We began this introductory chapter by inviting you to join in a dialogue about homelessness in Canada. Whether this was the first time you have considered homelessness in a critical way or whether you have experience of homelessness directly or indirectly, through work or volunteering, we hope that you found this chapter informative and engaging.

At the start of the chapter, we introduced you to the composite characters John, Tasha, and Raoul, who were each experiencing homelessness in their own unique way. The scenarios were presented as an entry point into thinking about the complexity of homelessness. We returned to these individuals’ stories again at the end to demonstrate how they can help us understand the foundational concepts of being trauma-informed, person-centred, socially inclusive, and situated within the social determinants of health as critical for understanding homelessness in Canada 

We then asked you to consider three questions along the way, with the guidance of leading homelessness researchers. 

First¬†we asked,¬†‚ÄúWhat is homelessness?‚ÄĚ Here we¬†learned that homelessness is not an unusual state but rather something that happens to human beings. We were reminded to always begin our thinking with the understanding that¬†first and foremost, we are talking about people with human rights. We explored the¬†different types of homelessness, the reasons it occurs, and the Canadian definition of homelessness, which includes people who are at-risk.¬†

Next¬†we asked,¬†‚ÄúHow do we know what we know about homelessness?‚ÄĚ This led us to answers about¬†the importance of research, evaluation, and collecting¬†data in ways such as¬†through shelter usage, health administration¬†records, and¬†point-in-time counts.¬†Each of these methods provides information on the scope of homelessness in Canada.¬†In this section we also discussed the¬†critical importance of listening to people with lived experience,¬†in a¬†way that¬†authentically¬†recognizes and¬†respects their contribution¬†of¬†knowledge.¬†

Finally¬†we asked,¬†‚ÄúWhy does homelessness prevention matter?‚ÄĚ In this final section, we looked at how we could reorganize our homelessness responses better by shifting towards prevention. We heard that homelessness is a traumatizing experience that has long-lasting negative impacts, and that the longer a person remains unhoused, the harder it is to move back out of homelessness. Many of the researchers questioned why we keep a system that makes people go through trauma before it steps in to help them. Instead, a framework for the prevention of homelessness was proposed as a new way of thinking and acting across public sectors. Despite the challenge of being difficult to measure, prevention was lauded as a new way forward for the good of individuals and society as a whole.¬†

This introductory chapter is an important first step into understanding homelessness in Canada and we thank you for joining us along the way. We look forward to seeing you again soon, as we continue to explore a new set of seemingly simple questions with complex answers in the chapters that follow. 


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Understanding Homelessness in Canada Copyright © 2022 by Kristy Buccieri, James Davy, Cyndi Gilmer, and Nicole Whitmore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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