One third of Toronto homeless are immigrants, most of them women from the Caribbean

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martin dufresne
One third of Toronto homeless are immigrants, most of them women from the Caribbean

Please see below a Toronto Star summary of a new article to appear in the November issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

I have not yet read the study but the view of Aseefa Sarang cited in the Star article rings true in explaining the high incidence of homelesness for recent immigrants. She says that many newcomers live in poverty because they fail to get their credentials recognized and are underemployed in Canada. Sarang is executive director of Toronto's Across Boundaries, an ethnocultural specific mental health agency.

To make the link between recent immigrants and the high skills they bring, lack of recognition of international credentials and experience, and mental illness: though internationally trained workers arrive in Canada healthy, they are rendered ill through the trials of sacrificing to come to Canada, meeting with employers unwilling to accept their professional portfolios, and unmet expectations around immigrating to Canada.

In turn, with a weakened morale, people fall into low paying jobs, poverty, and homelessness. It is alarming that so many of the homeless recent immigrants are women with children. This suggests that female skilled immigrants face relatively more discrimination in the job market.

Since 2006, I believe that government has shown in practical terms its solution to the increasing poverty of recent immigrants. It has aligned immigration with the market by favouring the entry of internationally trained workers with job contract in hand, on temporary work permits. Also, the Conservative government in particular has increasingly funded Canadian colleges to offer courses and credential assessment abroad, to assure that credential recognition issues are resolved before internationally trained workers enter Canada.

This approach does little for internationally trained workers already in Canada, who do not lack training, but rather the chance to prove themselves at work. Their needs for internships or bridging programs are virtually ignored, as are the training needs of youth, first peoples, and the working poor already in Canada.

In solidarity,

Salimah Valiani

One-third of homeless in city are immigrants
Report says many fall through cracks due to shortage of jobs and housing
Nicholas Keung, Immigration Reporter, Toronto Star, Tue Oct 20 2009

More than a third of Toronto's homeless are immigrants, many falling through the cracks due to a lack of jobs and housing, says a new study, the first in Canada to look at immigration status and homelessness.

The study, led by St. Michael's Hospital, surveyed 1,189 individuals in shelters and on meal programs across the city and found that 32 per cent were immigrants; some 10 per cent had been here less than a decade. The numbers did not include refugees, undocumented migrants or those who did not speak English.

A majority of Canadian-born homeless people in the study had high school education or less, but many homeless immigrants have vocational training, college or university education, said the article, "The Health of Homeless Immigrants," published in the November issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

"Immigrants who are homeless are very different in many ways from others who became homeless," said study co-author Dr. Stephen Hwang of St. Michael's Hospital, an associate professor at the University of Toronto.

"The prevalence of alcohol and drug problems was dramatically lower among homeless immigrants. Yet, I'm somewhat surprised by the high prevalence of mental health issues among them."

The study was representative of the 5,000 individuals who are homeless in the city each night and the 29,000 individuals who use shelters over the course of a year.

The average age of the homeless was 28 for recent immigrants, 39.7 for those who have been here more than 10 years and 36.2 for native-born Canadians. Homeless immigrants were more likely to be female, visible minorities, accompanied by dependent children and married.

(. . .)

Among the homeless immigrants:

1. Regions of birth:
USA: 12
Central and South America: 47
Caribbean and Bermuda: 114
Europe: 64
Africa: 84
Asia: 56
(. . .)


martin dufresne

Published Online First: 3 August 2009. doi:10.1136/jech.2009.088468
Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2009;63:943-948
Copyright © 2009 by the BMJ Publishing Group Ltd.
The health of homeless immigrants

S Chiu1, D A Redelmeier2,3, G Tolomiczenko4,5, A Kiss6, S W Hwang1,2

1 Centre for Research on Inner City Health, The Keenan Research Centre in the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, Canada
2 Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Canada
3 Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, Toronto, Canada
4 Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Canada, Toronto, Canada
5 Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Canada
6 Department of Research Design and Biostatistics, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, Toronto, Canada

Correspondence to Dr S W Hwang, Centre for Research on Inner City Health, St. Michael's Hospital, 30 Bond Street, Toronto, Ontario M5B 1W8, Canada; [email protected]

Background: This study examined the association between immigrant status and current health in a representative sample of 1189 homeless people in Toronto, Canada.

Methods: Multivariate regression analyses were performed to examine the relationship between immigrant status and current health status (assessed using the SF-12) among homeless recent immigrants (<=10 years since immigration), non-recent immigrants (>10 years since immigration) and Canadian-born individuals recruited at shelters and meal programmes (response rate 73%).

Results: After adjusting for demographic characteristics and lifetime duration of homelessness, recent immigrants were significantly less likely to have chronic conditions (RR 0.7, 95% CI 0.5 to 0.9), mental health problems (OR 0.4, 95% CI 0.2 to 0.7), alcohol problems (OR 0.2, 95% CI 0.1 to 0.5) and drug problems (OR 0.2, 95% CI 0.1 to 0.4) than non-recent immigrants and Canadian-born individuals. Recent immigrants were also more likely to have better mental health status (+3.4 points, SE ±1.6) and physical health status (+2.2 points, SE ±1.3) on scales with a mean of 50 and a SD of 10 in the general population.

Conclusion: Homeless recent immigrants are a distinct group who are generally healthier and may have very different service needs from other homeless people.


Sean in Ottawa

And we we look at factors we need to consider that the stress you speak of unmet expectations the difficulties of arriving here the poverty-- wreck relationships-- many of these women with children end up alone. By alone I do not mean like many single parents here where they might have family and friends to support them. (Of those born here some do have this extended support and some do not.)

I mean really alone no supports, with family and firends overseas and often no idea how to find all the available public supports.

In this context we cannot forget to include the lack of a national childcare program. This is a huge contributing factor that I think ought to be on the list. It does not need to be this way.

That women face discrimination in the workforce is not exactly news but there is substantial evidence that immigrant women are even worse off. Part of the problem is that we do not want to admit the degree that sexism and racism flourishes here. We can't bear to see it. And people become invisible.

These statistics represent masses of avoidable misery. We need to do better than this. We come back to the dismal failure of this particular government when it comes to equity we may be angry but people are so used to statistics it is so easy to forget that every one of those is a person.

What is the best way to attract attention to this? Telling individual stories might be one thing-- I have spent much of my life in the art field so I always start there- can we somehow face Canadians with real stories? How do we make people see the scale of this? I do know the CLC is trying to get attention  to these issues but how do we get the public to listen, care and do something? It is crazy that a rich country like ours would accept this.


Pinocchio's Libranos in Toronto have bigger things on their minds than the needs of ordinary people in Ontariariario, like kick-back and graft, and running our have-not province into the ground in general.

remind remind's picture

Tigana wrote:
Why is there a homeless problem in Ontario when the Ministry of Health has a budget of nearly $40 Billion a year?

Because people care more about their internet security, than the plight of mainly homeless women, perhaps?

Just think if people mobilized for poverty, the way they do for things that impact their class, and themselves.

Tigana Tigana's picture

Why is there a homeless problem in Ontario when the Ministry of Health has a budget of nearly $40 Billion a year?

Update: GOOD Magazine has a series on Skid Row, and how to make things better. First give people a place to live; then other problems can resolve. This is the fifth of five videos:

Rexdale_Punjabi Rexdale_Punjabi's picture

drug addiction is another thing thats more common in homeless ppl wether because of being homeless or how they got there is the difference.


Thats it tho the single momz who're fiends with kids and keep getting kicced out, or never really lived anywhere. A lot of em dont have id or anything to get them in anywhere either and theres a HUGE shortage of shelters across the city u know.


Itz fucced up growing up that way that momz son is the kid manz hail up cuz he hustled the most rocc. And the cycle continues and feeds itself.

martin dufresne

I don't understand this, RP: ...that momz son is the kid manz hail up cuz he hustled the most rocc

Can you translate it, please?

Rexdale_Punjabi Rexdale_Punjabi's picture

martin dufresne wrote:

I don't understand this, RP: ...that momz son is the kid manz hail up cuz he hustled the most rocc

Can you translate it, please?

that momz son ends up having to sell the same shit his momz is smoking and a lot of times his mom is his best client. For that momz daughter its even worse a lot fo the time because the risk is always higher for a female because they can get all the shit a male can get into PLUS they can get pregnant and usually stucc with the child.


Like I said the cycle feeds itself. Son gets older and to prove he a man gets a girl pregnant he gets succed now hez locced and its another kid without a dad and the girl a lot fo times goes on to smoke roccs or just be a single mom. and shit continues.


Thats the hood.


Basically it takes 1 generation to mess up to put the next one at an extreme disadvantage not already put on by shit like race, gender, etc.


Keep watching TO manz are immigrating here and the same shit is gwanin watch in 10-20 years and see what happens. Shit is getting entrenched.

edit - and its fucced cuz ur choices are either live with a bunch of white ppl or live in the hood.

martin dufresne

I hear you. Do you see any way being made forward, e.g. through awareness=raising,  community organizing? Are some people succeeding in reclaiming their lives one way or another in your opinion?

Tigana Tigana's picture

First, let's reclaim the country from those who misrule it.


Tigana wrote:

First, let's reclaim the country from those who misrule it.

Yes! We used to have a national housing strategy at one point in recent Canadian history, which is slowly but surely being rewritten by rightwing ideologues in Ottawa of the last 25 years.

martin dufresne

I am ill at ease with opposing perspectives or projects with "First, let's do something else", deemed more important. It seems to me that many major social changes - or at least the confidence to attempt them - start with organizing at the micro level, among disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities, rather than challenging the Big Cheese through official channels.

Tigana Tigana's picture

Martin, I would never limit the scope or tactics of citizen reach.  I will watch with interest for further ideas from Tommy Paine, Remind, Fidel and others on how to WRING the cheese - regarding Ontario's e-health scandals. The bolder, the better!

And... do we have Kiva or Grameen loans in Canada? If now, why not?

remind remind's picture

Heard on the news last night that health care cuts are coming to Ontario, cause there is no money for health care. Ya, I guess not, it is all in the pockets of a few who are laughing their asses off at Ontarians.

If you look at the flow chart that someone posted on the ehealth thread, one can see the areas where the 40 billion is being misspent.

Really Ontarians should be suing  the people who profitted from the ehealth scam, for their money back. And considering that we are just finding out that  the same scandal is happening here in BC, well....perhaps we may be smarter and do so , but I doubt it.


Rexdale_Punjabi Rexdale_Punjabi's picture

dam they already take u downtown when u have a serious condition because the hospital in the hood aint that good what about now.


We goin to Scarborough lol.

Tigana Tigana's picture

"Let food be your medicine" - old wisdom. 

Re Centre for Research on Inner City Health - I contacted them before the budget story broke, and spoke to a senior person there. The team had won a prize for their work but this individual (and the team, it seems) did not know how much the MoHLTC budget was... and that they and the public had been robbed. Value of their study? You tell me.