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FEDERAL HOUSING ADVOCATE: “THIS NATIONAL CRISIS CALLS FOR A NATIONAL RESPONSE”

Earlier this month the first federal Housing Advocate released their final report on encampments in Canada, Upholding dignity and human rights: the Federal Housing Advocate’s review of homeless encampments.

 

The report includes the Advocate’s conclusions about the factors leading to the rise in encampments and, most importantly, the concrete measures that must be taken by all governments to fulfill their human rights responsibilities to reduce or eliminate the need for encampments.

The engagement process consulted directly with people living in encampments, local community advocates, Indigenous governments and representative organizations, and duty-bearers across all governments.

The Advocate concluded that Canada has a two-fold human rights crisis.

Encampment residents are at risk of harm due to the failure to uphold their basic rights.

The encampments exist only because of a larger, systemic failure to uphold the right of all people to adequate housing without discrimination.

The report makes it clear that Canada has the capacity to solve the crisis. What Canada doesn’t have is the political will, resources and coordination to get the job done.

“The absence of effective coordination between the many agencies, departments and jurisdictions involved limits the effectiveness of responses to the homelessness crisis,” state the authors of the report. “While municipalities are on the frontlines in responding to encampments, they don’t have all the powers and resources they need to provide human rights-based services. Provinces and territories must work closely with municipalities and the federal government must play a leadership role.”


CALLS TO ACTION

 

“This national crisis calls for a national response,” say the authors.

In response to the urgency of the current crisis the Federal Housing Advocate issued six Calls to Action to all governments in Canada.

 

It is the Advocate’s hope that the Calls to Action will also be useful to service providers, civil

society organizations, and the public.

 

“Public awareness of the need for urgent action should drive governments to uphold their responsibilities to protect and fulfil the human right to housing,” state the authors.

 

The Calls to Action provide a high-level road map to guide the actions required to respond to homeless encampments in compliance with Canada’s human rights obligations, including those affirmed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; the Canadian Constitution; the National Housing Strategy Act; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

 

Below are the Calls to Action. Each is followed by a set of recommended measures that governments must each take to implement the Calls to Action.

 

The Federal Government must lead the development of a human rights-based National Encampments Response Plan in cooperation and consultation with all other governments

a. Immediately convene meetings with provinces, territories, and municipalities to coordinate an

all-of-government response.

b. Commit maximum available resources to promote, protect and fulfill the human rights of

encampment residents.

c. Provide a coordinated all-of-government response and ensure resources are available to

address the range of housing, healthcare, income and other supports needed by people

experiencing homelessness using human rights-based approaches.

d. Include clear targets and timelines.

 

Commit to a human rights-based approach to address the needs of encampment residents

a. All governments must publicly commit to applying a human rights-based approach to

encampments that recognizes and addresses the distinct needs of First Nations, Inuit and Métis

individuals, Black and other racialized individuals, women, 2SLGBTQQIA+ individuals, people

fleeing gender-based violence, youth, seniors and people with disabilities. These approaches

must align with Canada’s human rights obligations as affirmed in international human rights

instruments, the Charter, and domestic legislation.

b. In the absence of adequate, affordable and accessible alternatives, all governments must

recognize the rights of people to live in encampments. Supporting the dignity and autonomy of

the person means governments must respect the rights of encampment residents to decide for

themselves if shelter solutions best meet their needs, including for safety and security.

c. People living in encampments must play a leading role in decision-making processes that affect

them. All governments must implement ongoing and meaningful engagement with people living

in encampments and those who support them.

d. All governments and political leaders at all levels have obligations to promote and protect the

human rights and dignity of people experiencing homelessness. Leaders must refrain from

actions and language that further stigmatizes the residents of encampments, or people

experiencing homelessness, which exposes them to greater risk of rights violations.

 

Respect the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples

a. All governments must commit to upholding the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of

Indigenous Peoples and work in consultation and cooperation with First Nations, Inuit, and

Métis governments to fully implement its provisions.

b. Federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments must recognize the jurisdiction of

Indigenous governments to determine, develop, and administer programs and services related

to housing and homelessness. Such recognition must not result in any reduction in levels of

funding or other supports provided by federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments.

c. Develop all encampment response measures in consultation and cooperation with First Nations,

Inuit, and Métis governments and their representative organizations.

d. First Nations, Inuit and Métis governments and representative organizations must be fully

supported to develop and provide self-determined, culturally appropriate housing and related

services and supports, including supports in urban centers.

e. All government departments and agencies engaged in the design and delivery of housing-related

services should make a concerted effort to ensure their staff, management and boards are representative of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, and introduce mandatory cultural safety

training.

 

Take immediate action to protect the right to life and dignity of all people

living in encampments, reduce the risks that they face, and help them to

stabilize their situation.

a. Immediately end forced evictions of encampments, particularly on public lands, as a violation of

human rights protected by section 7 of the Charter as well as the right to life and the right to adequate housing under international law. Put in place alternatives to evictions that are designed following meaningful engagement with encampment residents to find solutions that meet their needs.

b. All governments must ensure that laws, regulations and bylaws do not further destabilize

encampments and expose residents to greater risk of harm and violence. All enforcement

measures undertaken must be compliant with human rights standards.

c. All governments must fulfill their human rights responsibilities to ensure that everyone living in

encampments has access without discrimination to the necessities of life and the services

needed to protect their physical and mental health, including access to water, food, sanitation,

and heating and cooling, accessibility supports, healthcare and harm reduction services.

d. Ensure drop-in shelters are accessible 24/7 throughout the year to provide people with a

dignified place to rest, take refuge from the elements and access services.

 

Implement immediate measures to address the root causes of encampments

and provide access to adequate housing.

a. All governments must immediately fund and/or develop adequate housing solutions and

supports so that people living in encampments are re-housed as rapidly as possible. These

housing solutions must meet the definition of adequate housing which includes security of

tenure, affordability, accessibility, suitable location, availability of services, habitability and

cultural adequacy.

b. In the absence of available adequate housing, all governments and service providers must work

to address the structural barriers that result in existing emergency shelters not being accessible

or appropriate for all people who might choose to use them.

c. The National Housing Strategy must be greatly enhanced and its programs must prioritize the

elimination of chronic homelessness and reduction of core housing need, with a focus on

Indigenous peoples and disadvantaged groups, to fulfill commitments under the NHSA.

d. All governments must strengthen collaboration to address the systems that drive homelessness,

including systemic racism and discrimination and failings in the Canadian child welfare,

corrections, healthcare, income security and other systems.

 

Ensure government accountability and that people experiencing

homelessness have access to justice.

a. All governments must ensure that they are monitoring the progressive realization of the right to

adequate housing and put in place measurement systems that include accurate, comprehensive,

and replicable data on homelessness.

b. People living in encampments must have access to timely, effective recourse when their rights

are threatened or violated.

 

To see the Detailed Recommendations to Implement The Calls To Action and other docs by the Housing Advocate:

 

 

 

 

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