Invisible Homelessness

To understand how a mom with a newborn and a toddler can end up living in their car in a place like Canada in 2024, we must first understand how we see poverty and the lines that define it.

Our current system doesn’t reflect the cost of living per capita when determining these poverty cut-off lines, therefore leaving thousands of Mamas in the Okanagan at a disadvantage due to their perceived adequate income as compared to a national average. This is compounded by pervasive misunderstandings of accessibility, affordability and eligibility for subsidised/low-income housing.

The income line is too low for most to be eligible, and when they are eligible the waitlists can span years. As we know, the interim options available for $1000 a month are akin to relative homelessness.

In addition, as of 2021 (the most recent year of available data) child poverty in Canada is an ever-increasing concern, with about 17% of children, equating to over 1 million, living in poverty. This represents an increase from 15% in 2020, driven by inflation, the reduction of pandemic-related income supports, and the insufficiency of the Canada Child Benefit to meet the needs of all low-income families (UNICEF Canada).
Moreover, single-parent households are especially vulnerable, with 47% of children in such households living in poverty– these children face heightened risks of housing and food insecurity, consistent with trends observed historically in regions like British Columbia, where about 50% of children from lone-parent households have lived in poverty (Made in CA).

Rising inflation and mortgage rates have significantly contributed to the increase in child poverty and hidden homelessness in Canada. The rising cost of living, particularly food and housing, has exacerbated financial pressures on families. To put it simply, higher mortgage rates have increased housing costs, leading to a surge in housing insecurity. This situation forces many families to compromise on basic needs or face homelessness. Hidden homelessness—where individuals or families live in temporary or precarious housing situations—has become more prevalent, further impacting children’s well-being and stability (UNICEF Canada; Made in CA).

And to be clear, we are not only concerned with those who fall under the poverty line. Families who fall just above the poverty lines making approximately $40,000 before tax for a family of 4 (making $20 an hour) leads to not qualifying for federal and many provincial poverty relief subsidies. They also don’t make enough to get by despite working full-time. With the market value of rentals and the cost of basic food staples in the Okanagan, for example, the low-income threshold is closer to $68,000 for the household. There are few supports for those falling between poverty and an income conducive to prosperity. These are those facing relative poverty and comprise most of the invisible homeless population.

There are those facing homelessness that you see and those you don’t. The hundreds of Mamas we serve with homelessness support every year are those you don’t see.
Those you see are generally considered the “absolute homeless”. Those you don’t, or those invisible homeless, fall under the umbrella of relative homeless.
Mamas, Caregivers, Papas and Families often fall into the latter category and are more often than not, outwardly invisible in their struggle. They still go to work full time, the kids still go to school, they shower at a local gym, and wash clothes at a laundromat. They just can’t afford $3000 a month for housing, and if they can it’s usually not for longer than a month after paying the deposit plus first/last month’s rent.

It’s uncomfortable to know there are moms and their babies/kids sleeping cramped up in their cars, often in the parking lot of the grocery store just down the street from you.
It’s uncomfortable to know that the shelters are generally full and the wait lists for many subsidized housing units are years long.
It’s uncomfortable to know that moms often stay in unsafe domestic situations because they believe there is no other option. It’s uncomfortable to know many people return to unsafe situations after trying to leave because they feel there is nowhere left to go.

It’s also uncomfortable to know about all of this, because you may feel helpless to do anything. You’re not though. Neither are we.
We know better, so we get to do better.

It’s ok to be uncomfortable, in fact, it’s essential in the role of helping others to be able to be comfortable with your own discomfort.
We can’t change what we don’t acknowledge, and when our most vulnerable neighbours are seen, we all rise.
Those you see living in absolute homelessness are but a visible microcosm of what happens when we don’t invest in homelessness prevention for families and kids before it gets to this point. It’s a reminder of hundreds of moms, dads and kids living in cars, tents, and unsafe housing. Not because they aren’t working full time, but because there is actually nothing available.

Availability, affordability, and eligibility are the key factors and barriers to stable housing faced by hundreds of families in our community.
The invisible homeless include the mamas & papas who are currently without shelter but staying at a friends house or in a tent. Those staying in their cars at new locations each night, those who are at risk of homelessness due to inability to pay their rent the following month, and those who are transitioning in and out of a shelter but not yet placed in short or long term housing.

We talk a lot about the rate of homelessness but we don’t include all of those falling through the cracks.
The mamas you don’t know about because they aren’t tracked anywhere. There is no record of them being homeless because they aren’t at a shelter or registered at an agency.
Until now. We see the Mamas quietly reaching out for help, staying at a friends, or spending their last dollars on a motel for a night of sleep on a real bed for her kids.

The homeless you don’t know about are the dozens, or even hundreds, of moms with boys over the age of 14 who can’t be in a women’s shelter together due to his age; so they often sleep in the car or camp somewhere off grid. At least they’re together, even if it’s just them against the world.
The invisible homeless are those precariously housed, paying 90% of their income on a roof over their heads.

Many in this situation may have access to a motel for a cheap rate on the off season but as soon as the tourists roll in, their $1000 monthly rent from October-May has tripled, and they’re on their own until the low season rates again become available. The precariously housed are in housing they can’t afford because they can’t afford to lose their kids.

It’s easy to pass judgement from a lens of meritocracy, or a lens that if we just worked hard enough we could reach our goals. But the reality of it is, we are not all born with the same privilege. The same privilege of stable housing as a rule not an exception, the privilege of 3 meals a day without question, the privilege of a stable nervous system as a child because you haven’t moved 3 times this month already. Stable housing and the security of safety in where you lay your head at night is the basis for a physical and mental health. The impact on a child while they’re so young and still trying to understand the world can have major consequences for years down the road. Helping to address invisible homelessness today can only help to avoid the adverse childhood experiences from compounding into absolute homelessness for these kids tomorrow. There is a plethora of research on the long term repercussions of adverse childhood experiences on the development of the child, and the direct correlation of ACE’s with children living in poverty.

The impact of ACE’s start during childhood, and continues as the kids become adolescents and then adults.
“The experience of housing insecurity defined as high housing costs, poor, housing, quality, unstable, neighborhoods, overcrowding, and especially homelessness places children at risk of A C E exposure”.(homelesshub.ca).

We talk about shelter as a basic human right but we will only see change when we recognize that is it is currently available primarily to those of privilege. It’s okay to be unaware, but once we know better, we need to do better.

A privilege for those society had deemed worthy, who had worked hard enough for it, who had earned it.

Any mama, anywhere will tell you they will do anything they can to protect their babies. They’ll give you a million and one reasons why they’re worth it. Worth your time, worth your attention and worth your social investment.

Then there are the mamas who are about to be homeless but because of the high cost of rent compared to their income are deemed “too high risk of recurrent homelessness” for government and most nonprofit subsidy programs. This is exacerbated by the rising costs of rent in Canada, increasing by an overall total of 21% or an average of $384 per month from 2023 (MoneySense). As of February 2024, the rent of a one-bedroom apartment was $1,920– as this is hardly enough space for a family, we also highlight that the average asking price for a two-bedroom was $2,293 (MoneySense). With rental vacancies being around 1%, it is often a debt sentence to find housing for a family and a waiting game to keep it.

The need for long term, subsidized housing for families is needed more than ever. It’s a basic preventative measure we can implement individually as provinces to address the gaps in the system, while we work at each level of government and private enterprise to create a system that ensures the basic human right of shelter is available to all little ones. The one million children who grow up under the absolute poverty line are almost guaranteed to experience one level of homelessness before their 5th birthday. The children growing up under the relative poverty line, however, which means their parents make more than deemed poverty by the government ($21,000 and $43,000 give or take depending on family size) but don’t make enough to cover basic costs, often experience a form of homelessness before their 10th birthday. The statistics are staggering, the human impact is even greater. There is a clear gap in the system and too many families have fallen through the gaps and there is only so much we can do as Mamas for Mamas.

Last year, our Invisible Homelessness campaign was cut short by the onset of the McDougall Creek Wildfire that swept across the Okanagan. Despite this important campaign being overshadowed by environmental disaster, we still managed to secure a donor from the development world who learned of the issue and became determined to help us fill the gap. They decided to donate $50,000 to the Mamas Invisible Homelessness campaign to help us provide support to 50 families to find stable housing as we develop more long-term, system-based solutions with community stakeholders to engage all levels; government, private and public enterprise. Homelessness isn’t a me issue or a you issue. It’s an us issue. A societal issue but more relevant, it’s a community’s role to collectively look after our most vulnerable neighbours.

Due to our community’s incredible support from five key donors (alongside the initial lead philanthropist), we were able to provide:
Long-Term Housing Assistance: Successfully facilitated the transition to long-term housing for 50 families, recognizing the increasing difficulty posed by the rising cost of living in our communities.

Intermediate Housing Support: Provided intermediate housing solutions for 23 families, serving as a crucial bridge towards stability while addressing the financial strains exacerbated by rising interest rates.

Maintaining Current Housing: Supported 112 families in maintaining their current housing situations through strategic rent subsidies and utility relief programs, acknowledging the challenges presented by both the cost of living and fluctuating interest rates.

Street-to-Short-Term Housing: Successfully transitioned 7 families from living on the streets to short-term housing, addressing the immediate needs of those impacted by the confluence of economic uncertainties and housing challenges.

But our impact doesn’t stop here. With our campaign having been cut short last year, our team has decided to relaunch our Invisible Homelessness efforts. We made incredible impacts last year thanks to the help of five generous donors, but unfortunately, these systemic issues have not been left behind in 2023. With ever-rising costs of inflation, rent and mortgages, families have become increasingly at risk of invisible homelessness.

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that many of us are just one major life incident away from being on the other side of a helping hand. So if you’ve got a hand or a dollar to lend, we’ve got a mama in mind who needs a hand up to a safe haven that only we, together, can provide to those who’ve fallen through the cracks. Let’s do this.

Email campaign (for previous donors):
Last year, our Invisible Homelessness campaign was cut short by the onset of the McDougall Creek Wildfire that swept across the Okanagan. Despite this important campaign being overshadowed by environmental disasters, your donation still made incredible impacts on our community. We were able to provide,
Long-Term Housing Assistance-
Successfully facilitated the transition to long-term housing for 50 families, recognizing the increasing difficulty posed by the rising cost of living in our communities.
Intermediate Housing Support-
Provided intermediate housing solutions for 23 families, serving as a crucial bridge towards stability while addressing the financial strains exacerbated by rising interest rates.
Maintaining Current Housing-
Supported 112 families in maintaining their current housing situations through strategic rent subsidies and utility relief programs, acknowledging the challenges presented by both the cost of living and fluctuating interest rates.
Street-to-Short-Term Housing-
Successfully transitioned 7 families from living on the streets to short-term housing, addressing the immediate needs of those impacted by the confluence of economic uncertainties and housing challenges.

But these numbers do not fully encapsulate the support that you were able to impart. While still dutifully preserving our client’s right to privacy and confidentiality, we hope that you can fully realize the sheer impact of your support last year through these client stories:

Meet the Johnsons, a family of four facing financial hardships exacerbated by the rising cost of living. As the cost of housing continued to escalate, they found themselves on the brink of homelessness. The Invisible Homeless Program stepped in, providing tailored financial assistance and connecting them with long-term housing resources. Today, the Johnsons are thriving in stable accommodation, breaking free from the cycle of uncertainty that once plagued their lives.
John, a single parent, faced the daunting challenge of rising interest rates affecting his ability to maintain housing stability. The Invisible Homeless Program intervened by offering strategic financial counseling and support to mitigate the impact of increased housing costs. Through this tailored approach, John not only retained his current housing but also gained valuable skills to navigate the ever-changing economic landscape, empowering him for a more secure future.
Lisa and her three children found themselves without a home amidst economic uncertainties and housing challenges. The Invisible Homeless Program swiftly transitioned them from living on the streets to short-term housing, providing immediate relief. The program’s comprehensive support, addressing both financial and housing needs, allowed Lisa to regain stability for her family, breaking the cycle of homelessness and setting the foundation for a brighter future.
Our impact doesn’t stop here. With our campaign having been cut short last year, our team has decided to relaunch our Invisible Homelessness efforts. We made incredible impacts last year thanks to the help of your generous donation, but unfortunately, these systemic issues have not been left behind in 2023. With ever-rising costs of inflation, rent and mortgages, families have become increasingly at risk of invisible homelessness. Homelessness isn’t a me issue or a you issue. It’s an us issue. A societal issue but more relevant, it’s a community’s role to collectively look after our most vulnerable neighbours.
Last year we saw incredible support, but what would our community look like if this campaign had not been cut short? We ask our community and like-minded altruistic allies such as yourself to resume the momentum from last Summer and donate towards our Invisible Homelessness campaign so that we can, together, support even more families in 2024 and beyond.

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that many of us are just one major life incident away from being on the other side of a helping hand. So if you’ve got a hand or a dollar to lend, we’ve got a mama in mind who needs a hand up to a safe haven that only we, together, can provide to those who’ve fallen through the cracks. Let’s do this.
Email campaign (for prospective donors):

Last year, our Invisible Homelessness campaign was cut short by the onset of the McDougall Creek Wildfire that swept across the Okanagan. Despite this important campaign being overshadowed by environmental disasters, a handful of impactful donations still made incredible impacts on our community. We were able to provide,
Long-Term Housing Assistance-
Successfully facilitated the transition to long-term housing for 50 families, recognizing the increasing difficulty posed by the rising cost of living in our communities.
Intermediate Housing Support-
Provided intermediate housing solutions for 23 families, serving as a crucial bridge towards stability while addressing the financial strains exacerbated by rising interest rates.
Maintaining Current Housing-
Supported 112 families in maintaining their current housing situations through strategic rent subsidies and utility relief programs, acknowledging the challenges presented by both the cost of living and fluctuating interest rates.
Street-to-Short-Term Housing-
Successfully transitioned 7 families from living on the streets to short-term housing, addressing the immediate needs of those impacted by the confluence of economic uncertainties and housing challenges.

But these numbers do not fully encapsulate the support that we were able to impart. While still dutifully preserving our client’s right to privacy and confidentiality, we hope that you can fully realize the potential of your continued support through these client stories:

Meet the Johnsons, a family of four facing financial hardships exacerbated by the rising cost of living. As the cost of housing continued to escalate, they found themselves on the brink of homelessness. The Invisible Homeless Program stepped in, providing tailored financial assistance and connecting them with long-term housing resources. Today, the Johnsons are thriving in stable accommodation, breaking free from the cycle of uncertainty that once plagued their lives.
John, a single parent, faced the daunting challenge of rising interest rates affecting his ability to maintain housing stability. The Invisible Homeless Program intervened by offering strategic financial counseling and support to mitigate the impact of increased housing costs. Through this tailored approach, John not only retained his current housing but also gained valuable skills to navigate the ever-changing economic landscape, empowering him for a more secure future.
Lisa and her three children found themselves without a home amidst economic uncertainties and housing challenges. The Invisible Homeless Program swiftly transitioned them from living on the streets to short-term housing, providing immediate relief. The program’s comprehensive support, addressing both financial and housing needs, allowed Lisa to regain stability for her family, breaking the cycle of homelessness and setting the foundation for a brighter future.
Our impact doesn’t stop here. With our campaign having been cut short last year, our team has decided to relaunch our Invisible Homelessness efforts. We made incredible impacts last year thanks to the help of a handful of generous donations, but unfortunately, these systemic issues have not been left behind in 2023. With ever-rising costs of inflation, rent and mortgages, families have become increasingly at risk of invisible homelessness. Homelessness isn’t a me issue or a you issue. It’s an us issue. A societal issue but more relevant, it’s a community’s role to collectively look after our most vulnerable neighbours.

Last year we saw incredible support, but what would our community look like if this campaign had not been cut short? We ask our community and like-minded altruistic allies such as yourself to resume the momentum from last Summer and donate towards our Invisible Homelessness campaign so that we can, together, support even more families in 2024 and beyond.

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that many of us are just one major life incident away from being on the other side of a helping hand. So if you’ve got a hand or a dollar to lend, we’ve got a mama in mind who needs a hand up to a safe haven that only we, together, can provide to those who’ve fallen through the cracks. Let’s do this.

Previous Post

Other Side of Homelesness

To understand how a mom with a newborn and a toddler can end up living in their car in Canada, we must first re-examine our perception of poverty and the metrics that define it. Our current system does not accurately reflect the cost of living per capita when determining poverty cut-off lines, leaving thousands of caregivers at a disadvantage. Their income might appear adequate when compared to a national average, but in reality, it falls short of meeting their needs.

Addressing homelessness among caregivers and their children involves tackling both relative and absolute homelessness. Relative homelessness refers to those living in inadequate housing conditions, while absolute homelessness involves individuals lacking any form of shelter. Homelessness is more than just a lack of shelter—it's an obstacle to health, stability, and opportunity. Our campaign is committed to creating sustainable solutions that provide not only housing but also the necessary support systems to help families thrive.

By emphasizing advocacy, community engagement, and strategic partnerships, we aim to build a future where every caregiver and child has a safe and stable place to call home.
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