Beyond Shelter: Unraveling the Multi-Faceted Housing Crisis in Canada 

Eddie Sheppard

Eddie Sheppard

In partnership with the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), we undertook a series of one-on-one interviews with professionals serving vulnerable populations to delve into the repercussions of the housing crisis, particularly on Canada’s homeless community. Between October 30 and December 15, 2023, we engaged in discussions with 15 individuals from the shelter and housing services sector. Our aim was to gain insights into the hurdles and obstacles confronting some of Canada’s most at-risk groups as they seek access to housing. 

This exploration delves into the intricate landscape of the housing crisis and its profound impact on support services. As demand soars and resources strain, providers are forced to adapt, recognizing the pressing need to assist clients within limitations. From burnout in shelters to addressing resource gaps and advocating for homelessness eradication, each perspective unveils a critical facet of the urgent housing crisis. 

Magnification of the Housing Crisis and Its Impact on Support Services 

The widening impact of the housing affordability and accessibility crisis in Canada is fostering heightened collaboration and dialogue within the housing support sector, as the broader community feels its effects. The surge in demand for housing support services and emergency shelters has prompted a more adaptable approach, acknowledging the growing need with available resources. This crisis magnification has placed immense pressure on housing support services, compelling providers to adopt a flexible stance in assisting as many clients as possible despite limited resources. Shelters nationwide recognize the deficiency in resources, highlighting the crucial link between secure and stable housing and the mental health progress of their clients. The overarching narrative is one of a housing crisis reaching unprecedented levels, necessitating a nimble response from support services to address the pressing demand and underscore the pivotal role of stable housing in enhancing well-being. 

Resource Challenges and Worker Burnout in Shelters 

Shelter workers grapple with a critical challenge — an acute shortage of resources and budget constraints. The struggle includes insufficient space, beds, staff, and financial means to address the growing demand for services. Some shelters, acting as landlords, operate at a loss, posing sustainability challenges in providing effective housing services. 

Limited financial resources exacerbate the struggle to retain staff, with demanding workloads and often inadequate salaries contributing to high turnover. The thankless nature of the job, with frustrated clients directing their grievances at frontline staff, compounds the challenge. 

Staff shortages and budget constraints force housing support workers to handle caseloads far beyond the norm, sometimes up to ten times their expected capacity, leading to widespread burnout in the sector. Amidst burnout, workers also grapple with compassion fatigue, navigating the difficult task of prioritizing services and making tough decisions due to limited resources. The inevitable outcome is triaging clients based on the severity of their situations, despite the initial instinct to provide equal support to all. 

Addressing Resource Gaps in Housing Support: A Call for Collaboration 

Tackling the resource gaps in housing support demands urgent attention as a long-term solution to the current crisis and the challenges faced by support workers. Many shelters lack the necessary resources to efficiently assist those in need, and obtaining government support and funding remains a significant hurdle despite housing support workers’ eagerness for improvements. 

Advocates stress the need for increased social services and benefits that better align with the current housing market and goals. The pandemic’s impact on mental health necessitates additional support to prevent it from becoming a barrier to sustaining housing. 

Recognizing the importance of improving the supply of affordable rental units, efforts should focus not only on constructing additional units but also addressing the issue of units remaining unfilled.  

Ultimately, effective implementation requires a holistic and collaborative approach to end homelessness. This involves aligning goals with other housing support providers, addressing various social determinants such as mental health, addictions, and violence, and working collectively towards sustainable solutions. 

Challenges in Advocating for Homelessness Eradication 

Acknowledging the pivotal role of policy and advocacy in ending homelessness in Canada, housing support workers recognize the inherent challenges in leading such initiatives. The fragmented nature of support providers adds complexity to the task of unifying the group and advocating for cohesive priorities. Federalism, multi-jurisdictional barriers, and incoherent and inconsistent policy frameworks make progress more challenging. 

Many advocate for the establishment of a basic income program and the imposition of rental rate limits to address challenges faced by individuals at risk of homelessness. In a survey that we conducted for CREA in September 2023, we found that close to 1.8 million Canadian adults who are currently housed worry about becoming homeless in the next year. This mindset is reflected in the views and stories shared by those on the front line. 

A significant concern raised involves the inaccessibility of funding initiatives from provincial and federal governments for front-line organizations. Despite these initiatives directly supporting those experiencing homelessness, organizations find the funds inaccessible. The added challenge of spending on consultants for unsuccessful applications further hampers the ability of organizations, well aware of problems and potential solutions, to effectively serve their clients. 

The Upshot 

As the housing crisis continues to impact people across the country, the imperative for collaboration and dialogue within the housing support sector becomes increasingly evident. The surge in demand for housing support services has created the need to embrace a flexible approach, adapting to the growing need with available resources. However, the crisis places immense pressure on housing support services, with shelters recognizing the deficiency in resources and emphasizing the critical link between secure housing and mental health progress. 

Resource challenges and worker burnout in shelters present a critical issue, as insufficient space, staff, and budget constraints strain the ability to meet the growing demand for services and to truly help those in need. Addressing resource gaps becomes paramount, emphasizing the need for government support and increased social services to align with housing market goals. 

Efforts to improve the supply of affordable rental units are crucial, requiring a holistic and collaborative approach to end homelessness. Advocacy for policy changes, including standardized basic income and rent control, is essential, yet the fragmented nature of support providers poses challenges. 

Overall, the outcomes of this qualitative research illuminate an intricate and pressing scenario that demands immediate attention and concerted efforts. The housing crisis has escalated to unprecedented levels, necessitating a prompt response to address the urgent demand and emphasize the crucial role of stable housing in improving the overall well-being and quality of life for Canadians. The necessity for resources, collaboration, and advocacy is evident, and the outlook depends on a united commitment to formulating sustainable solutions for individuals facing the challenges of homelessness in Canada. The path forward relies on our collective dedication to providing stable housing for those contending with homelessness challenges in Canada. Together, we can make a enduring impact and shape a future where housing stability becomes a reality for everyone. Take action now for a better tomorrow. 


Engaging in one-on-one in-depth interviews, we gathered insights from 15 professionals dedicated to serving vulnerable populations throughout Canada. It’s essential to note that this study is qualitative in nature, making it impractical to calculate a margin of error. Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that the outcomes may not accurately represent the perspectives of all Canadians, as the findings stem from a specific subsample of individuals. This select group offers valuable insights, but it’s crucial to interpret the results within the context of this qualitative approach, acknowledging its inherent limitations in providing a comprehensive overview of the diverse viewpoints across the entire Canadian population. 

This research was paid for by the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). 

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