Life In Homeless Encampments In Canada Exposed

tent being set up in snowy urban location
This scene was created by and is licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

April 2020 saw the publication of A National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada (the Protocol). It was timely because it appeared at the beginning of COVID when everyone was unsure about how to be safe during the pandemic.

The Protocol drew attention to the right to housing. In UN’s treaties, the right to adequate housing extends to all residents, regardless of whether they are living in a mansion or a tent. At the time, it was important to emphasize the rights of people who are living outdoors. This was just after the Canadian government had affirmed the right to housing in legislation. Clarity about rights of people in encampments was needed.

In 2023, the Federal Housing Advocate, Marie-Josée Houle, launched an investigation into conditions in encampments. During her investigation, she:

  • commissioned research
  • visited encampments
  • invited people to give testimony about experience in encampments
  • met with community service providers
  • met with municipal, territorial, provincial and federal representatives, and
  • met with Indigenous organizations and governments.

The findings of the Federal Housing Advocate’s investigation were issued in February 2024: Upholding dignity and human rights: the Federal Housing Advocate’s review of homeless encampments.

Also in 2023, Canada’s entire human rights record was reviewed by the United Nations. Representatives from Canadian government and community organizations provided evidence to the UN’s review panel. The findings of the UN’s review were issued in February 2024: Embracing Human Rights in Housing: Recommendations from Canada’s 4th Universal Periodic Review

All of these reports identify characteristics of being homeless that are unique to specific groups of people. For example, as a group, women and gender diverse people experience:

  • barriers to homeless services, including a lack of shelter beds for women and gender diverse people, and eligibility criteria that block access to domestic violence shelters.
  • a heightened risk of violence in emergency shelters and encampments.
  • barriers when searching for and moving to housing, which are compounded by race and poverty.
  • the benefit of cultural support to Indigenous people and the need to expand support to reach more people.
  • the shortage of adequate housing which is of decent quality and affordable.

Why does all this matter?

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. There have been improvements for women since International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911. These reports tell us where we can do better.