Stigma and its Impacts


“The negative comments do nothing but hurt. They perpetuate and keep the stigma going” - Person with lived experience with homelessness

People who experience homelessness may face multiple stigmas at one time – or intersecting stigmas.  

This means people may experience health-related stigmas (e.g., mental illness, problematic substance use, HIV/AIDS) and stigmas targeting their identity (e.g. racialized identity, gender identity, and/or sexual orientation).

Intersecting stigmas stack up and prevent people from attaining the resources needed for optimal health such as education, employment, health services, and housing.

When it comes to stigma, blame is often placed on individuals for their situation.

This fails to recognize broader health and social conditions and gaps in social policy that contribute to poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and problematic substance use.

Stigma exists at many levels. 

Social Stigma

This happens when family, friends, social networks, or general community members endorse negative stereotypes and prejudices toward a person experiencing homelessness. An example is the use of derogatory terms, dehumanizing labels, or making assumptions about the person’s situation, e.g., “Just get a job.” Stigma drives social exclusion which is harmful to health, e.g. “You don’t belong here.”


Self-stigma happens when a person internalizes social stigma, e.g., “I don’t belong here”, “I don’t deserve to be treated with respect.” Taking on stereotypes and prejudices as personal beliefs results in low self-esteem and deep feelings of shame.

Stigma By Association

Stigma by association occurs when the effects of stigma are extended to someone linked to a person affected by a health-related and/or identity-related stigma. Stigma at this level can impact one’s opportunities for social relationships and sense of community belonging.

Institutional Stigma 

This happens when policies and practices that perpetuate stigma exist in organizations such as healthcare services, medical or health training schools, community sector agencies, or businesses. An example of stigma at this level is lack of empathy from staff, a building that is not inclusive, lack of trauma-informed care training among staff, or making assumptions about one’s health or needs based on their housing status. This can result in people experiencing homelessness delaying or avoiding seeking healthcare or other services in a community when they are needed.

Structural Stigma 

This happens when negative attitudes and stereotypes are adopted within societal structures such as national or provincial social policies, laws, or mass media. Examples include discriminatory policies and laws, and lack of funding for programs for particular populations. Stigma in mass media plays out in negative portrayals of a group, population, or community situation. For example, media reporting on violence associated with an emergency housing service. 

Learn more: 

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Parry Sound

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Burk's Falls

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