Problem Gambling, Poverty and Homelessness
Gambling occurs at a very high rate among people experiencing poverty and homelessness. In fact, 35% of men using shelter services in Toronto 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 research has identified a need for:
- stronger awareness of problem gambling, homelessness, mental illness and substance use disorders among service providers
- integrated service delivery plans to address concurrent disorders
- empathetic, sincere and well-communicated person-centred care
- holistic life plans for clients with an emphasis on personal empowerment and autonomy.
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 concerns and the complex consequences of poverty (e.g., homelessness, poor health, etc.).
The Gambling and Poverty Hub at the
Centre for Urban Health Solutions of St. Michael's Hospital is dedicated to:
- understanding the range of experiences of people who endure problem gambling and homelessness through methods such as:
- peer interviewing (face-to-face interviews)
- World Cafés, a uniquely interactive method of conversation between service providers and people experiencing gambling and housing concerns
- using research and evaluation with our community partners to create tailored supports for their clients
- building awareness about problem gambling and the social determinants of health through knowledge translation.
Our Hub and the Gambling Research Exchange of Ontario
Our Gambling and Poverty Knowledge Hub, led by Dr. Flora Matheson and supported by the Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO), generates knowledge and awareness about problem gambling and poverty research. In 2017 and 2018, Dr. Matheson received funding to support two projects:
Raising awareness: Multi-sector engagement to enhance understanding of gambling and poverty
In 2014, Dr. Matheson conducted a prevalence study that found a higher rate of problem gambling among people living in homeless shelters than the general population. In order to inform stakeholders and the public about this problem, the Raising Awareness project began. In collaboration with Dr. Matheson's team and Community Advisory Committee members, four university students created knowledge translation products based on Dr. Matheson's research. Pamphlets for youth and women, a whiteboard video for youth, a digital story and written feature documenting adult male experiences for adults, and a training module for service providers were created. See them in our Guides and Resources section.
Women creating community: Supporting women to manage problem gambling through arts-based programming
Women who have concerns with gambling often experience loneliness, financial insecurity, concurrent mental illness and/or emotional abuse. In 2018, Dr. Matheson, Dr. Janet Parsons and their team will deliver an eight-week arts-based program for clients of the Jean Tweed Centre for Women and the Fred Victor Centre. Modelled after two arts-based programs for women experiencing mental illness and substance use, this project aims to give these women a space to be artists, friends, leaders and supporters. Following the completion of the program, the women's artwork will be displayed in a virtual exhibit. A feature story will also be written to describe their experiences and explain how art can support recovery.
Guides and Resources
Webinar: Exploring the link between gambling and poverty
Watch this webinar, created by Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO), for an introduction to Dr. Matheson's gambling and poverty research.
Dr. Matheson recently became the lead research partner on three newly announced initiatives:
Good Shepherd Ministries poverty reduction fund project
The Local Poverty Reduction Fund (LPRF) 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 individuals 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 intervention and find sustainable housing and other support for their clients.
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 evidence-based to inform policies and decision-making. Dr. Matheson (lead), Dr. Sara Guilcher (co-lead) and their team at St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto will conduct four related projects that focus on problem gambling and poverty to improve experiences for clients and health practitioners. One component of this research involves a concept-mapping project to identify what health practitioners need in order to optimize service delivery for people with problem gambling and complex needs. A scoping review, qualitative interviews and user testing will inform the creation of a mobile or web-based self-management application for clients. It will then be piloted at some of our partner organizations.
Betting on housing: Women, problem gambling and homelessness
Research on problem gambling and homelessness is predominantly male focused. This study is the first in Canada to research problem gambling among women experiencing homelessness. Funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, this study intends to uncover the kinds of experiences that can lead to problem gambling and homelessness in women, such as concurrent mental illness, substance use, immigration and interpersonal violence. Problem gambling NODS-CLiP screening and qualitative methods will be used to identify their needs as well as gaps in supports and services. The goal of this research is to inform new and existing problem gambling treatment services for women at municipal, provincial and federal levels.
Meet Our Team
- Dr. Flora Matheson
- Sarah Hamilton-Wright
- Dr. Jessica Wiese
- Dr. Natalie Waldbrook
- David Kryszajtys
- Alison Baxter
- Parisa Dastoori
- Steven Tingley
- Emily Theodore
- Zoe Villeneuve
- Kevin Wu
- Conor DeVries
- Guido Tacchini
- Nashmia Nigar
We are a dynamic team with specializations and expertise in areas including:
- 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
- social determinants of health
- knowledge translation
- graphic design
- film production.
Our relationships with community agencies make our research meaningful and useful. We work closely with our Community Advisory Committee (CAC) and people with experiences of poverty and problem gambling to ensure that our research and solutions are helpful in services and treatment plans.
To create this website, we reached out to the community for help. We thank the members of the CAC for their wisdom and thoughtful guidance to create 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., Hamilton-Wright, S., Ferentzy, P., Hwang, S.W. & 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., Hwang, S.W.
& Matheson, F.I. (2016). "Talk with me": Perspectives on services for men with problem gambling and housing instability.
BMC Health Services Research, 16, 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), 853-870. 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.
ISRN 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:
Flora Matheson, PhD
Centre for Urban Health Solutions, St. Michael's Hospital
Leslie Shepherd, MA
Manager, Media Strategy
St. Michael's Hospital
Telephone: 416 864-6094
Aklilu Wendaferew, MSW, RSW
Assistant Executive Director
Problem Gambling Addictions Program, Good Shepherd Ministries
Telephone: 416 869-3619 ext. 263