A Human Right To Adequate Housing: Thunder Bay Wrestles With Homelessness In This Light

bird's eye view of Thunder Bay
Thunder Bay skyline photo by P199 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Like virtually all North American cities, Thunder Bay, Ontario faces the reality of persistent homelessness. Like a smaller number of cities, indigenous people make up a portion of Thunder Bay’s homeless population, and also provide some alternative solutions for the homeless.

Thunder Bay activists and City staff have been working together to find solutions that resonate with the United Nations’ statements about the ‘right to adequate housing1.’ The City now wrestles with how a commitment to this human right can be implemented without putting it at odds with many of the city’s housed citizens, together with politicians who represent them.

One possible framework for accommodating groups of homeless persons: city-sanctioned campsites, which are currently a tentative experiment in other cities across the continent. Evidence is mounting that these sites, even supported by amenities such as toilets, showers, and security, do not necessarily provide the adequate support to people who are homeless.

A campsite might be agreeable to a majority of citizens if situated on the outskirts of a city, but is not a survivable location for people who are homeless. Thunder Bay has considered such plans, together with proposals for transportation services to get homeless people to and from sources of food, medicine, etc. that they need2.

And until official tent encampments are turned into quasi-prisons, there is no way of forcing people to move where a community wants them to, regardless of supposedly enticing amenities that some believe make it attractive.

As a result, the city is now mulling over a seriously unorthodox approach to homeless encampments: forget spending the money set aside to create official campsites. Instead, Thunder Bay is at least studying the possibility of using the same money to support people in their own choice of campsites, wherever they are situated on public land.

Thunder Bay’s current thinking runs aggressively opposite to all those jurisdictions around the world where tent encampment sweeps and criminalizing homelessness are considered to be both an effective and a moral solution to the problem. Those punitive measures are also demonstrating pretty much everywhere to be neither.

Supporting the homeless within the context of the United Nations’ human right to adequate housing is a radical approach. It may well be of interest to communities everywhere, if Thunder Bay continues to promote and refine this idea to the point where it proves to be successful.

Read more at TBnewswatch.com: City eyes ‘human rights approach’ to homeless encampments


  1. The UN’s guidance comes from the United Nations’ Office of The High Commissioner On Human Rights: The Right to Adequate Housing Fact Sheet 21
  2. Try: NIMBY ‘Just Say No’ Doesn’t Cut It. Condo Pitches In To Find Alternatives