So, what is the homelessness crisis, why are people living in encampments and not permanent housing, what has been done, and what can be done at the political level?
Homelessness describes the situation of an individual, family or community without stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means, and ability of acquiring it. Most people do not choose to be homeless, and the experience is generally negative, unpleasant, unhealthy, unsafe, stressful and distressing. The Canadian definition of homelessness is divided into four typologies: Unsheltered, Emergency Sheltered, Provisionally Sheltered, and At-Risk of Homelessness.
Indigenous homelessness is not defined as lacking a structure of habitation; rather, it is understood through a composite lens of Indigenous worldviews. These include: individuals, families, and communities isolated from their relationships to land, water, place, family, kin, each other, animals, cultures, languages and identities. Importantly, Indigenous people experiencing these kinds of homelessness cannot culturally, spiritually, emotionally or physically reconnect with their Indigeneity or lost relationships (Aboriginal Standing Committee on Housing and Homelessness, 2012).
The term ‘encampment’ is used to refer to any area wherein an individual or a group of people live in homelessness together, often in tents or other temporary structures (also referred to as homeless camps, tent cities, homeless settlements or informal settlements).
Encampments must also be understood in the context of historical and ongoing structural racism and colonization in Canada, whereby Indigenous peoples have been systemically discriminated against and dispossessed of their lands, properties, and legal systems. Other groups have also endured systemic and historical disadvantages that have created barriers to accessing housing and shelters, including 2SLGBTQ+, Black and other racialized communities, people living with disabilities, and people who are criminalized. This is the result of structural conditions and the failure of governments to implement the right to housing or to engage with reconciliation and decolonization materially and in good faith.*
*Source: Farha, L., & Schwan, K. (2020). A National Protocol for Homeless Encampments in Canada: A Human Rights Approach
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