-winning interactive event.  It is a unique and powerful education tool that helps dispel the myths and stereotyping surrounding homelessness. The maze is a community economic initiative designed to create employment.  Through various sponsors and event hosts, income is generated for the individual role players, allowing them to move from basic survival to eventually living as full community members.  We believe in doing this we will begin to see a change in the way society views those who are homeless, including the homeless themselves.”
  • Shelter workers from smaller communities. Have them talk about the needs of their shelter and the issues of working in a smaller community.

Classroom activities:

Group Presentations (see Student Assignments).

Student Assignments:

·        Journal reflection – Analysis of the readings and personal response.


·        Group Presentation:

1.      Students will work as part of an interdisciplinary team to research homelessness in three areas of the world. Groups will select names of the areas from a list developed by the instructor.

2.      Each group will prepare a 10-15 minute presentation in order to share the knowledge they have gathered with the rest of the class.

3.      Each group should hand in one copy of a summary of the information gathered that answers the following questions:

a.       Is homelessness a problem in this area? If yes, how so and if no, why not?

b.      Are there services available for homeless people? What types?

c.       What issues, related to homelessness, exist in this area (i.e. poverty, high rental costs, minimum wage, unemployment)?

4.      Each individual member of the group will submit an evaluation of group members’ participation, and their own experience of group process.

Suggested cities (alter these as you desire. It’s good to reflect on current events in terms of local or international disasters that may have affected housing availability):

Group 1

Havana, Cuba (or Cuba as a whole)
Peterborough, ON
San Francisco, California

Group 5

Charlottetown, PEI
Oshawa, ON
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Group 2

St. John, New Brunswick
New Orleans, Louisiana

Group 6

London, England
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Buffalo, NY 

Group 3

Vancouver, BC
Barrie, ON
Sydney, Australia

Group 7

Butte, Montana
Iqaluit, Nunavut
Beijing, China

Group 4

New York, NY
Medicine Hat, Alberta
Baghdad, Iraq

Group 8

Paris, France
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Hamilton, ON

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F) Family Homelessness

Coming soon

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G) Homelessness and the Criminal Justice System

Coming Soon

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H) Oppressions and Isms Affecting Homelessness




To examine some of the systemic and personal issues that can increase an individual’s risk of becoming homeless, or add to their difficulties in exiting the street.

Suggested Readings:



These could include representatives of agencies working directly with women, Aboriginal communities, refugees and immigrants, communities of colour and/or LGBT communities, who could talk about the specific issues their clients face.


Classroom Activities:


1) Brainstorming ISMs

a)      As a class or in groups, brainstorm a list of issues that affect someone’s ability to get off the streets once homeless, or that may have led to the original homelessness. These could include homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, addictions, mental illness etc.

b)      Discuss the impact that each of these would have and ways to address them.


2) Knapsack of Housing Privilege

a)      Discuss the article “Unpacking the Knapsack of White Privilege”. Make sure students have an understanding of the meaning of privilege, and the different ways people are affected by it.

b)      Break into groups of two to four students. Create a list of “housing privilege” issues. What opportunities do they have as housed individuals that people who are homeless do not? Discuss in a large group. (If you’ve done the Brainstorming ISMs exercise, students might be able to refer to that to identify some of the challenges street living provides).

c)      Answers will range from “having a roof, electricity, access to food, warmth to being able to have a boyfriend/girlfriend over, making my own schedule etc.”.

d)      Ask students to identify which one is most important to them. Then ask which one they are willing to give up.


3) Meaning of Home

a)      Ask students to rip a sheet of paper into five pieces.

b)      On each piece they should identify one item that represents what home means to them (using only one or two words).

c)      Discuss some of these as a large group. (Ideas will likely be similar to the knapsack activity).

d)      Ask students to identify which slip of paper contains the item that is of least importance to them. Have them crumple it up (and ideally throw in to a large garbage can).

e)      Then tell the student next to them to randomly grab one of the slips and throw it out.

f)        Identify a few items and tell students that they need to throw out their slips if they contain anything you mention (i.e. food, warmth, TV, computer).

g)      You can keep going on this, taking away different slips until all are gone, or leave them with one or two.

h)      Discuss in the class how it felt to see prioritized areas slip away.

i)        Remind the class that for most homeless people this is what happens, and is often in fact why they are on the street. Homeless people by and large have lost their friends and families, and all of the things that they had previously identified as being part of “home” for them.


Student Assignments:

  • Journal reflection – Analysis of the readings and personal response.
  • Interview 5-10 family members, friends or classmates about their sense of home. What are the most important issues for them? Create a chart that shows the areas of similarity and difference.

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I) Political Action


To provide students with information about ways in which they can create change, individually or collectively, using various methods of political action and civil disobedience. To discuss different techniques including postcards, posters, petitions, deputations, lobbying, rallies, and media.

Background Information:

In Canada, which is a liberal democracy, important decisions are made by politicians at the federal, provincial and municipal levels. While the exact processes are different at different levels and in different areas, there are a couple of important similarities.

All levels of government have annual budgets (at the federal level, the budget is usually released in late February or March; in Ontario it usually comes in April or May; and in most municipalities, the budgets are released soon after the start of the year). The budgets contain the annual spending on all government operations, including income assistance and housing programs. The budgets also set out capital (long-term) spending on new roads, buildings and other permanent projects.

Most government policies and programs are made through legislation. At the federal and provincial level, new laws are called "bills" when they are introduced. The bills always receive two "readings" (that is, two votes) and sometimes there are public hearings by special committees. Sometimes there are changes (called amendments) made to the bills when they come for third and final reading. Once a bill is passed, it is called a law. Bills and laws are listed on the Web sites of the federal and provincial governments. There is a similar process at the municipal level, except that the new legislation, once it is passed, is usually called a "by-law".

Advocates who want to influence politicians and the government concentrate a lot of effort on making sure that the annual budgets reflect their spending priorities (such as more money for affordable housing programs). They also try to get new laws that will help the poor and homeless. Sometimes, advocates try to stop laws that they think will make the situation worse for the poor and homeless.

There are many ways to directly or indirectly influence the political process. The Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare has an excellent guide that offers help on everything from writing letters to face-to-face meetings and using the media. Other groups have lobby materials on their Web sites.

Here are some of the "tools" available to groups that want to lobby politicians:

·    letter-writing campaigns

  • telephone, fax or e-mail campaigns
  • face-to-face meetings with politicians or government officials
  • media campaigns (to indirectly influence politicians).

There are many important dates on the political calendar that are important times to lobby politicians, including:

  • the time when politicians and officials are preparing budgets
  • the Speech from the Throne (the official opening of a new federal or provincial legislative session)
  • committee hearings when important legislation is being considered
  • the time leading up to federal, provincial or municipal elections.

Suggested readings:

  • Media Relations Training Information, Tanya Gulliver, 2002.
  • How to Do A Deputation at City Hall, Tanya Gulliver, 2001.
  • Petition Summary
  • Pay the Rent and Feed the Kids Cookbook


  • Ontario Coalition for Social Justice (or a local coalition): The OCSJ staff person is often available to come talk about the work of the OCSJ. While the presentation may focus on a specific topic area they should be able to explain how the various types of actions link to the campaign.
  • Local politician (at any level): to discuss the issues of homelessness and what they are doing about solving the issues.
  • Reporter: In some towns there are reporters designated to cover issues such as homelessness, poverty, or local government issues. They could talk to the class about both the issues, and how they cover it for their paper/radio/TV station. They could also explain more about the media process itself.

Classroom activities:

1) Planning Actions:

  • Break the students into groups of 3-5 people.
  • Distribute the scenarios and have them discuss and respond. (They can do one or several depending upon your time frame). Change Toronto-centric names to ones in your city in the case scenarios).
  • Discuss in a large group the various reactions and the plans of action.

Case Scenario #1

A group of squatters has set up an encampment under the bridge at Lakeshore and Spadina. You receive word that the police have moved in and are evicting them. Many of the squatters are youth, including a pregnant teen. You work as an Outreach Worker at a Community Health Centre.

  • How would this make you feel?
  • What types of activities would you engage in – immediately, long-term?


Case Scenario #2

You live in a neighbourhood with a number of homeless people, although not significantly high. You learn that there is going to be a new transitional housing project built in your community. You hear word of a public meeting, but in talking to some of your neighbours realize that most people are against the project moving forward. One says “I don’t want rapists, murderers and pedophiles moving into my neighbourhood.”

  • How would this make you feel?
  • What types of activities would you engage in – immediately, long-term?


Case Scenario #3

You’re a student at Ryerson. You notice that there are always a number of homeless people asking for change in the area. Now you see that several of them are starting to spend the nights in the doors or along the side of the building. You hear from some of them that while the administration and campus security haven’t tried to move them (yet) other students are harassing them on a regular basis.

  • How would this make you feel?
  • What types of activities would you engage in – immediately, long-term?


Case Scenario #4

You read a column in your local paper that quotes a city councillor as saying, “Let’s sweep homeless people off the street. It doesn’t matter if they want to go – take them to a hostel, to a Detox centre or to jail. They are filth and don’t belong on the streets of this city.”

  • How would this make you feel?
  • What types of activities would you engage in – immediately, long-term?


2) Imaginary Action Campaign

Expanding from the above scenarios, have the students actually develop the ideas further. If they decided that they would do a poster campaign – have them make the poster. If they were going to hold an event have them write a press release.

3) Real Campaign

Is there an issue in your city that needs attention? Have your students work together to implement an action campaign. Use a few of the different tools provided. You could organize a school food drive – create posters, set-up an information table and drop-off area, have a petition for students to sign or a brochure with information about hunger and poverty.

Student Assignments:

·     Journal reflection – Analysis of the readings and personal response.

  • Letter to the Editor: Bring in a few current articles about homelessness. Using the Letter to the Editor template in the assigned readings, have students write a letter to a local paper commenting on the article. If you can get the Toronto Sun, City Hall columnist Sue-Ann Levy often has controversial commentary about homeless issues.
  • Letter to Politician: Based on your research on housing and homelessness, put together a letter to your local Member of Parliament, or Member of Provincial Parliament, or municipal politician. In your letter, introduce yourself and explain your interest in the issue. Set out your concern, make some suggestions for solutions and then ask for a response in writing from the politician. You can also consider asking for a meeting with the politician to discuss your concern in more detail.

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