Federal Housing Advocate’s report on encampments in Canada details human rights concerns and solutions

October 11, 2023 – Ottawa, Ontario – Office of the Federal Housing Advocate

Today, Federal Housing Advocate Marie-Josée Houle released her first of a two-part report on encampments in Canada, which illustrates the experiences of encampment residents across the country and explores potential solutions to this growing human rights crisis.

The report provides a comprehensive look at what the Advocate heard from meeting with encampment residents and local community advocates across the country. It also captures data from 366 written online submissions, including from municipalities, and from targeted engagements with Indigenous peoples and their representative organizations.

The Advocate heard that it is becoming increasingly difficult for encampment residents to exist as equal members of society and to live a life with dignity.

Participants shared their experiences and concerns on a number of human rights issues, including barriers to secure housing, encampment evictions and clearances, violence and risk of harm, and the absence of basic services and supports.

The reality of encampments in Canada is in stark contrast to Canada’s recognition of housing as a human right in the National Housing Strategy Act.

In addition to documenting these human rights concerns and amplifying the voices of encampment residents, the interim report also highlights preliminary best practices and potential solutions.

To respect the right to adequate housing, governments must stop forced evictions of encampment residents and the criminalization of people who are unhoused. They must combat discrimination and violence towards people experiencing homelessness.

Recognizing the over-representation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples amongst people who are experiencing homelessness and living in encampments, the Advocate heard the need to uphold Indigenous rights to self-governed and culturally appropriate policies and programs to combat homelessness.

While municipalities are the first line of response to encampments, there is an urgent need for more support from provincial, territorial and federal governments. In particular, the Advocate is calling for increased federal leadership to ensure that responses to encampments are adequately resourced and human rights-based.

Ultimately, solutions to encampments will require more adequate housing, which is severely lacking in Canada. While longer-term solutions are being developed, immediate action is needed to protect the human rights of people in encampments. In particular, this means ensuring the meaningful engagement of people living in encampments in decision-making that affects them.

In the coming months, the Advocate will continue to engage with rights-holders as well as government officials to finalize the proposed solutions into concrete recommendations to governments. Her final report and recommendations to the federal Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities are expected in early 2024.

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  • The Advocate launched a review of homeless encampments on February 23, 2023. This is the first Advocate-led review of a systemic housing issue undertaken by the Advocate.
  • The Advocate’s review of encampments is guided by the principles of a human rights-based approach. The review is designed to create space for meaningful engagement and amplify the voices of encampment residents. People who are unhoused bring an essential perspective and unique understanding of the systems that deny them their rights.
  • During the course of the review so far, the Advocate has met with encampment residents and local community advocates in Montreal, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary. She received written submissions online from 313 people with lived experience in encampments. Another 53 advocates, organizations and municipalities shared their perspectives and observations. Recognizing the significant over-representation of Indigenous people living in encampments, the Advocate has also taken part in a number of targeted engagements with Indigenous people and their representative organizations. The review will also include engagements with duty-bearers from federal, provincial or territorial, and municipal governments.
  • To better understand this critical issue, the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate led a research project in 2021–2022 to provide critical information on the issue of encampments in five regions of Canada. The research confirms that a punitive approach to encampments is not working. Clearing encampments is not a solution to the complex realities that our housing system and people experiencing homelessness are facing. The reports recommended five key areas where Canada must do better to uphold the rights of encampment residents:
    1. Stop the use of policing and law enforcement as a response to encampments
    2. Provide funding and services at all levels of government – to support municipalities that are facing the disproportionate impact of addressing the existence of encampments, and to invest in short and long-term housing options and supports for encampment residents
    3. Ensure the meaningful participation of encampment residents in decisions that affect them
    4. Recognize the distinct rights of Indigenous Peoples and include them in the development of policy approaches to encampments
    5. Address the living conditions within encampments and provide access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation facilities, electricity and heat

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