Homelessness is surging in Canada, leaving tens of thousands of individuals unable to afford rental and real estate prices, and forcing them to live on the streets of this affluent nation.
Researchers caution that government data significantly underestimates the true number of homeless individuals across the country, as this social issue extends beyond major cities and into small towns.
In September, a new report revealed that in Quebec, half of the homeless population can now be found in rural areas of the eastern province, rather than primarily in Montreal as was previously the case.
Danny Brodeur-Cote, a janitor with disheveled brown hair, has been residing in a makeshift camp near a cemetery in Granby, a town of 70,000 inhabitants located 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of Montreal. He was evicted from his rented apartment in June, along with his girlfriend.
Pushing a shopping cart to the campsite, Brodeur-Cote, 39, shared, “I work five days a week. What little housing there is, is much too expensive.”
In close proximity to his camp, a park has been transformed into a makeshift encampment that houses people of all ages, including some who are employed, like Brodeur-Cote.
According to the Quebec government report, nearly one in four homeless individuals became homeless due to eviction from their previous housing.
Karine Lussier, the director of a local anti-poverty organization, asserts, “In Granby alone, we need at least 1,000 affordable housing units.”
Between 2018 and 2022, the number of homeless people in Quebec increased by 44 percent, reaching 10,000 last year. Indigenous people are especially overrepresented among the homeless population, particularly the Inuit, despite representing only five percent of the Canadian population, according to Lussier.
Mayor Julie Bourdon admitted, “Visible homelessness did not exist three years ago in Granby.” She acknowledged that rents have significantly increased over the past two years.
Rather than dismantling the camps and relocating the occupants, the city of Granby decided to maintain what it refers to as “places of tolerance.”
Mayor France Belisle of Gatineau, a city of nearly 300,000 inhabitants across the river from the capital Ottawa, fears that the current situation may only represent the tip of the iceberg, as the figures were compiled a year ago.
With the rising cost of living and rampant inflation this year, Belisle is concerned that the situation is much worse than recent statistics indicate. People are struggling to make ends meet, she emphasizes.
Quebec, the second-most populous province in Canada, is grappling with a severe housing shortage due to various factors, including the pandemic and record immigration, which have driven up population numbers and fuelled demand.
The escalating real estate prices have become a major topic of discussion in recent months, placing pressure on governments to prioritize housing and cost of living concerns.
However, Quebec is not the only province facing this dilemma; homelessness is spiraling across the entire country, according to experts.
University of Western Ontario professor Cheryl Forchuk highlights that government data estimates approximately 235,000 homeless individuals in Canada, but this only includes those who access shelters. Forchuk, along with Belisle, fears that the actual figure is much higher.
“We are significantly underestimating the number…we could potentially triple the current federal estimates,” Forchuk warns.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau conceded in September, “We now find ourselves in a situation where even well-off people have difficulty with housing.”
Quebec leader Francois Legault has described the crisis as a “perfect storm,” asserting that it is unacceptable for a wealthy and modern society.
Karine Lussier believes that getting off the streets without assistance is virtually impossible. She states, “We are outraged, sad, and angry because for years we have been warning that we are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.”
While still hopeful of finding affordable accommodations, Brodeur-Cote continues to bathe in a nearby river daily before work. Uncertain of what the upcoming winter months will bring, he confesses, “I never asked my parents for a penny, except three months ago.”