Individuals experiencing homelessness or inadequate housing live in environments “conducive” to an epidemic, because they may not be able to access and use traditional services and standard resources. (Black Press Media File).

Housing challenges in Canada complicate efforts to fight COVID-19

Five per cent of all households deemed ‘not suitable’ while other dwellers face other challenges

New data from Statistics Canada, compiled in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, confirms many Canadians live in inadequate or no housing which complicates efforts to fight the pandemic through social distancing and improved hygiene.

The report from Statistics Canada assessing health and social challenges associated with the COVID-19 situation in Canada finds housing conditions represent a “challenging environment” for many Canadians.

“Canadians living in smaller dwellings or unsuitable accommodations may face a particular challenge [when it comes to social isolation],” it reads. “These Canadians may have a higher degree of social interaction than those living in larger dwellings with more space or fewer household members, and they may have less space for their daily activities.”

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Just under 30 per cent of Canadians live in apartment buildings and of those, more than one-third (35 per cent) live in an apartment building of at least five storeys. Most households living in apartments rent their dwellings.

The number of apartment dwellers varies across the country, with just under 40 per cent of Quebec residents living in apartments. Quebec has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country with 8,580 cases as of April 6.

About five per cent of all households in Canada — about 700,000 households — are not considered “suitable” according to the National Occupancy Standard developed by the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation. It considers a dwelling unsuitable if it does not have enough bedrooms for the size and composition of the household.

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“This proportion was significantly higher in First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities,” it reads. “In 2016, close to one-fifth (18 per cent) of the Indigenous population lived in housing that was considered not suitable for the number of people who lived there.”

The report says this finding highlights the “uniquely challenging situation” of Indigenous people in Canada when it comes accessing to health care services, clean water, food and supplies, as well as a higher incidence of poverty, among other barriers.

The report also highlights the challenges of multigenerational households, defined as households home to three or more generations. In 2016, 2.1 million Canadians lived in multigenerational households, with some population groups, such as Indigenous peoples, more likely to live in multigenerational households.

The report also touches on individuals with no living quarters in noting that people experiencing homelessness live in environments “conducive” to an epidemic, because they might not be able to access and use services and resources.

While estimates of the homeless population are difficult to produce, the 2016 Census counted more than 22,000 individuals living in shelters. Another 65,000 lived in service collective dwellings, such as rooming houses or motels and other establishments with temporary accommodation services.

According to Employment and Social Development Canada, close to 150,000 people use shelters every year across Canada.

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