Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Peter Dunn

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The United Nations documentation on internal displacement provided the conceptual framework for this study. The study explored whether or not homeless people in Toronto face similar experiences to other internally displaced persons throughout the world, if they fit the description of internally displaced persons developed by the UN and, if so, what are the implications of these findings. The research was grounded on principles of social action research. A quarter of a million people will experience homelessness in Canada this year (National Housing and Homelessness Network, 2001). Broad social and economic forces and policy decisions made by all levels of government have created the context of mass homelessness in Canada. Homelessness has reached such crisis proportions that it has been declared a National Disaster by the City of Toronto, the Big City Mayors Caucus and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities along with over 400 community organizations. The homelessness disaster in Toronto is most evident in the rising level of visible homelessness on the streets of Toronto and the growing number of people left to live outside in parks, doorways, grates, bus shelters and camps. The shelter system is not only full but dangerously overcrowded and currently experiencing an outbreak of tuberculosis (Toronto Disaster Relief Committee, 2001). An alarming number of people have died from homelessness. Two to four homeless people are dying every week in the City of Toronto alone (Hwang, 2000). This study employed multiple research methods to investigate the research questions being examined. An extensive literature review was conducted on homelessness. The research involved a qualitative study of the experiences of homeless people in Toronto. Maximum variation sampling was employed and a total of fourteen homeless people were interviewed. A survey of frontline workers was conducted in order to supplement the data collected in the qualitative interviews and provided cross-data validity checks. A total of fifteen surveys were completed and returned (a 75% response rate), representing key organizations providing services to a wide range of individuals experiencing homelessness. Based on the results of this study, it was found that homeless people in the City of Toronto meet the United Nations definition of internally displaced persons. They have been forced out of their homes by social and political causers and the systemic violation of human rights. Research findings indicate that people who are homeless in Toronto share similar experiences to those internally displaced persons identified by the United Nations and suffer similar consequences from displacement. Of the twenty-six issues identified by the UN to be common in situations of displacement, nineteen were found to be evident in the situation of homelessness in Toronto. The research indicates that the humanitarian needs of displaced persons in Toronto are not being met. The primary responsibility for assisting internally displaced persons rests first and foremost with the national government. The Canadian governments must accept their responsibility and act immediately on the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement outlined by the United Nations in order to fulfill its obligations under international law. Several recommendations are made, providing direction to various levels of Canadian government and identifying actions necessary to end the current crisis of homelessness in the City of Toronto, and meet the protection and assistance needs of people during displacement.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season


Included in

Social Work Commons