(Saint-Jean) People without housing have the fundamental right to live in camps, and this right is violated when the authorities dismantle them, argues the federal housing defender
In a scathing report released Tuesday, Marie-Josée Houle says the expansion of homeless encampments across the country constitutes a national human rights crisis that requires immediate action and coordination involving all levels of government.
The report calls on governments to take responsibility for serious systemic failures that violate the right to housing, which Canada officially recognized in 2019. And it says they must guarantee homeless people permanent housing as quickly as possible.
“The encampments represent an effort by unhoused people to claim their right to housing and meet their most basic shelter needs,” the report said.
Canada has the capacity to resolve this crisis (…) What is lacking is the absence of political will, resources and coordination.
Federal housing advocate Marie-Josée Houle
In an interview given before the publication of the report, Mr.me Houle called for an immediate end to forced evictions from homeless encampments, sending a direct message to cities including Halifax and Edmonton that are trying to dismantle them.
“Dismantling the camps is not a solution,” she said. Municipalities, even if they do not have the resources, must do better. It really is a matter of life and death. »
Mme Houle was appointed to monitor Canada’s progress in respecting housing as a human right. Its report, titled “Respect for Dignity and Human Rights,” concludes a review that began in February 2023 and involved meetings with housing rights advocates, Indigenous leaders and people living in camps across the country.
Since then, the issue has become even more urgent, she said.
Dismantling approach criticized
In Halifax last week, the municipality issued eviction notices to people living in five of its 11 designated encampments, telling them they must leave by February 26. Last month in Edmonton, police dismantled an encampment deemed “high risk” by the city and arrested three people, including a journalist.
Unhoused people in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick also died in camps, some from overdoses and tent fires. There are security risks in these camps, recognized M.me Swell, but their dismantling pushes people even further, where they are more vulnerable.
In the absence of affordable and accessible housing, encampments can also provide community, safety and coherence – conditions that unhoused people often say they don’t find in emergency shelters and other temporary housing options, a indicated Mme Swell.
No one living in camps should be forced to use shelters or other options that do not meet their needs, she said. She indicates that many homeless people suffer from “trauma linked to social services, institutions, people in uniform. »
She argues that forcing people and criminalizing them will never work.
A requested intervention plan
The document of Mme Houle is calling on the federal government to establish by August 31 a national intervention plan in the encampments that would respond to the report’s calls for action.
For their part, cities should provide encampments with electricity, toilets, drinking water, heating and other basic amenities, according to the report.
Provinces and territories are called upon to provide health care, including harm reduction and mental health services, as well as access to a safe supply of medications for those who use them, the document states. They must also increase welfare or income support, as well as the minimum wage, and pass legislation recognizing housing as a human right.
The federal government should work with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to link federal funding to cities and provinces with a commitment to respecting the right to housing, says Ms.me Swell.
Above all, according to Mme Houle, governments should inform their decisions about homeless people after talking with them and finding out what they need.