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Canada’s housing advocate has a roadmap to end homelessness. What is it?

The Office of the Federal Housing Advocate (OFHA) is calling on all three levels of government to create a strategy to end chronic homelessness in Canada.

Marie-Josée Houle on Tuesday called for an end to forced evictions of encampments and urged “alternatives that are designed following meaningful engagement with encampment residents.”

The OFHA report, released on Tuesday, calls on the federal government to create a National Encampments Response Plan that recognizes Canada’s human rights obligations and commits resources to ending chronic homelessness.

On Thursday, Houle met with Housing Minister Sean Fraser and Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu to brief them about the report. She recommended that the federal government establish a National Encampments Response Plan by Aug. 31 this year.

The report recommends tying the granting of any federal housing dollars to efforts to end homelessness.

“Infrastructure Canada and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation must include conditions in funding agreements with provinces, territories, and municipalities that ensure that all use of federal housing-related funds respect and fulfill Canada’s international and domestic human rights obligations,” the report said.

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At the provincial and territorial level, the OFHA recommended key legislative changes, such as legislation recognizing the human right to adequate housing as defined in international law.

It also called on provinces and territories to upgrade their human rights codes “to ensure explicit prohibition of discrimination based on social condition such as income levels, being unemployed or experiencing homelessness.”

The report called on the provinces to strengthen the protection of tenant rights, including rent control and vacancy control, as well as protection against above-guideline rent increases, forced evictions for rent arrears and evictions into homelessness.

It also suggested an overhaul of relevant bylaws, policies, programs and plans at the municipal level to ensure engagement with people who have lived experience of living in encampments.

In particular, the report said municipalities should minimize the role of police and bylaw officers in responses to encampments.

“This includes providing direction to law enforcement and relevant authorities to end practices which make drug use grounds for displacement, seizure of property, mandatory referrals to health and social services and treatment, and other measures that impose coercive limitations on the rights of encampment residents who use drugs,” the report read.

Houle said cities must ensure clean drinking water, sanitation, cooking facilities and waste collection on-site or in reasonable proximity to encampments. For encampment residents suffering from substance addiction, she said cities must ensure access to harm reduction services and regulated safe supply.

The report urges that human rights must be at the heart of the approach to end homelessness.

“The Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities’ response to this report must publicly commit to a human rights-based response to encampments and to developing a National Encampment Response Plan,” the report said.

It goes on to urge policymakers to ensure that people who have lived experience with addictions and substance use have a central role in designing solutions.

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