We like our rights. We don’t always know all of our rights and we don’t always remember all of our rights. So we wrote them down. Made them part of those things that constitute Canada. We like our rights so much, in fact, that we made them the very first part of our Constitution. First things, first. Right? Correct. Some of these rights are fundamental to a free society: freedom of religion, the right to participate in politics, the freedom to move around Canada, and rights to life, liberty and security. Security is an interesting right that generally refers to the security of the state, but when applied to the person it means feeling safe, free from fear. It means stability.
The homeless have these rights too, believe it or not. But. And it’s a big but, the homeless rarely if ever feel safe or free from fear and there certainly is no stability in being without a home. The homeless, like you, have another right that is not explicit in our Constitution, but resides in another document that Canada signed long before we constituted security. That is the right to adequate housing.
2016 marked “the 40th anniversary of Canada ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” (Harriet McLachlan, President, Canada Without Poverty). It is in those Covenants that we find:
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 his control. (Article 25.(1)).
The point is that we have had a legal right to housing before we had a Charter of Rights. So why is it not there? One wonders.
There is absolutely no need to continue to leave our citizens living on the street, or in warehouse-style shelters, or in substandard and crowded conditions. What is the point to having a right if we, and, through us, our government simply ignores it. We, and, through us, our government continues to allow homelessness to persist. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing has called homelessness “perhaps the most visible and most severe symptom of the lack of respect for the right to adequate housing.”
There exists an unacceptable number of homeless in our country. We signed the Covenants 40 years ago and consistently reaffirm the right, yet we tolerate, “manage”, and preserve homelessness to one extent or another from sea to sea to sea. We send our troops overseas to fight for these rights. Why then don’t we fight for them at home? We can and must do better. We can put an end to homelessness. It’s the rights thing to do.
The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not represent any other organization. Norm is an At-Large Member of Canada Without Poverty’s Board of Directors. firstname.lastname@example.org. ©Norm Skelton 2018