Federal Housing Advocate’s final report calls for national response to the crisis of encampments

February 13, 2024 – Ottawa, Ontario – Office of the Federal Housing Advocate

Today, Federal Housing Advocate Marie-Josée Houle is calling for a national response to the human rights crisis facing people living in homeless encampments.

Encampments are not a safe or sustainable solution for housing. For people living in encampments, every day is a matter of life and death. Encampment residents are at dire risk of harm due to governments’ failure to provide the necessities of life and the services needed to protect their physical and mental health – including access to water, food, sanitation, and heating and cooling, accessibility supports, healthcare and harm reduction services.

Meanwhile, encampments exist because of a larger, systemic failure to uphold the right to adequate housing. A lack of affordable housing, limited support services, and nowhere safe to go means a growing number of people are having to live in tents to survive.

In her final report on encampments released today, the Advocate is recommending that the federal government establish a National Encampments Response Plan by August 31, 2024.

The plan must drive urgent action at all levels of government that will:

  • Act immediately to save lives, including by ensuring that people living in encampments have access to the basic necessities they need to survive and live in dignity.
  • End forced evictions of encampments and put in place alternatives that are designed following meaningful engagement with encampment residents.
  • Work with all governments and provide support to municipalities.
  • Respect the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Respect and uphold human rights, including the right to adequate housing.
  • Offer people permanent housing options as rapidly as possible.
  • And address the root causes of encampments.

The report examines the factors leading to the rise in encampments across Canada, and most importantly, the concrete measures that must be taken by governments to fulfil their human rights responsibilities and reduce or eliminate the need for encampments. The report includes recommendations aimed at the federal government as well as provincial, territorial and municipal governments.

Canada has the capacity to solve this crisis. Encampment residents know what is required to meet their most pressing needs. What is lacking is sufficient political will, resources and coordination amongst governments, as well as the commitment to meaningfully engage with encampment residents.

This national crisis calls for a national response.

This final report is the first Advocate-led review of a systemic housing issue – a historic moment for advancing the human right to housing in Canada.

It must be an urgent call to action to governments at all levels to uphold the human rights and the right to housing of encampment residents.

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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 Review was launched pursuant to Section 13. 1(1) of the National Housing Strategy Act. This Act recognizes housing as a fundamental human right in Canada, and mandated the Federal Housing Advocate to undertake reviews of systemic housing issues.
  • In October 2023, the Advocate published an interim report that documents in detail what had been heard through the engagement process. The Advocate and her team consulted directly with people living in encampments, local community advocates, Indigenous governments and representative organizations, and duty-bearers across all governments.

    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 human rights, including the right to adequate housing.

    As a result, the Advocate 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.
  • This systemic review of encampments builds on a research project conducted by the Office of the Federal Housing Advocate in 2021–2022 to examine the issue 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.
  • Forced encampment evictions make people more unsafe and expose them to a greater risk of harm and violence. Evictions destabilize people, remove them from their support systems, and cause them to lose the tools and equipment they need to survive.
  • First Nations, Inuit and Métis people are disproportionately represented amongst people experiencing homelessness as well as people living in encampments. This phenomenon becomes even more prevalent in Western and Northern municipalities. For example, in Prince George 82% of the population experiencing homelessness is Indigenous. (Source: https://www.homelesshub.ca/community-profile/prince-george).
  • Housing is a social determinant of health, and the absence of adequate housing contributes to the physical and mental health issues facing encampment residents.
  • All governments are obligated to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and work in consultation and cooperation with First Nations, Inuit and Métis governments and representative organizations to respond to the distinct needs of urban First Nations, Inuit, and Métis individuals, particularly those who are unhoused and living in encampments.
  • This report’s findings and recommendations will be submitted to the federal Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities. The National Housing Strategy Act specifies that when the Minister responsible for housing receives the report of such a systemic review, the Minister must respond within 120 days.
  • The Advocate met with Minister Fraser and Minister Hajdu on February 8 to brief them and provide copies of the report, and looks forward to further discussion on the recommendations.

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