To address the housing and homelessness crisis in Canada now and going forward, I hope you will agree that our national housing strategy needs to be grounded in human rights principles.
Treating housing as a human right means recognizing housing as a vehicle for equality, dignity, and inclusive community rather than a commodity. It also recognizes housing as an indivisible and interdependent vehicle to realizing other human rights, such as the right to life, health, education, and employment. This means that Canada must change the way housing is currently conceived, valued, produced, and regulated.
Under the UN Guidelines for the Implementation of the Right to Adequate Housing, governments have “an obligation to take steps to the maximum of their available resources with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the right to adequate housing, by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.”
In other words, the federal government would be failing to meet its human rights obligations to Canadians if they are not taking the measures that are within their capacity to increase resources to enhance access to housing for individuals.
To this purpose, going forward, the national housing strategy must establish clear goals and timelines, and provide adequate funding to support the achievement of those specific outcomes in a timely fashion. The strategy should provide coordination in all relevant policy areas, particularly urban planning, land regulation, taxation and finance, social benefits and services. It should establish strategies to address obstacles to the right to housing and be responsive to challenges in urban and rural areas, including climate change.
In addition, addressing the housing and homelessness issue - especially for Indigenous peoples - should be a top priority for Canada if we are to say that we are a country committed to reconciliation and human rights. There must be recognition for separate measures for the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit in rural, remote and urban settings. These measures need to be led by Indigenous peoples for indigenous peoples. Given that Canada's colonial history, there is a disproportionate number of Indigenous youths in care. The risks for Indigenous women and girls are documented in the National Inquiry for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the lack of safe housing was identified as one of the key components to the vulnerability of Indigenous women and girls to violence. Measures dedicated to the needs of Indigenous youth, women and girls must also be recognized. Finally, there must be an independent body to ensure government accountability to their goals and timelines.
Homelessness and the housing crisis have been longstanding issues for Canada. The current pandemic clearly and desperately illustrates the need for a national strategy and national leadership to ensure that communities across Canada can simultaneously work in accordance with a coordinated plan to implement the right to housing for all Canadians. Taking this opportunity to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive and robust national housing strategy will ensure that communities across Canada will be well prepared in the case of future health and other crises and emergencies and prevent tragedies.