Homeless encampments in Canada a human rights crisis
December 8, 2022 – Ottawa, Ontario – Office of the Federal Housing Advocate
Today, the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate released a series of research reports on homeless encampments that confirm a human rights crisis is unfolding in cities across Canada.
There has been a visible rise in homeless encampments since the start of the pandemic. People have lost their livelihoods and their homes, the number of shelter spaces decreased, and indoor services became unsafe. Many people had little choice but to live in tents or turn informal shelters to survive.
These reports provide critical information on the emerging issue of encampments in five regions of Canada.
Many people living in encampments face harassment and violence from police, bylaw officers, and members of the public. They do not have access to basic services like clean water or heat. Some have suffered harm or have died as a result of exposure, fire, overdose, and other threats to life and safety. These conditions amount to violations of fundamental human rights, including the human right to housing.
The reports confirm that a punitive approach to encampments is failing. Tearing down encampments is unsafe and can amount to forced eviction, which is a serious violation of human rights. The researchers note that this approach does not address the underlying conditions that have led to the growth of encampments in the first place, and it does not respect the rights or increase the safety or housing security of encampment residents. Critically, a punitive approach also removes choice from encampment residents and destroys the mutual aid and community connections they have built to care for one another within a broken system.
Governments and decision-makers at all levels must centre human rights and the right to housing in their approaches to encampments. The reports recommend five key areas where Canada must do better to uphold the rights of encampment residents.
- Stop the use of policing and law enforcement as a response to encampments
- 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
- Ensure the meaningful participation of encampment residents in decisions that affect them
- Recognize the distinct rights of Indigenous Peoples and include them in the development of policy approaches to encampments
- Address the conditions within encampments and provide access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation facilities, electricity and heat
This in-depth look at encampments will help the Advocate and decision-makers take action to better support encampment residents and uphold their fundamental human rights and human right to housing.
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“It is unacceptable that we are not meeting people’s vital needs for shelter and safety. Any response to encampments must put people and their human rights first.”
- Research on encampments
- National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada – UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing [PDF 470KB]
- The Office of the Federal Housing Advocate commissioned a series of reports from a research team that included legal experts, university researchers, community organizations, and people with lived expertise of unsheltered homelessness. The research and findings will form the basis for the Advocate’s ongoing work on this issue, and her recommendations to governments.
- The reports include case studies from five regions in Canada:
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