Homeless shelter in Toronto tackles gambling addiction with a first-of-its kind treatment program

Dr. Flora Matheson was looking into the link between gambling and homelessness but there were no Canadian data, except one study out of Quebec.

“There wasn’t a lot of (research) out there, but to me it intuitively made sense there would be a link,” she says. “I thought, ‘This looks like a hidden population and we’re not talking about it.’”

So in 2013 she reached out to Good Shepherd Ministries on Queen St. E., which provides services to the homeless, to ask about their clients’ experiences with gambling. Staff had no idea how widespread the problem was because they didn’t ask about gambling. Like most shelters, the focus was on drug and alcohol addiction.

That led to a joint study by St. Mike’s and Good Shepherd. Researchers and staff interviewed 264 people at the shelter, mostly men, and discovered that 35 per cent had a problem with gambling, compared with 0.6 to 4 per cent in the general population. 

“I was shocked,” says Aklilu Wendaferew, assistant executive director of Good Shepherd Ministries. “I was surprised the problem was so wide within the population we serve…. (It) was an emerging need that needed to be addressed.”

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