As Christians, in accordance with the Scriptures, we are called to care for the poor and the vulnerable and to uphold human dignity. Scriptures place a high priority on the care of those who are broken and in despair – the widow, the orphan, the alien, those who are sick or in captivity. We are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbour as ourself. What does it mean to love our neighbour? Loving our neighbour requires us to be a good neighbour to our brothers and sisters, to care well for and showing mercy and compassion to those around us. Jesus makes it clear in Scripture that when we care for those who are broken and in need, it is an act of worship and service unto Him.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. … I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mind, you did unto me.” 
Poverty and homelessness are complex issues that defy a single, simple solution. Families or individuals of any age can become poor or homeless, temporarily or permanently, for a variety of reasons. The homeless population is not a homogeneous group. Each person who finds themselves homeless or living on the streets is a unique individual, with a unique story. They may be someone’s mother or father, son or daughter, brother or sister. They may come from small towns or big cities, from homes that are very wealthy or very poor. It is simply not possible to paint a picture of the ‘typical homeless person.’ There are however certain common risk factors and tragic commonalities for homelessness and poverty. These include family breakdown, violence or abuse in the home, unemployment, recent immigration or release from prison, substance abuse and addiction, mental and physical illness and a shortage of affordable housing. 
 Matthew 25:34-40, The Holy Bible, New International Version
 Patricia Begin, Lyne Casavant, Nancy Miller Chenier, Homelessness, Library of Parliament, Parliamentary Research Branch, January 1999.
In 1989, the federal government passed a unanimous resolution to “seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000.” Despite that resolution, in 2005, more than 1 in 6 Canadian children live in poverty – a statistic worse than in 1989.  Approximately 30% of children living in poverty live in families where at least one parent worked full time, all year. Employment is up, and more families are working, but are still not making enough to make ends meet. 
Persons who are homeless fall into one of three categories: the absolute homeless, the hidden homeless or at risk of being homeless. The absolute homeless are those who are “sleeping rough”, living their days and nights on the streets or in the shelter system. The hidden homeless are those who are staying temporarily with friends or family, and others are at risk of homelessness because of possible eviction, inability to pay the rent, or release from prison with nowhere to go.
Homelessness is a highly visible problem in Canada, and to both the casual or experienced observer, one that is growing to crisis proportions. However, there remains no reliable method for counting the number of persons who are homeless, and as a result no one is really sure how many people live on the streets or in substandard shelter.
This is due in part to a lack of consensus on how homelessness should be defined – should a definition include only those living on the streets or in shelters, or those living in substandard conditions that do not meet basic health and safety standards, and that most of us would never reasonably call ‘home’?
Further, the very nature of homelessness makes counting the people affected a challenge. Our homeless population has no fixed address, is mobile and in many cases, hidden – all of which make an accurate count a seemingly unattainable target, and something statisticians are reluctant to attempt. As a result, there are simply no official, accurate Canadian national statistics on homelessness.
The federal government addresses poverty through tax measures, such as the child tax credit, and programs such as employment insurance and job training. Through the Homelessness Partnering Strategy, it provides some support for governments and community level organizations and programs seeking to find solutions to homelessness.
 Campaign 2000, Decision Time for Canada: Let’s Make Poverty History. 2005 Report Card on Child Poverty in Canada.
 Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD), using Statistics Canada’s Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics, masterfile (1993-2003).
Because of the challenges associated with enumerating the homeless community, when we seek to grasp the scope of the problem, we must look to the agencies working among the homeless, and to those groups trying to identify the problem on a more local level. The most commonly cited estimate is that there are approximately 250,000 people in Canada who are homeless.
The 2004 Toronto Report Card on Homelessness reports an estimated 32,000 persons in the GTA are homeless. In 1997, Toronto emergency shelters for the homeless took in an average of 6,500 persons each night.  Figures such as this do not reflect those who refuse to stay in hostels or shelters, due to mental illness, safety concerns or other reasons.
The city of Calgary’s Biennial Count of Homeless persons (May 2004) – a snapshot of those staying in shelters or observed on the streets on a given night - counted 2,597 homeless persons.  The City of Ottawa’s Report Card on Homelessness counted nearly 8,700 persons staying in shelters or on the streets. 
Other groups estimate that on any given night in the year 2000, there were, sleeping in shelters or on the street, up to 10,000 people in Montreal, up to 5,000 in Vancouver, and anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 in each of Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax, Saskatoon and Regina.
Canada has no official definition of poverty. The best known measure of poverty is Statistics Canada' s before-tax low income cut-off (LICO), designed to identify those who are substantially worse off than the average Canadian. This measure, used by most analysts as a poverty line, indicates that a family is likely to experience poverty when it spends 58.5 percent or more of its gross household income on food, shelter and clothing. In 1998, 16.9 percent of Canadians were living below the low-income cut off. A greater proportion of single individuals and senior citizens are likely to be living below the poverty line. The Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD) reports that in 1995, approximately 55.6 percent of Aboriginal people in Canadian cities were living in poverty. On average, 59.2 percent of lone-parent families were living below the poverty line.
 The Toronto Report Card on Housing and Homelessness;
 The City of Calgary’s Biennial Count of Homeless Persons, 2004;
The City of Ottawa’s first Report Card on Homelessness
 People with low income before tax, Statistics Canada, on December 1, 2000.
 Kevin K. Lee, Urban Poverty In Canada, Canadian Council on Social Development, April 2000, p. 38.
What You Can Do
Evangelical churches and faith-based organizations have an important role to play in addressing the issue of poverty and homelessness across Canada. Many ministries – through churches, denominations or faith-based organizations – are addressing homelessness in practical and effective ways. Find out who these groups and agencies are in your community and how you can become involved. You can commit to supporting ministries working at street level in prayer, or with your finances.
Most ministries serving among the poor and homeless have significant opportunities for people to engage in meaningful volunteer work – visiting, offering friendship and encouragement, providing meals, clothing and other much-needed items and participating in a wide range of programs, from life skills, education and employment coaching to arts and medical programs.
Encourage your local church to place a priority on welcoming and supporting those in your community who are less fortunate. And get involved in your community in providing support for those who are at risk of becoming homeless – especially young people – to help keep them from fleeing to the streets in the first place.
Latest EFC blogs on poverty as a public policy issue (on the ActivateCFPL weblog)
Street Level conferences and actions by an EFC-sponsored ministry roundtable
All items related to poverty and homelessness in the EFC Resource Library. These include: