On April 30, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing released a National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada. This document identifies municipalities’ obligations, under international human rights law, regarding treatment of people sheltering outside in tent cities.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing also recently set out two global guidance documents related to COVID-19:
- COVID-19 Guidance Note: Protecting Residents of Informal Settlements
- COVID-19 Guidance Note: Protection for Those Living in Homelessness
We call on ‘victoria’ City Council to align their response to homeless encampments with these UN protocol and guidance notes. We urge you to write the Mayor and Councillors to let them them know that members of the public expect their endorsement of the UN guidance to ensure those sheltering-in-place are treated with dignity and have access to their basic human rights.
You can reach the Mayor and Council at the following addresses: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org (better to email them individually than use the generic inbox for Mayor and Council as emails to the generic inbox are first funnelled through city staff and will take longer to get to Mayor and Council).
points to consider including IN YOUR LETTER
Letters are most powerful when they’re in your own words. Below are some points you might want to consider including.
- While all levels of government have invoked “stay home”, “self-isolate”, “physical distancing” and “wash your hands” policies to flatten the pandemic curve and decrease infection rates of COVID-19, these policies are based on the assumption that everyone has a home, access to private space, and access to a sink. This isn’t possible for the 1500+ people living in homelessness in the greater ‘victoria’ area, especially people living outside. Endorsing the UN guidance will help the City to protect homeless people from the virus, while also ensuring their basic human rights are met.
- The National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada requires that homeless people living in encampments be recognized as people who have rights. It explicitly says that there must be meaningful engagement and effective participation of tent city residents in decision-making, and that such engagement “should begin early, be ongoing, and proceed under the principle that residents are experts in their own lives”. Solutions, however well-intentioned, should never be imposed on people without their input and consent.
- The National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada points out that unhoused people who are Indigenous have additional distinct rights that governments are obligated to respect, protect, and fulfill. Governments must specifically meaningfully consult with Indigenous tent city residents about any decision that affects them, recognizing Indigenous rights to self-determination and self-governance. International human rights law strictly forbids the eviction, displacement, and relocation of Indigenous people in the absence of free, prior, and informed consent. In ‘victoria’, approximately 1/3 of homeless people are Indigenous.
- The National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada prohibits forced evictions of homeless encampments. “International human rights law does not permit governments to destroy peoples’ homes, even if those homes are made of improvised materials and established without legal authority.” Governments may not remove residents from encampments without meaningfully engaging with them and identifying alternative places to live that are acceptable to them. The removal of residents’ belongings without their knowledge and consent is also strictly prohibited. As such, the City of ‘victoria’ should not enforce the bylaw that only allows people to erect shelters overnight from 7am-7pm, regardless of whether there is a public emergency order in place. People should be allowed to shelter-in-place without the constant threat of displacement, especially during a pandemic. People’s belongings must not be taken or destroyed by Bylaw officers or other City representatives.