Homelessness among Indigenous peoples in Canada: The impacts of child welfare involvement and educational achievement

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Children and Youth Services Review






Homelessness, Child welfare, Education, Indigenous, Canada, General Social Survey


Existing evidence suggests that child welfare involvement has a deleterious impact on Indigenous peoples in Canada in terms of increasing their risk of becoming a visible or hidden homeless individual. Visible homelessness is generally understood as those individuals found sleeping in parks, cars, shelters, or on the streets and other locales such as in abandoned buildings or under bridges. Whereas the hidden homeless are those who find interim accommodations with friends, family members, and acquaintances. Although in saying this, many of the visible homelessness scenarios can also be considered hidden. Regardless, all situations of homelessness reflect uncertainty, lack of safety, and an increased vulnerability to abuse and exploitation. The pathways to homelessness are rooted in structural deficits in the society, which are multiplicative and intersectional in nature. They include housing affordability, oppression, conditions of physical and mental well-being, employment and employability, as well as family support and community connection. On the other hand, the greater the educational achievement experienced by Indigenous peoples the less the risk of being subjected to homelessness.

The premise of this paper is that Indigenous peoples are multiplicatively oppressed and that these intersecting sites of oppression increase the risk of Indigenous peoples in Canada becoming homelessness. Hypotheses were tested using the 2014 panel of Canada’s General Social Survey, including 1081 Indigenous peoples and 23,052 non-Indigenous white participants. Indigenous identity, involvement in the child welfare system, and level of educational achievement were all significantly associated with experiences of hidden and visible homelessness, p < .001. As hypothesized, the odds associated with being involved in the child welfare system (odds ratio [OR] = 4.15) were stronger than that associated with identifying as Indigenous (OR = 1.47). As predicted, achieving a university education served as a protection against becoming homelessness (OR = 0.27). The hypothesized relationship between ethnicity and child welfare system involvement interaction was not observed. However, Indigenous participants (7.1%) were nearly four times as likely to have been involved with the child welfare system than were non-Indigenous white people (1.9%). Thus, at the population level, Indigenous peoples are at far greater risk of having been involved in the child welfare system, and consequently experiencing homelessness than non-Indigenous peoples. Of note, the hypothesized ethnicity by educational attainment interaction was observed. Among white people in Canada, a university education likely prevents most (83%) of visible homelessness otherwise experienced by those who did not complete high school (OR = 0.17) and prevents a significant amount (18%) of hidden homelessness. Startlingly, no such prevention was associated with completion of university among Indigenous peoples in Canada. Implications and future research needs are discussed.