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:
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.
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