More than 50 per cent of U of T students face housing affordability issues, while approximately 2.3 per cent have experienced homelessness — that’s according to a survey conducted by the Prevention, Empowerment, Advocacy, Response, for Survivors (PEARS) Project.

PEARS — a grassroots initiative that aims to provide support and resources for survivors of sexual violence at U of T — released the report, entitled The Need for a Housing and Homelessness Strategy in Toronto, on Instagram on February 22. The report underscores homelessness rates and trends at U of T, focusing on its impact on survivors of gender-based violence. 

According to Faiz Jan — a third-year student studying commerce and one of the authors of the report — PEARS wrote the report to “help make it so that there’s more space for survivors who recently experienced gender-based violence and then might not have a place to stay for the night.” The group aims to prompt the university to build transitional housing — supportive yet temporary housing that bridges the gap from homelessness to permanent housing — and implement other policies to address the housing crisis. 

The report

PEARS wrote the report in part based on a research survey it conducted of 659 U of T student participants, who answered questions related to their experiences with homelessness, gender-based violence, and their identities. The report also used government financial reports from the past few decades and quantitative reports to assess the market forces impacting the Toronto affordability crisis. 

Approximately 2.3 per cent of respondents had experienced homelessness — almost the same proportion as the rates of homelessness among Toronto as a whole reported in the 2021 Toronto Street Needs Assessment. Around 51.2 per cent of respondents to the PEARS survey described their housing as unaffordable, and 12.8 per cent reported being uncertain that they would not be kicked out of their rental units. 

Controlling for self-reported demographic factors — such as whether or not students commuted to campus, their domestic or international status, and details about their gender, sexuality, and mental health experiences — the authors found a statistically significant relationship between individuals experiencing housing precarity and experiencing gender-based violence. They also found that students who reported having experienced homelessness were 22.7 per cent more likely to have experienced gender-based violence. 

A 2021 paper co-written by Alexa Yakubovich — a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health — notes that the pandemic corresponded to increased intimate partner violence against women. Intimate partner violence often leads to homelessness, with many women’s shelters underfunded, while homelessness can increase the risk of experiencing further violence. 

A 2023 California State University study showed that students who experience homelessness are more likely to have lower grades and struggle academically. 

U of T’s role

As part of U of T’s Student Housing policy, the university states on its website that it aims to “encourage the development of high-quality communities on and off-campus that support the academic and educational aims of the university community.” 

Jan argued that, with the aforementioned policy in mind, U of T should aim to fund more residences and ensure that students have safe and reliable off-campus housing, given the sheer number of students who face housing insecurity. He said that U of T has a role in addressing housing insecurity by supplying housing: “So, building more residences — which they’re doing, but not sufficiently at the scale that it needs to be done.”

According to a U of T press release, surveys suggest that more than 55 per cent of U of T students commute to one of the three campuses. With most of its students living off campus, Jan argued that the university should also educate students about the Residential Tenants Act to help them avoid landlords taking advantage of them. He suggests that the university could even take small steps toward this by putting up informative posters on its campuses. 

The PEARS project aims to release a follow-up report focusing on specific policies that the university, the province, and the federal government can implement. Jan said readers can expect this follow-up report to discuss policies like social housing, creating an online platform for students to rate their landlords, and changing zoning policies. 

U of T did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment in time for publication.