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Canada’s homelessness service sector workforce: Supporting the overlooked essential worker

News Release

From Mental Health Commission of Canada

November 30, 2021— Ottawa, Ontario

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, a new policy brief from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) highlights the importance of addressing the mental health needs and substance use concerns of Canada’s homelessness services sector workforce.

“Our study highlights the considerable strain the pandemic has had on service providers who work with people experiencing homelessness — a workforce that was already grappling with an affordable housing crisis, an overdose crisis, and a shortage of accessible mental health services,” said Nick Kerman, a post-doctoral researcher with CAMH. “More workplace supports to promote mental health and wellness, and more recognition of this essential workforce, are needed.”

The COVID-19, Mental Wellness, and the Homelessness Workforce policy brief offers recommendations to help decision makers address the funding, resource, and policy gaps that exist for this sector. It shines a light on how this essential workforce has been shouldering much of the COVID-19 burden for those who experience homelessness and precarious housing, as well as complex health, wellness, and housing needs.

“Better pay and benefits and access to training and mental health supports are a priority,” said Dr. Mary Bartram, director of policy for the MHCC. “This new brief underscores the critical but under-recognized role of the homelessness services sector in meeting the needs of this population as we come through the pandemic.”

Among its key recommendations:

  • Build on the emergency relief provided to shelters and social organizations during the pandemic to address funding, resource, and policy gaps at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels.
  • Increase access to mental health and substance use services and supports, including employment-based benefits, during and following the pandemic.
  • Foster the capacity of service providers to manage to their own mental wellness needs and the needs of others through ongoing training and supervision.

As they build on Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy, parliamentarians have the opportunity to address the needs of the homelessness services sector. At the same time, decision makers at all levels can bridge the funding, resources, and policy gaps that exist in their respective jurisdictions.

There is growing momentum across regions, provinces, and territories to end homelessness through important initiatives that include increasing access to housing. To successfully attend to the inequities that homelessness represents in Canada, systems plans must include the workplace well-being of this sector’s employees, from civic to national levels.

As part of these efforts to reduce and eliminate homelessness, the insufficient supply of mental health and substance use supports for this vital workforce and their clients must be addressed.

Quick Facts

  • Four in five homelessness service providers said their mental health has declined during the pandemic.
  • 60 per cent of service providers have experienced moderate levels of burnout.
  • For 28 per cent of service providers, the pandemic caused moderate or extreme financial problems.
  • 56 per cent of service providers have been less able to access wellness supports during the pandemic.
  • 75 per cent of Canada’s homelessness service workers are women.
  • One in five service providers reported being visible minorities. The sector has more racialized and Indigenous workers than many others.

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Hayley Chazan
Manager, Media Strategy

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health


Media Relations

Mental Health Commission of Canada



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The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for change, an organization designed to recommend improvements to the mental health system on a national level. We are not directly involved in individual cases of advocacy, outreach, service delivery or local supports.