Problem Gambling, Poverty and Homelessness
Gambling occurs at a very high rate among people experiencing poverty and homelessness. Among men using shelter services in Toronto, 35% have reported serious or even severe gambling problems at some point in their lives. This is nine times higher than the general population.
The relationship between problem gambling and poverty can be complicated by experiences of homelessness, trauma, violence, mental illness and substance use. These experiences are also impacted by intersections of class, race, culture, sex and gender identity. Our own research identified critical gaps in services for problem gambling, including the need for:
- person-centred care to enhance personal empowerment and autonomy, empathy, compassion and sincerity, respectful communication and holistic life plans
- service provider awareness of problem gambling and related health and social issues, including homelessness, mental illness and substance use disorder
- integrated service delivery to address these co-occurring conditions.
Click here to read a personal story shared with our research team.
There is a gap in knowledge—and knowledge sharing—related to the health of people who face gambling problems and the complex consequences of poverty (e.g., homelessness, poor health).
The Gambling and Poverty Hub at the
Centre for Urban Health Solutions, St. Michael's Hospital is dedicated to:
- building community awareness of problem gambling in the context of complex social-structural and health issues
- identifying and communicating effective solutions to better help people experiencing poverty and problem gambling
- collecting a range of input from people about their experiences using methods such as:
- engaging peer interviewers in the research process (e.g., to do face-to-face interviews)
- holding World Cafés, a uniquely interactive method of creating conversation and ideas, with both people experiencing gambling problems and housing concerns and service providers
- working with community partners to build capacity in their efforts to use research and evaluation to develop additional and tailored supports for their clients who are dealing with problem gambling.
Guides and Resources
Problem Gambling: A guide for helping people experiencing poverty
Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario at the
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and
Good Shepherd Ministries, we co-developed a manual to guide social and health service providers in working with people who have low incomes and housing concerns and who may also be experiencing problems with gambling.
Webinar: Exploring the link between gambling and poverty
This webinar was hosted by Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO) and provides an introduction to Dr. Flora Matheson's research exploring the link between gambling, homelessness and poverty.
Dr. Flora Matheson was recently named lead research partner on two newly announced initiatives on problem gambling and poverty.
Good Shepherd Ministries poverty reduction fund project
The Local Poverty Reduction Fund is a $50 million six-year initiative of the Ontario government to support innovative, community-driven projects that measurably improve the lives of people most affected by poverty. Good Shepherd Ministries has launched the Gambling Addictions Program, a pilot project that supports people who struggle with homelessness and problem gambling. In collaboration with Good Shepherd Ministries, Dr. Matheson and her team will evaluate the impact of this new pilot intervention, which will help reduce gambling's financial impact and help find and sustain housing and related supports.
Optimizing support and service delivery for problem gambling among people with complex needs
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care Health System Impact Fund for Targeted Research on Problem Gambling aims to ensure that research is innovative and leads to evidence-informed policy and decision-making. Dr. Matheson and her team at St. Michael's Hospital have been funded to develop four related projects with a focus on problem gambling and poverty for clients and health practitioners. One component of this project involves a concept-mapping project to identify what health practitioners need in order to optimize delivery of services for persons with problem gambling and complex needs. Another project will identify necessary components of a mobile application that would assist people with problem gambling and complex needs to optimize their recovery, with the aim to pilot the app with service providers and their clients.
Meet Our Team
- Flora Matheson, PhD
- Sarah Hamilton-Wright, MA
- Tara Hahmann, PhD
- Andrée Schuler, PhD
- David Kryszajtys, MA
- Julia Woodhall-Melnik, PhD
- Sara Guilcher, PhD
Dr. Flora Matheson leads the Gambling and Poverty Knowledge Translation Hub, one of four hubs funded by GREO. We are a dynamic team of social scientists and epidemiologists with specializations and expertise that include:
- problem gambling
- gender and youth studies
- mental health
- substance use
- health equity
- qualitative methods
- quantitative methods
- World Café method
- concept mapping
- scoping, narrative and systematic reviews.
We work closely with community agencies and people having experience with poverty and gambling problems to ensure our research and solutions fit the context in which services and treatment are delivered. We value these relationships that make our research meaningful and useful.
To create this website, we reached out to the community for help. We thank the members of the community advisory committee for their wisdom and thoughtful guidance in creating a space that brings together knowledge on problem gambling and poverty.
Our community partners:
Open access publications
- Baxter, A., Salmon, C., Dufresne, K., Carasco-Lee, A.& Matheson, F.I. (2016). Gender differences in felt stigma and barriers to help-seeking for problem gambling.
Addictive Behaviors Reports, 3, 1-8. DOI:
- Devotta, K., Woodhall-Melnik, J., Pedersen, C., Wendaferew, A., Dowbor, T.P., Guilcher, S.J., . . . Matheson, F.I. (2016). Enriching qualitative research by engaging peer interviewers: A case study.
Qualitative Research, 16 (6), 661-680. DOI:
- Guilcher, S.J.T., Hamilton-Wright, S., Skinner, W., Woodhall-Melnik, J., Ferentzy, P., Wendaferew, A., . . . Matheson, F.I. (2016). "Talk with me": Perspectives on services for men with problem gambling and housing instability.
BioMed Central Health Services Research, 16 (1), 340-353. DOI:
- Hamilton-Wright, S., Woodhall-Melnik, J., Guilcher, S.J., Schuler, A., Wendaferew, A., Hwang, S.W. & Matheson, F.I. (2016). Gambling in the landscape of adversity in youth: Reflections from men who live with poverty and homelessness.
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13 (9), 854-871. DOI:
- Schuler, A., Ferentzy, P., Turner, N.E., Skinner, W., McIsaac, K.E., Ziegler, C.P. & Matheson, F.I. (2016). Gamblers Anonymous as a recovery pathway: A scoping review.
Journal of Gambling Studies, 32 (4), 1261-1278. DOI:
- Ferentzy, P., Skinner, W.J. & Matheson, F.I. (2013). Illicit drug use and problem gambling.
International Scholarly Research Notices Addiction, 2013, 1-11. DOI:
Limited access publication (abstract available)
- Matheson, F.I., Devotta, K., Wendaferew, A. & Pedersen, C. (2014). Prevalence of gambling problems among the clients of a Toronto homeless shelter.
Journal of Gambling Studies, 30 (2), 537-546. DOI:
Plain language summaries
Flora Matheson, PhD
Centre for Urban Health Solutions, St. Michael's Hospital
Leslie Shepherd, MA
Manager, Media Strategy
Centre for Urban Health Solutions, St. Michael's Hospital
Aklilu Wendaferew, MSW, RSW
Assistant Executive Director
Problem Gambling Addictions Program, Good Shepherd Ministries
Telephone: 416 869-3619 ext. 263