Unhoused individuals have a basic proper to stay in encampments, and that proper is violated when authorities tear them down, Canada’s housing advocate says.

In a piercing report released Tuesday, Marie-Josée Houle says the growth of homeless encampments throughout the nation is a nationwide human rights disaster that requires instant motion and co-ordination involving all ranges of presidency. Tent encampments, the report says, are the results of Canada’s “persistent failure” to guard individuals’s proper to housing, which the federal authorities formally acknowledged in 2019.

Governments should make sure that homeless individuals have everlasting housing as quickly as attainable, and within the meantime, authorities must equip encampments with fundamental providers, equivalent to clear water and rubbish elimination, so residents can stay in dignity.

“For individuals dwelling in these encampments, every single day is a matter of life and demise … On the identical time, encampments signify an effort by people who find themselves unhoused to assert their human rights and meet their most simple wants,” the doc says.  “Canada has the capability to unravel this disaster. What’s missing is enough political will, sources and coordination.”

In an interview forward of the report’s launch, Houle referred to as for a direct finish to compelled evictions of homeless encampments, providing a blunt message to cities, together with Halifax and Edmonton, which are attempting to dismantle them: “These are human rights violations. This strategy will solely endanger lives.”

Houle was appointed to watch Canada’s progress upholding housing as a human proper. Her report, referred to as “Upholding dignity and human rights,” caps off a evaluate that started in February 2023, and concerned conferences with advocates, Indigenous leaders and other people dwelling in encampments throughout the nation.

Since then, the problem has solely change into extra pressing, she mentioned.

In Halifax final week, the municipality issued eviction notices to individuals dwelling in 5 of its 11 designated encampments, telling individuals they needed to go away by Feb. 26. Final month in Edmonton, police tore down a camp deemed by the town to be “excessive threat,” and arrested three individuals, together with a journalist.

Unhoused individuals in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have died in camps, some from overdoses and tent fires. There are security dangers in tent cities, Houle mentioned, however dismantling them pushes individuals additional into the margins, the place they’re extra weak.

What’s driving the expansion of encampments throughout Canada, the report mentioned, is a extreme scarcity of housing for low-income individuals, in addition to insufficient funding of group providers and psychological well being helps.

Within the absence of inexpensive, accessible housing, individuals have the best to assemble and stay in encampments, the report mentioned. Homeless encampments can present group and safety — qualities unhoused individuals typically say are missing in emergency shelters and different momentary housing choices, it mentioned.

No person dwelling in camps needs to be compelled to make use of shelters or different choices that don’t meet their wants, Houle mentioned. “Lots of people experiencing homelessness have very unhealthy trauma associated to social providers, associated to establishments, associated to individuals in uniform,” she mentioned.

“If there may be going to be constructing belief for individuals to make use of sources, then forcing individuals and criminalizing them is rarely going to make that work.”

Houle’s report asks the federal authorities to determine a nationwide encampments response plan by Aug. 31 that may fulfil her calls to motion.

Cities ought to present encampments with electrical energy, bogs, clear water, warmth and different fundamental facilities, the evaluate mentioned.

Provinces and territories should supply well being care, together with hurt discount and mental-health providers, in addition to entry to a protected provide of medication for individuals who use them, it mentioned. They have to additionally enhance welfare or revenue help, in addition to minimal wages, and undertake laws recognizing housing as a human proper.

The federal authorities ought to work with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Company to make federal funding for cities and provinces tied to a dedication to upholding the human proper to housing, based on Houle’s report.

Above all, Houle mentioned, governments ought to inform their choices about unhoused individuals after talking with them and discovering out what they want.

“It’s a query of life and demise for lots of people,” she mentioned.

By Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first printed Feb. 13, 2024.


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