R2H Coalition submission on a National Housing Strategy

(Photo by John Bonnar)

(Photo credit: John Bonnar)

Download the Right to Housing Coalition’s written submission for the Government of Canada’s “Let’s Talk Housing” consultation here:

Full submission
2-page summary

We encourage you to widely share, print and distribute our submission and/or summary. We welcome everyone to use them in your own efforts to call for an adequate National Housing Strategy that centers housing as a human right!

We also feel that this consultation process has been inadequate so far (details can be found in our full submission). It should not be a one-time consultation that wraps up on November 22nd, 2016 with a summary report and an announcement. The federal government needs to make a commitment to meaningfully engage and involve those with lived experience of precarious housing, housing inadequacy or homelessness, and those who work with vulnerable tenants and homeless people. This must happen throughout all stages of development, implementation and evaluation of the National Housing Strategy.

Tell your MP what you think – find your local MP here.
Send your feedback by October 21st to the “Let’s Talk Housing” consultation here.

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New UN report slams Canada for persistent housing & homelessness crisis

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Toronto (March 7, 2016) – In a new United Nations report released today, Canada is criticized harshly for its ongoing housing and homelessness crisis. Some of the problems identified by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights include: absence of a national housing strategy; insufficient funding for housing; inadequate housing subsidy within the social assistance benefit; shortage of social housing units; increased evictions related to rental arrears; increased numbers of homeless and lack of homelessness prevention; shortage of emergency shelters; laws that penalize people for being homeless; lack of adequate housing for people with psycho-social and intellectual disabilities; and the poor housing conditions of Canada’s indigenous peoples.

After the Supreme Court ruled that homeless Canadians could not present their evidence in court, a group of affordable housing advocates took their concerns to the UN. The UN Committee reviewed Canada in February on its compliance as a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a legally binding international treaty that outlines specific human rights obligations, including the right to an adequate standard of living.

“A committee of international human rights experts was able to see what Canadians and their political representatives refuse to see – that we are failing to protect a large and vulnerable portion of our population from violations of their fundamental right to housing,” commented Legal Director at the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, Kenneth Hale, who was part of the NGO delegation that met with the Committee in Geneva last month.

Recommendations in the UN report include: implement a rights-based national housing strategy; increase federal and provincial resources for housing; increase availability of social housing and adequate emergency shelters across the country; intensify efforts to address indigenous peoples’ housing crisis; and integrate a disability perspective in all housing plans and policies. The report also sharply criticizes the barriers to disadvantaged groups accessing legal rights through the courts, and recommends that Canada broaden its interpretation of sections 7, 12 and 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include economic, social and cultural rights.

“Canada’s international reputation has taken an embarrassing nosedive over the past decade. All eyes are on Canada now to see if the new Liberal government will show that it is indeed serious about real change by complying with its international human rights obligations,” said Helen Luu of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario and Right to Housing Coalition.

The UN Committee’s full report (concluding observations) can be found here.
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Official press release can be found in English here (ou en Français ici).

Media coverage:
March 7, 2016 – Toronto Star: UN raises concern over Canada’s persistent ‘housing crisis’
March 7, 2016 – Ici Radio-Canada: Stratégie nationale du logement : le Canada réprimandé par l’ONU
March 8, 2016 – CBC News: UN critical of Canada’s record on housing, homelessness
March 15, 2016 – L’Express: Logement et sans-abri: le Canada réprimandé

 

Housing Advocates Deliver New UN Report on Canada’s Troubled Human Rights Record to Finance Minister Ahead of the Federal Budget

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Toronto (March 7, 2016) – After the Supreme Court ruled that homeless Canadians could not present their evidence in court, a group of affordable housing advocates recently took their concerns about Canada’s failed housing policies to a United Nations committee. These advocates will be making comments to the media about the UN report being released today as they deliver it in person to the Finance Minister’s office.

The United Nations reviewed Canada on February 24th and 25th on its compliance as a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and will be releasing its concluding observations to the Canadian government this afternoon. The last review by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), held in 2006, had recommended that Canada address homelessness and inadequate housing as a national emergency, but advocates say Canada has repeatedly failed to do this.

“For some time, Canada’s international reputation has been in serious decline and we’ve really gone from being a beacon of human rights globally to a country whose reputation is very much in question,” said University of Toronto senior researcher Emily Paradis, who presented Canada’s record on housing to the UN committee in 2006. “I would certainly hope that this review offers an opportunity for Canada to redeem itself if our new government is serious about its international human rights obligations.”

The Right to Housing Coalition, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, Working for Change, ODSP Action Coalition, Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation, and Colour of Povery – Colour of Change will be delivering the concluding observations of the CESCR to the office of Finance Minister Bill Morneau, two weeks ahead of the federal budget. Most of these groups went to Geneva last month to address the CESCR and made detailed written submissions about Canada’s housing and homelessness crisis. After delivering the UN report to the Minister’s office, representatives of the groups will give statements to the media and answer questions.

Where: Outside Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office, 430 Parliament Street, Toronto

When: Monday, March 7th at 2:00pm

Why: To provide an expert overview of the CESCR’s concluding observations about Canada’s housing and homelessness crisis

The CESCR’s concluding observations may be found here after 12:00pm ET.

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Official press release can be found here.

Join us in delivering the UN report on Canada’s human rights record to the Finance Minister!

DSCN4544(photo credit: John Bonnar)

We sent two delegates to Geneva in February to address the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights during its review of Canada. The UN committee’s concluding observations will be released to the Canadian government on Monday, March 7th at 12:00pm ET, and we plan to bring attention to this! Join us that day at 2:00pm as we deliver the UN report to the Finance Minister, two weeks ahead of the federal budget! Help us show the government that housing is a human right!

If you can’t make it in person, you can still make your voice heard, wherever you live! Call, email or visit your local MP that day to tell them you want them to act on the recommendations in the UN report on Canada’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Ask them what they plan to do about Canada’s poor track record on the housing and homelessness crisis. You can locate the contact information for your local MP by entering your postal code here.

What: We will be “delivering” the UN report to Finance Minister Bill Morneau and have speakers who will give statements to the media and answer media questions.

Who: Speakers representing the Right to Housing Coalition, Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, Working for Change, Chiefs of OntarioODSP Action Coalition, and Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation. Everyone joining us on the street can help us deliver the report!

When: Monday, March 7th from 2:00-2:30pm

Where: Outside on the sidewalk in front of Bill Morneau’s office, 430 Parliament St. (between Gerrard and Carleton), Toronto

Why: Canada has been ignoring the fact that it signed this international human rights covenant for far too long. After the last UN review in 2006, the CESCR slammed Canada on its poor track record, noting that most of its recommendations from previous reviews in 1993 and 1998 had not been implemented, and referring to the inadequate housing and homelessness crisis as a “national emergency.” Canada’s new Liberal government promises to deliver “real change” but what we heard from the government’s representatives during this year’s review was sadly business as usual. We will not accept business as usual because everyone who lives in Canada deserves the right to housing! Real change will only happen if Canadians speak up and tell the government that it’s time to comply with our international human rights obligations. Public pressure and media attention on the issue will make it hard for Canada to ignore the UN report again – so join us in making sure our message is heard!

Read our media advisory here.

R2H’s Presentation to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

We’ve been speaking up at the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) for Canada’s Sixth Periodic Review this week!  One of our delegates, Kenn Hale from the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, made this oral presentation in front of the committee today:

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I thank the members of the Committee for giving me the opportunity to highlight the many issues raised during this Review about Canada’s compliance with its obligations concerning affordable housing and homelessness in the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). These issues are dealt with more fully in the written submissions of the Front d’action populaire en reamengement urbain (FRAPRU), the Pivot Legal Society and ACTO on behalf of the Right to Housing Coalition. We have also provided additional materials to Judge Pillay, the Committee’s Rapporteur, that outline the nature and extent of the housing crisis in Canada.

Previous speakers have addressed the lack of avenues for legal redress and Canada’s failure to take a human rights approach to economic, social and cultural (ESC) issues. These problems have had a particularly negative impact on marginalized people seeking housing rights as the Tanudjaja case illustrates. We also echo the concern about a lack of reliable data on ESC issues, in particular the extent of housing need and homelessness, especially among minority communities.

We have specific questions that you may wish to raise with the Canadian delegation which suggest the observations we would like you to make in your concluding report on Canada:

  1. As people continue to die in the streets, will Canada treat its ongoing housing and homelessness crisis as a national emergency?
  2. Will Canada implement a national housing strategy based on the recognition of human rights and reflective of views of people with lived experience and the unique rights? Such a strategy must reflect the views of people with lived experience and the particular needs of women and of indigenous and racialized people.
  3. Will Canada immediately invest in new social housing that is accessible to people who are marginalized? As you have heard, many people in Canada are marginalized by very low incomes, homelessness, disability, race, family status and immigration status.
  4. Will Canada immediately address the expiry of non-profit housing operating agreements that are putting thousands of affordable homes at risk?
  5. Will Canada commit to working with its provinces, territories and municipalities to revoke laws that discriminate against and criminalize homeless people for behavior necessary for survival, such as sleeping or erecting shelter in public places?
  6. Will Canada ensure that all housing strategies include provisions for accessibility and appropriate supports and community services for people with disabilities to ensure that they are not compelled to live in segregated institutions?

Thank you for your concern for the housing needs of disadvantaged people in Canada.

Read our written submission here.
Read the speech presented to the UN on Monday by R2H Coalition member, Mike Creek, here.

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Follow the action on Twitter:

#EyesOnCanada
#CESCR2016
#Right2Housing

Media coverage:
February 18, 2016, Canadian Press: Coalition to urge UN committee to press Canada on affordable housing
February 20, 2016, Toronto Star: Advocates take Canada’s housing policy to the UN
February 29, 2016, rabble.ca: The ‘right’ time to act on poverty

We’re at the United Nations’ review of Canada!

We’ve sent two delegates to Geneva! The United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) for Canada’s Sixth Periodic Review started today and Right to Housing Coalition member, Mike Creek, had this to say to them this morning:

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Good Morning:

Committee Members, Delegates, Members of non-governmental organizations and friends. My Name is Michael Creek and I’m here in Geneva with you as a person who has a lived experience of homelessness. Thank you for this opportunity to share my message.

My slide into poverty and homelessness took place over time as I recovered from cancer. Because of the long-term and physically devastating impacts of chemotherapy, I was unable to work and then unable to pay my rent. The day I was evicted, I found myself homeless. Never did I realize that those first nights living in a city ravine would leave deep scars on my soul. No one heard or felt the tears those first nights on the street. I was never alone in this large ravine; others used this as their home, some had tents and camps, others just a blanket or sleeping bag. We were hidden under bridges, covered by nature, hidden out of sight of society, people whose rights and dignity was forgotten by most of society and failed by their government which did not provide rights and protections.

Our shelters are filled to capacity and our Out of the Cold Programs have men and woman sleeping in church basements, inches apart. I spent a night in one of those shelters, a horrible place that I later avoided at all costs.

We have a housing crisis in Canada. It is a National Disaster that is ignored by our governments. In Ontario, my province, we have 168,711 Ontarians on active waiting lists for affordable housing. In Canada we have a minimum of 235,000 people who will experience homelessness in a given year and 35,000 homeless people on any given night. In Toronto, we have a Homeless Memorial, a rectangular wooden box, tucked away and hidden from most in our city. In the box, there are 794 names of people who have died on our streets in Toronto. Once a month, advocates and community members meet to update the list of men and woman whose voices have been silenced by death, their human rights denied.

In 2009, I joined The Right to Housing Coalition coordinated by the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario. Our coalition includes community activists, Indigenous groups, lawyers, academics, and those with lived experience of homelessness. In Canada, persons affected by homelessness and the lack of affordable housing are disproportionately members of groups protected from discrimination under s. 15(1) of the charter, including women, single mothers, persons with mental and physical disabilities, Indigenous persons, seniors, youth, racialized persons, newcomers and person in receipt of social assistance. In this context of inaction by the government, increasing homelessness and critical shortages of affordable housing, we launched a charter challenge. The bases of the claim was that Ontario and Canada were violating the Charter by withdrawing government funding for affordable and adequate housing and failing to take action to address the growing crisis of homelessness.

In May 2012, the Ontario and Federal governments brought a motion to “strike” the application on the ground that it disclosed “no reasonable cause of action” which meant that not a single piece of evidence could be heard. Voices were silenced, expert witness and applicant affidavits detailing the devastating impacts of homelessness and the government’s actions and inactions which led to this crisis, would not be heard; not a single word. Human Rights denied by our government and courts. 10,000 pages of evidence not allowed before the court. It remains a very sad and disappointing day for many of us who believe in the Right to Housing. That motion felt like we were being kicked again, denied even a hearing in the court of laws, our own governments fighting against us. I felt such shame that I lived in a country that would not recognize these very fundamental rights.

Finally, in closing, I think about the men and woman who I see on our streets every day. I think about the men and women who struggle with poverty, who are steps away from being homeless. I think of the systemic discrimination experienced by those living at the bottom of society.

Homeless people often feel disillusioned, often bashed into silence. When you are beaten down by homelessness, you sometimes stop struggling and give into the feeling that nothing can change. Rights matter, all people matter, it is time that our country Canada lived up to the right to housing and security of the person. It is time we lived up to our international obligations and our Canadian Charter of Rights should reflect these obligations. Will the darkness of homelessness continue or will our new Prime Minister’s Sunny Ways reach down to the bottom and recognize that we have rights that are being denied.

I found my way out of poverty and homelessness. I have a home. I have a good job that is rewarding. I belong to a community and advocate for those whose voice has been silenced. I have a voice which I try to use to influence policy on poverty and homelessness. My organization Working for Change supports me in this work every day. I have a life worth living again.

I hope that this review of my country will state in the strongest terms possible that Canada must do more, that Article 11, the right to adequate housing, must be entrenched in our Charter. Human Rights matter. They are more than just words.

Read our written submission here.

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Follow the action on Twitter:

#EyesOnCanada
#CESCR2016
#Right2Housing

Media coverage:
February 18, 2016, Canadian Press: Coalition to urge UN committee to press Canada on affordable housing
February 20, 2016, Toronto Star: Advocates take Canada’s housing policy to the UN
February 29, 2016, rabble.ca: The ‘right’ time to act on poverty

CESCR submission on the Right to Adequate Housing

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We’re going international! The Right to Housing Coalition just sent in a submission on the Right to Adequate Housing to the United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) for Canada’s Sixth Periodic Review. We’re also sending two people to  Geneva, Switzerland from February 24th-25th to make sure they hear us!

Download the full written submission here.

Excerpt from the submission:

Recommendations for Action

Canada

  • Canada must ensure access to justice for marginalized groups. We urge Canada to allow individuals and organizations to claim social and economic rights before courts and tribunals on full evidentiary records.
  • Canada must clarify its housing commitments. In particular we urge the federal government to adopt a rights-based definition of affordable housing that defines affordability as 30% of household income, as part of a commitment to the right to adequate, affordable, and accessible housing for all, and especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized communities.
  • Canada must articulate its commitments to producing non-profit, social, co-operative, and supportive housing, and to build on commitments in the mandate letters provided to federal Ministers in 2015 to develop a comprehensive, funded, rights-based National Housing Strategy with targets and timelines for implementation.

Ontario

  • Ontario must ensure access to justice for marginalized groups. We urge Ontario to allow individuals and organizations to claim social and economic rights before courts and tribunals on full evidentiary records.
  • Ontario must address inadequate social assistance amounts, in particular, Ontario must ensure that shelter allowances reflect average market rents. Ontario should set targets and implementation dates to increase social assistance levels and shelter allowances to reflect market basket expenses and market rents.
  • Ontario must implement planning regulations that ensure all new developments include a percentage of affordable housing units.
  • Ontario must develop, implement and fund strategies to address eviction prevention and homelessness prevention.
  • Ontario must implement a rent control system to prevent economic evictions in private rental housing.
  • Ontario must ensure access to adequate affordable housing for all low income communities.

Municipalities

  • Municipalities must develop and implement a protocol for extreme cold weather alerts that is evidence-based and includes global best practices.
  • Municipalities must implement planning regulations that ensure all new developments include a percentage of affordable housing units.
  • Municipalities must develop strategies to address eviction prevention, homelessness prevention, and access to affordable housing.

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Media coverage:
February 18, 2016, Canadian Press: Coalition to urge UN committee to press Canada on affordable housing
February 20, 2016, Toronto Star: Advocates take Canada’s housing policy to the UN
February 29, 2016, rabble.ca: The ‘right’ time to act on poverty