Twice as many homeless people in northern Ontario than Ottawa, Toronto: report

A new report says homelessness, addiction and mental health issues are on the rise in northern Ontario and disproportionately affecting Indigenous peoples.

“Northerners, myself included, have noticed an increase of people struggling with homelessness, addiction and mental health in our community,” said Holly Parsons, who wrote More than Just a Number:
Addressing the Homelessness, Addiction, and Mental Health Crisis in the North for the Northern Policy Institute.

“So, it was interesting to see that the data, in fact, matched that observation and this is a worsening crisis.”

The institute, a think tank with offices in Thunder Bay, Sudbury, and Kirkland Lake, compiled data in 2021 that it compared to various years going back to 2015.

It found the rate of homelessness per 1,000 people is often two or three times higher in northern municipalities than major urban centres like Toronto.

For example, in 2021, this number was 1.3 persons for Ottawa while it reached 3.9 persons in Cochrane.

The numbers show the majority of those experiencing the crisis are Indigenous.

READ MORE: More than Just a Number: Addressing the Homelessness, Addiction, and Mental Health Crisis in the North 

“In the District of Kenora (in northwestern Ontario), 88 per cent of their homeless population self-identifies as Indigenous,” Parsons says. “And, in fact, there were five northern districts that had over 60 per cent of their homeless population self-identify as Indigenous.”

Other parts of the report show the direct correlation between homelessness, addiction and mental health issues.

For example, in 2021 of those experiencing homelessness in Sudbury, 66 per cent reported suffering from mental health issues and 80 per cent from addiction.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including the creation of a northern service hub, establishing a northern mental health and addictions centre, and support for community housing facilities for Indigenous peoples.

Parsons says the key thing is to tailor programming to this part of the province with significant input from northern stakeholders.

“We need something specific to northern Ontario because service delivery looks so different up here,” she added. “Because one-size-fits-all policies don’t normally work for northern Ontario.”

Fraser spent the last 20 years working in both print and radio in Saskatchewan – mostly in the northern part of the province. Before joining APTN’s Ottawa bureau, he was news director for the Missinipi Broadcasting Corporation working out of their Prince Albert office. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Carleton University and a diploma of journalism from Algonquin College.