Homeless encampments | “It really is a crisis and it’s urgent”

(Ottawa) The federal government and the provinces can no longer leave municipalities to deal with the problem of homelessness alone. The housing advocate is calling for a national intervention plan by the end of August to resolve the situation of encampments which have multiplied across the country. Marie-Josée Houle makes it “a question of life or death” in her latest report obtained by The Press.

What there is to know

Homeless encampments have increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The phenomenon is due to several causes, including the housing crisis and the lack of community resources.

The federal housing advocate is calling on Ottawa to develop an intervention plan by August 31.

“People are dying,” she says in an interview. This is truly a crisis and it is urgent. »

They can be swept away by the cold or a drug overdose or beaten to death. The federal housing defender also makes the link between “the encampment crisis” and “the national opioid crisis” in her report which is to be unveiled this Tuesday.

It proposes six calls to action, including that for the federal government to develop a country-wide intervention plan by August 31 in collaboration with the provinces, territories and municipalities. She notes that the responses “are disparate across the country” and that there are “an increasing number of appeals before the courts”. The government’s plan must be accompanied by sufficient resources for its implementation.

We must not have another winter with camps, but we must have real alternatives. And also new resources are needed.

Excerpt from the report of the Federal Housing Defender

New money to try to find solutions to the crisis that would really meet the needs of these people while respecting their rights. This is a recommendation that could be difficult to apply in the context where the government is trying to find savings.

“(But) what is the cost of doing nothing? asks Marie-Josée Houle. When people experiencing homelessness end up in hospital emergency rooms and when a city like Edmonton spends a few million dollars to force people out of an encampment… We’re talking about spending, but spending well. »

Dismantle? “It never works”

Mme Houle also asks the authorities to stop “immediately” dismantling the camps “because it never works” and “it makes the situation worse for people”.

The Press revealed in December that Montreal had dismantled at least 460 homeless encampments since the start of 2023, including 420 in the Ville-Marie borough. For this district alone, it is four times more than in 2021.


Marie-Josée Houle, federal housing advocate

In December, Gatineau also evicted homeless people who were camping along the Robert-Guertin arena. A few months earlier, Mayor France Bélisle had directly contacted the Minister responsible for Social Services, Lionel Carmant.

“Mr. Carmant, I have 80 people in a camp. My homeless shelter is overflowing,” she said during the summit on taxation of the Union of Municipalities of Quebec.

Not just in urban areas

Encampments have multiplied across the country and as much in large cities as in small municipalities and in rural areas. Mme Houle acknowledges that it is difficult to count their number “because it changes all the time”, but some municipalities have nevertheless started to do so.

“The problem is growing, that’s for sure,” she emphasizes. They are everywhere, even in Pinehouse, in northern Saskatchewan, and then in the Far North too. It’s everywhere. This is not just an urban problem. »

She makes the connection between “the increase in the number and size of encampments” and “the decrease in shelter capacity” at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But far from resolving, “the challenges have (since) proven to be more persistent and systemic. »

The housing crisis, the inaccessibility of emergency shelters, the underfunding of community organizations, the lack of resources for people struggling with mental health and addiction problems and the lack of coordination between levels of government all contributed to the crisis.

The housing advocate also highlights the lack of resources for indigenous people, who are over-represented among people experiencing homelessness.

Shelters sometimes lack beds or do not really meet the needs of people living on the streets. “Shelters do not accept couples, pets, they sometimes require people to be sober, they do not accept people’s belongings,” she says. When we are homeless, the objects we carry with us are all survival objects. »

To produce her report, the housing advocate went to meet people who live in camps from one end of the country to the other. She noted with regret “the absence of political will, resources and coordination”.

With Gabrielle Duchaine and Caroline Touzin, The Press

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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