Poverty and Homelessness in Thunder Bay

  • Nearly 17,000 people in Thunder Bay are living in low-income situations (from "Poverty in Thunder Bay,' a project of the Thunder Bay Economic Justice Committee, August 2006).
  • Inadequate social assistance, minimum wage rates and energy costs make it difficult to procure safe and adequate housing, pay heating bills and purchase healthy food.


"Home" - a word that means so much. It is our refuge from the world, a place of security, warmth and family. It is a place to prepare and share meals, rest and play, and renew our spirits for the new day. It is "shelter' - a basic human need.

For some people in our community, homelessness is a reality caused by a host of different and complex reasons. Some find themselves on the street as a result of tragedy or crisis in their lives. Shelter House Thunder Bay is there to answer the call for all of us in Thunder Bay.

Shelter House is one of the leading organizations in our community responding to the current and future needs of the homeless in our city. Visit "Solutions' to see how together, we are making a difference in people's lives.

Homelessness - simply defined - is the absence of a place to live.

A person who has no regular place to live stays in an overnight emergency shelter, an abandoned building, an all-night coffee shop or theatre, a car, outdoors, or other such places not meant to be living spaces.

In the early 1980s, it became obvious that there was an increasing number of individuals and families, in the wealthiest nations, who had no place of their own to live and did not have enough money to pay for life's necessities. They once had housing. They once had enough money to get by on. They once had a support network of family and friends in combination with a public "social safety net."

The person you see on the street is just the tip of the iceberg.
The long-term or "chronically' homeless person - the individuals we tend to see on our streets - represent less than 20% of the homeless population. The rest are families and individuals who find themselves without a place to live for a period of time.

The reasons why people become homeless are complex.

The basic cause is poverty. The underlying causes can include poor physical or mental health, violence or abuse in the home, lack of employment or an income, and a shortage of affordable housing in the community. No one chooses to be homeless and it can happen to anyone - from a teenager escaping an abusive care giver, to a senior citizen on a fixed income facing a rent or tax increase, to a child whose parents suddenly become unemployed. Today, the spiral from stability to distress can happen in the space of a five-minute meeting.

All homeless people have one thing in common - a lack of housing.

While homelessness is not just a housing problem, it is always a housing problem. For many households there is a large gap between the cost of housing and the money available to pay for housing.

Homelessness has escalated exponentially since federal and provincial governments have stopped funding social housing construction. In more cities, homelessness is also directly related to low vacancy rates. Tight or heated housing markets make it hard for anyone to find housing. For individuals or families trying to live on minimum wage, a basic pension or other fixed incomes, it is especially difficult - even in "normal' times.