Housing Justice for all.
On any given night, more than 35,000 people in Canada will be homeless; thousands will have no option other than to live in parks and other public spaces. Tens of thousands more will be living in insecure, substandard housing subject to ongoing health hazards and imminent eviction. Despite this reality, many jurisdictions prohibit homeless people from taking basic steps to survive like setting up a tent, tarp, or box. These makeshift shelters do not constitute adequate housing, but as long as people face homelessness, they should not be harassed, ticketed, or displaced by law enforcement just for trying to stay safe.
We are fighting to end the criminalization of homeless people by challenging discriminatory laws and law enforcement practices that violate human rights, perpetuate stigma and prevent homeless people from taking steps to save their own lives. We cannot end homelessness in Canada while treating homeless people as criminals.
Oct 13, 2023
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Homeless Rights at the United Nations
In 2016, Pivot appeared before the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of Canada’s Periodic Review. Pivot’s submissions focused on laws prohibiting sleeping and sheltering in public places, which effectively criminalize homelessness. We asked the Committee to recommend that Canada recognize an enforceable right to housing, include social condition, including homelessness, as a protected ground against discrimination in federal human rights legislation, and revoke anti-camping laws that criminalize and discriminate against homeless people. During the review, Committee members heavily questioned Canada’s regressive stance regarding the right to housing and, in reference to actions undertaken by the City of Abbotsford against homeless people and the criminalization of homeless people more generally, referred to such actions as a “shameful practice.”
The subsequent CESCR report directly reflects a number of Pivot’s recommendations. The Committee recommended that Canada adopt a national strategy on homelessness, take measures to ensure the availability of adequate emergency shelters throughout the country, and repeal by-laws that penalize homeless persons for finding solutions necessary for their survival and well-being. The Committee also recommends that Covenant rights be enshrined in domestic law and that Canada improve human rights training to ensure better knowledge, awareness and application of the Covenant among the judiciary, law enforcement and public officials.
Access to justice for people living in SROs
Single Room Occupancy Hotels provide some of the only affordable rental housing for Vancouver’s poorest residents. These hotels are often infested with bugs and rodents, lacking functioning heat or plumbing and generally in states of disrepair. The City of Vancouver has long had the power to rectify some of these problems through the Standards of Maintenance Bylaw, which gives the City the power to enter a building and make essential repairs if the landlord refuses to do so, and then the bill the landlord through the property tax roll. However, enforcement of the Bylaw was declining as Vancouver’s housing crisis continued to grow. When the Picadilly Hotel was closed due to long-standing building standards violations in 2007, Pivot sued the City for its failure to enforce the Bylaw. In March of 2009, following discussions with Pivot, City Council finally resolved to pursue stronger enforcement. With the support of the counsel behind it, the Bylaw is working and much-needed repairs are going ahead at several buildings.
Challenge to anti-camping bylaw in Abbotsford
In 2015, the Supreme Court of B.C. delivered a ground-breaking ruling in favour of a community of homeless people represented by Pivot. After hearing directly from the people most affected, the Court confirmed the right to shelter overnight, making it clear that no municipality is immune from the obligation to protect the dignity and safety of their homeless community members. The Court went beyond finding that prohibitions on being in or sheltering in a park overnight violate Section 7 of the Charter, which protects individuals’ safety and security of person, to also find that homeless people require shelter on a more than overnight basis. In order to uphold the rights of homeless people, municipalities must ensure that space exists at all times where homeless people can sleep, rest, shelter, stay warm, eat, wash and attend to personal hygiene. These are the building blocks to a right to an adequate standard of living for all people in Canada.