Unsafe conditions for people experiencing homelessness a pressing human rights issue

January 12, 2022 – Ottawa, Ontario – Canadian Human Rights Commission

Marie-Claude Landry, Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, issues the following statement:

The Canadian Human Rights Commission is calling for government action to address concerning reports that extreme cold and the Omicron variant are threatening to overwhelm homeless shelters across Canada.

These critical services are being stretched to the breaking point. Space is scarce as shelters try to find room for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and need to self-isolate, as well as safely accommodate those who don't have COVID-19. Staff and volunteer shortages are taking their toll on an already struggling system. Extra support available at the start of the pandemic has been scaled down, leaving shelters ill-equipped to respond to the new surge. As a result, many shelters are being forced to operate over capacity or turn people away. People experiencing homelessness have resorted to sheltering in outdoor encampments, whether by choice or necessity.

Scrambling to meet people's basic needs for safe and warm shelter is a dangerous situation that is predictable, preventable and entirely unacceptable.

In 2019, when Parliament adopted the National Housing Strategy Act, it reaffirmed the right to adequate housing as a human right for everyone in Canada. Canada must recognize and uphold the human rights of people facing homelessness and prioritize their needs in our efforts to address the housing crisis and the ongoing pandemic.

All levels of government must take action to fulfil the right to adequate housing. This includes urgent action to provide safe, dignified and accessible shelter and supports for people experiencing homelessness, and to offer the housing and supports people need to move out of homelessness. It must also include sustained funding for permanent supports, infrastructure, and solutions that address inadequate housing and homelessness in the long-term.

Homelessness is a pressing human rights issue. For people experiencing homelessness, exposure and unsafe living conditions are a matter of life or death. People's lives are at risk. We must ensure the right to safe, dignified housing for everyone in Canada.


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