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Programs Aiming to Curb Homelessness in CanadaOn any given day, there are 35,000 people experiencing homelessness in Canada. There are governmental policies put in place to alleviate people from experiencing homelessness but the policies are not enough to end homelessness. Here are a couple of programs that are working to curb homelessness in Canada.

The New Leaf Project

This program is a study where 50 homeless Canadians are given 7,500 Canadian dollars and their lives would be examined over the next 12 to 18 months in comparison to a control group that received no money. It has been argued that providing funding to the homeless population is not effective as it is assumed they would spend it on drugs and alcohol. However, the findings in this study say the contrary. The New Leaf Project found that homeless people spent the money on things they need and were able to secure housing faster than the control group.

It was also found that people who received the money had food security as well. About 70% of the people who received funding were able to find food within the first month and maintained greater food security for the rest of the year.

Another finding revealed that those who received funding spent most of it on rent, clothing and food. There was a 39% decrease in purchasing drugs or alcohol as well. Some people spent the money on other necessities like transportation whether it was a bike or for repairs to their vehicles. Some even bought a computer or saved money to start a business. The study only proved that when you invest in the homeless, they are more likely to spend money on things that can improve their quality of life.

Housing First in Canada: At Home/Chez Soi

This program was another study that tested the effectiveness of Housing First on Canadians back in 2009. Housing First, which originates from New York City in the 1990s, provides rapid housing combined with additional support for homeless people with mental health issues and drug addiction. The program achieved major success in New York City, so the people of At Home/Chez Soi wanted to see if the success can be replicated here in Canada.

Prior to the study, there were a few Canadian cities that had plans to reduce homelessness. However, there was a lack of innovation to push beyond just having shelters. There was also a lack of federal funding to focus on the root causes and preventable approaches to homelessness in Canada.

Since the launch of Housing First in Canada, about 70 Canadian cities have adopted the program and have helped over 1,000 Canadians find safe and affordable housing where many continued to stay after a decade. This study proves that “when communities use their existing skills and knowledge and combine that with a strong tool-kit like At Home/Chez Soi, they can help to address the needs of local populations and go a long way to curbing homelessness.”

An Overview of Homelessness in Canada

Homelessness was not considered to be an issue until the late 1980s. People did experience homelessness prior to that time, however, it was not as common as it is today.

The Canadian government did enact the National Housing Act in 1973 which provided social housing for low-income citizens, but social housing and other related programs were cut back in 1984. By the time 1987 hit, the government cutback caused a surge in homelessness.

By 1996, federal spending on constructing new social housing ceased and the federal government handed the responsibility for most existing social housing to the provinces. Like homeless people in many countries, homeless people in Canada rely on non-profit organizations to attend to their needs. All non-profits agree that “strategies to address homelessness must be tailored to each population group’s needs.”

Homeless people also rely on shelters for their needs. There are emergency shelters that provide shared sleeping facilities and some offer private rooms. However, these shelters expect clients to leave the morning after. Some shelters offer mid-term housing solutions and some have developed long-term housing units. These shelters also provide food, clothing, laundry services and references to other services or organizations. Other shelters offer counseling, legal assistance, harm reduction and advocacy.

While there are services available to help those experiencing homelessness in Canada, it is not enough to address the root causes of homelessness and prevent it from happening in the first place. Investing in the homeless is a viable option to help identify these root causes and end homelessness in Canada.

Jackson Lebedun
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in CanadaHuman rights in Canada became a major topic of discussion after an investigation found that cultural genocide had been committed against Native Canadians. The Canadian government has vowed to reconcile with aboriginal Canadians, who also have the support of several advocacy groups.

In June 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission published a report that found the Canadian government guilty of cultural genocide following a detailed investigation into its former practice of sending Canadian aboriginal children to attend state-funded residential schools.

The report’s introduction explains that cultural genocide is “the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.”

“In its dealing with Aboriginal people,” the report states, “Canada did all these things.”

Six years of research was conducted in order to compile the report, which reveals that between the 19th century and the 1970s, 150,000 children from aboriginal families were forced to attend over 130 Christian boarding schools with the purported intention of integrating them into Canadian society. Native languages, religions and cultures were suppressed and many First Nation children faced physical and sexual abuse. The report estimates that at least 4,000 aboriginal children died in the schools, many buried in unmarked graves.

Since the report was initially published, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed the Canadian government’s solidarity with aboriginal people and his commitment to improve human rights in Canada for all. To that end, this year Trudeau invited Pope Francis to visit Canada and issue a formal apology on behalf of the Catholic Church, which directed many of the schools.

In addition to the government’s pledged efforts, several nonprofit organizations are working to advocate for the reconciliation and inclusion of aboriginal peoples in Canada after being denied basic human rights, excluded from society and, as affirmed by the report, suffering cultural genocide. Here are three of organizations you can support in their mission to create a better tomorrow for Native Canadians and defend human rights in Canada for all of its citizens.

  1. Assembly of First Nations: “The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is a national advocacy organization representing First Nation citizens in Canada, which includes more than 900,000 people living in 634 First Nation communities and in cities and towns across the country.”
  2. Canadian Human Rights Commission: A key site for annual reports, updates on related public policy and its outcomes, and related campaigns. Opportunities to support advocacy endeavors also disseminated.
  3. The Native Women’s Association of Canada: “founded on the collective goal to enhance, promote, and foster the social, economic, cultural and political well-being of First Nations and Métis women within First Nation, Métis and Canadian societies.”

Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr

Concerns for Human Rights in CanadaWhile Canada has a relatively impressive human rights record, there are still a few concerns. The country has recently seen disproportionate mistreatment of indigenous populations, and its mining industry is also responsible for human rights violations. Finally, its policy on foreign aid deserves a second look. Here are some of issues with human rights in Canada nd what the nation (and the world) is doing to resolve these problems.

Indigenous Rights

One of the most prominent issues of human rights in Canada is the prevalence of violence against indigenous women and girls. Human Rights Watch found that while they make up only 4.3 percent of the female population, they account for 16 percent of all female homicides.

In 2015, the issue gained international attention after a declaration by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The declaration stated that Canada had violated the human rights of its indigenous population by failing to swiftly and thoroughly investigate the disproportionate violence they have experienced. Canada responded by launching a national public inquiry into the murders of indigenous women and girls throughout the state in August 2016.

The human rights of Canada’s indigenous communities are further affected by a persistent lack of clean water. In 2016, 92 First Nation communities had received a total of 132 drinking water advisories over the course of seven months. Contaminated water can have severe health consequences, ultimately causing gastrointestinal disorders and increasing the risk of cancer.

Issues in the Mining Industry

Issues of health and human rights are also present in Canada’s mining industry. Given the size of the industry, its impact on global human rights is enormous. In recent years, Human Rights Watch has uncovered pervasive patterns of poor working conditions and gang rape among Canadian employees in Papua New Guinea and the use of forced labor in mines in Eritrea. Many incidents go unreported and therefore cannot be remedied. The Canadian government has typically elected not to impose new oversight or regulations on the industry, and the Trudeau government has followed this pattern.

Foreign Policy Concerns

Also of concern are certain aspects of Canada’s foreign policy and how they impact the human rights of foreign citizens. Canadian law stipulates that the exporting of military technology to is only legal if “there is no reasonable risk” that the arms will be used against civilians and places limits on what can be sold to countries with poor human rights records. However, Canada has previously exported military vehicles and other goods to Saudi Arabia. These were used in 2011 and 2012 to violently suppress peaceful protests.

Solving these Problems

As in most of the world, there are issues with the protection of human rights in Canada as well as Canada’s protection of human rights around the world. Despite this, it is clear that the state has the structures necessary to address these issues. Laws regarding human rights in Canada stem from the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, created by the international community after World War II.

The first two articles of the declaration, which concern equality and freedom from discrimination, are the foundation of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Passed in 1977, this act protects Canadians from identity-based discrimination and harassment. While the protections afforded through this legislation have not been explicitly integrated into the constitution, the Supreme Court has decided that Canadian laws must be interpreted in ways that are consistent with them.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission is a federal agency that works to promote the principle of equal opportunity and prevent discrimination through educating the public on human rights cultures; conducting and publishing relevant research; managing citizen complaints and representing the public interest.

Many complaints brought before the commission are referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, a separate, independent entity which operates much like a court. The tribunal hears the cases and has the authority to order remedies or award damages.

With these mechanisms in place, Canada has the means necessary to respond to human rights crises within its borders. While further international pressure may be needed to pursue the state to pursue justice and reforms both at home and within its foreign policy. However, given the strong record of protection of human rights in Canada, it is likely that the state will continue to work to adhere to its policies and uphold international norms.

Alena Zafonte
Photo: Flickr