There are empty storefronts dotting almost every plaza and strip mall in the downtown core.
There are churches, community centres and other public buildings that sit empty at night. There are open lots just waiting for construction crews to build something upon.
And yet when the temperature gets down below freezing – because it’s winter and we live in Canada – people die on the street.
Yes. Right here in Campbell River, people are dying on the street. And it’s because we are, as a society, denying people one of the fundamental human rights set out by the United Nations.
Article 25 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond their control.”
A UN Report issued by the Office of the UN’s High Commissioner of Human Rights clarifies a few things about that right to which all people are entitled.
“One of the most common misconceptions associated with the right to adequate housing is that it requires the State to build housing for the entire population, and that people without housing can automatically demand a house from the Government,” the Report says. “While most Governments are involved to some degree in housing construction, the right to adequate housing clearly does not oblige the Government to construct a nation’s entire housing stock.”
It does, however, oblige governments to implement measures that are needed to prevent homelessness through good governance.
That means when there are homeless people, our government is legally obliged to address the problems that cause that. If they’re not going to construct housing, they need to address the causes of people not having access to it.
Whether it’s being caused addictions issues, mental health issues, income inequality or income security issues (hint: it’s all of the above), the government is required to attempt to solve these things.
And don’t tell me they’re trying. Mental health services are seeing cuts to funding, which is the opposite of helping.
Addictions services are seeing cuts to funding, which is the opposite of helping.
The income gap between the rich and poor is widening and the cost of housing is increasing at a greater speed than the rise in income for most people in our society. That’s the opposite of helping.
“Another misunderstanding is that the right to adequate housing does not impose immediate obligations on the State,” the report also clarifies. “On the contrary, States must make every possible effort, within their available resources, to realize the right to adequate housing and to take steps in that direction without delay.”
The fact that Canada doesn’t have a national housing strategy – the only G8 country without one at this point – puts us in contravention of the UN’s resolution.
“States’ obligations towards the full realization of the right to adequate housing include taking measures to prevent homelessness,” the report says. “Among the steps to be taken immediately … (are) determining the extent of homelessness, as well as adopting a national housing strategy which should reflect extensive genuine consultation with the homeless.”
We’re waiting, Justin.
And while we wait, people are dying in the cold.