Last night more than 30,000 Canadians were homeless. Researchers estimate another 50,000 people may have been among the "hidden homeless." More than 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness every year at an annual cost of over $7 billion to the Canadian economy.
And homelessness is lethal. You need look no further than the 700 names on Toronto’s homeless memorial, or the homeless memorials in Edmonton, London, Victoria, or Halifax.
It is frankly beyond comprehension that there is no right to housing in Canada, and not just because of our weather. To me, the right to housing is one of the basic preconditions upon which all other rights are built.
People trapped in homelessness are not free – they are wards of largely dysfunctional systems that breed dependence on others for food, shelter, safety.
There can be no right to “life, liberty, and security of the person” if your health is compromised by the lack of adequate housing, your medical needs go untreated or you are subjected abnormally high levels of violence.
Is there a “right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion” if you are homeless and hungry and are required to pray or attend religious services in order to get a meal or shelter?
I could go on.
When you have a minute read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ask yourself, how many of these rights are possible for people experiencing homelessness?
Common decency and common sense require a response to the unnatural disaster of homelessness in Canada. So, together with colleagues across the country, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness is building a national movement to end homelessness in Canada from the community up.
We may not have housing rights enshrined in our constitution or even recognized by our governments, but we can begin to entrench housing rights person by person, family by family, and community by community through the introduction of Housing First and plans to end homelessness.
By ending homelessness we will create housing rights.
By granting the right to housing, not asking for it, we make it an acceptable, normal, common sense, non-threatening practice we will one day embed in our political system. And then, only then, will Canada’s most vulnerable people enjoy the rights and freedoms enjoyed by every other Canadian.
“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
― John F. Kennedy