Skip to content

Homelessness for Newly Released Ontario Inmates

Nearly one in five inmates released from jail in Ontario have no place to live and are homeless upon leaving provincial and federal facilities. This has been an issue of note for several years but has increased drastically in the last five years.

A contributing factor to the issue has been the increase in the cost of living seen across the country, as well as often inaccessible mental health care and addiction services. Experiencing homelessness puts individuals fresh out of prison at high risk of worsening mental health as well as creating a situation where released offenders are at greater risk of reoffending. 

In the last six years, the number of people in Ontario prisons has decreased by more than 20,000, with 32,067 inmates reported in Ontario in 2021/22. Over this same time frame, the rate of inmates who are released into homelessness nearly doubled—in 2016/17, nine per cent of inmates had no fixed address upon release, increasing year to year, peaking at 17 per cent in 2021/22. 

Many who manage to apply for a rental living after spending time in prison are rejected as a result of their criminal past, mental illness or a lack of reliable references. Individuals are often let out of jail with no job prospects, making the ability to take of themselves a near impossibility. While civil rights lawyers are sometimes called upon to fight these rejections from housing in court, these are not situations which can be dealt with en masse. All disputes are to be handled on a case-by-case basis. 

Advocates for unhoused people say that the Canadian criminal justice system significantly contributes to the cycle of depleted mental health, addiction, and homelessness many people experience. Individuals entering the criminal justice system are often already living unstable lives. After spending months or years in federal or provincial institutions, their lives are further destabilized.  

Advocates say that a major factor in helping resolve this issue includes connecting inmates with the necessary social supports while they are incarcerated to have an existing relationship with these supports upon release. What is currently taking place sees countless individuals released from prison with no help prepared and with no direction as to where to begin accessing assistance. When an individual is not properly informed as to how to find appropriate aid, the likelihood they will not be able to transition back into society only heightens, increasing the chances individuals will fall back into criminality or even homelessness. 

Upon leaving prison, there are countless obstacles an individual must confront, including navigating a complex series of governmental and non-governmental services. These act as systemic barriers which ex-convicts will struggle with. Many other aspects of civilian life will be overwhelming and greatly demanding for an individual recently released from jail. A lack of employment, savings, and proper identification makes finding a place to live easier for many with proper guidance and assistance. 

In Ontario, there are particular institutions which release a significantly higher amount of individuals who immediately experience homelessness upon leaving the facility. Vanier Centre for Women, a medium and maximum correctional centre in Milton, Ontario, saw 24.4 per cent of those released in 2021/22 to have no fixed address upon release. The provincial institution houses approximately 200 women, many awaiting trial.

A 2010 survey in Toronto-area jails found that 16.4 per cent of respondents who were housed upon being incarcerated expected to be homeless upon release. 85.5 per cent of those who were homeless upon arrest expected the same fate. 

Toronto South Detention Centre saw 23.4 per cent of inmates released to no fixed address in 2021/22, and Wentworth Detention Centre in Hamilton saw 22.5 per cent of those incarcerated released with no fixed address.  

In these instances, it is worth noting that detention centres are intended for short-term incarceration, while individuals who cannot make bail await trial and sentencing. Additionally, the data, which was recorded by the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General, does not discern whether or not individuals are recorded multiple times on separate occasions. 

A report published last year by the federal government found that approximately 30 per cent of individuals released from federal and provincial jails experience homelessness within two years of being released. The federal government cited experiencing homelessness as a major obstacle when addressing recidivism in Canada. In the same report, the federal government called for enhanced efforts to be made toward helping individuals attain transitional housing upon release. 

Often, there are limited beds available in housing facilities for individuals to have a place to sleep upon being released from prison. In Canada, more than 100 prisoners are released every day. There are seldom, if ever, appropriate resources made available to individuals upon their release and many of these people will struggle to find housing and employment. 

Lansdowne Consulting Group has taken to facilitating a project called  From Prison to Homelessness: Ending a Perilous Trajectory through the Solutions Lab, which explores options for housing Canadians newly released from prison. The primary objective is to engage with municipal governments, non-profit organizations, housing providers, including Indigenous housing providers, private builders and Habitat for Humanity Canada to optimize housing options specifically for people newly released from prison or jail.

When people are forced into experiencing homelessness, they are confronted with a litany of newfound problems. Studies suggest that upward of 80 per cent of people experiencing homelessness in Canada suffer from some sort of chronic illness. Such illnesses are only exasperated by a lack of nutritionally beneficial food and a lack of access to basic medicines or prescriptions required to overcome common illnesses or infections.

Mental health issues affect all unhoused people in one way or another. People experiencing severe mental illness are overrepresented in the homeless population in Canada in the first place. With no proper housing or access to medication, these people are left to take care of themselves with none of the necessary medications or resources. Without access to proper help, they will fall further into their illness and eventually fall into committing crimes again. This is under the presumption they will survive the harsh winters they will experience.

Depression rates in Canada are reported at the highest proportion among people experiencing homelessness. One study found that 61 per cent of people experiencing homelessness who were interviewed experienced suicidal thoughts. Again, the fate is the same for them as little help is available. What shelters are available are often crowded to capacity, forcing many to spend nights on the streets. Of these shelters, there are minimal resources available to assist with major mental health disorders.  

An idea promoted by some advocates at the Solutions Lab includes the construction of tiny homes, which, if subsidized, could be built by current and former convicts. Repurposing shipping containers is also a viable solution, one which would cost much less than outright construction of new living developments. 

Ultimately, these are ideas until they are acted upon if any government is willing to do so. The Solutions Lab determined these to be sustainable, affordable, and low-effort means of creating housing for unhoused ex-convicts. 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

Українці Вінніпегу просять уряд Канади не забувати про них Канадський музей прав людини зібрав повну залу на мітинг до другої річниці вторгнення Росії в Україну. Сьогодні тут сотні українців, які вимушено опинились за кордоном, просять уряд Канади не забувати про них. Розуміючи силу своєї єдності, українці Вінніпегу борються за мирне майбутнє своєї батьківщини та не дають світу звикнутиContinue Reading

Read More »

Confronting Cell Phones in the Classroom

A United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report released in July 2023 says the use of smartphones in the classroom can be beneficial but can also be detrimental to the students learning.  “The digital revolution holds immeasurable potential, but just as warnings have been voiced for how itContinue Reading

Read More »

Navegando Oportunidades Laborales en Manitoba Mudarse a un nuevo país es tanto un esfuerzo emocionante como desafiante, especialmente cuando se trata de encontrar empleo adecuado. Amie Membreño, la Gerente de Servicios de Empleo en el Centro de Inmigrantes de Manitoba, comparte perspicaces ideas sobre el viaje de los recién llegados que buscan empleo enContinue Reading

Read More »

Share this post with your friends

Subscribe to Our Newsletter