Tent Nation: Responding to the rise of housing encampments & the homelessness crisis in CanadaAn Action Canada Fellowship report
Encampments are found in communities across Canada yet interventions happen at a local level, leaving municipal and regional governments to develop responses on their own. There is a pressing need and an opportunity for greater collaboration, knowledge sharing and national coordination to address encampments as a pan-Canadian challenge.
People live in encampments because they lack access to other housing options or because other options, like emergency shelters, don’t meet their needs. The rise in encampments has led to polarized debates among Canadians about who is responsible to address encampments, how public health and safety can be ensured, what rules should apply, to whom these rules should apply, and how the rules should be enforced.
Federal, provincial and municipal governments all have different roles, legislative commitments, and policy levers that impact the root causes of encampments and homelessness, as well as responses to encampments. The paper outlines seven recommendations:
- Federal and provincial/territorial governments must significantly increase funding for more non-congregate shelter spaces, including tiny homes and mobile units to reduce the presence of encampments.
- Governments must work collaboratively to significantly improve data collection on homelessness. In particular, the federal government should create clear procedures for data collection, collaboration and dissemination that includes encampment-specific data collection. Provincial and territorial governments should require the collection of By-Name List Data in a standard format to include in the national datasets.
- Provinces and territories should direct municipalities or regions to develop and make publicly available protocols or guidelines for how they respond to encampments, setting a two-year deadline for completion.
- Municipal governments should actively facilitate access to basic services and amenities to encampment residents, even while continuing outreach activities to encourage a transition into shelters. Federal and provincial governments should provide funding for these efforts, including adapting eligibility criteria for existing homelessness programs where they restrict the provision of such services.
- Municipalities should work together through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to organize a dedicated task force for sharing of knowledge and best practices on encampment response.
- Ontario and British Columbia should repeal their Safe Streets Acts. Municipalities should repeal bylaws that disproportionately punish people who are unhoused.
- The federal government should create a dedicated fund managed by the Minister of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion that can be accessed to support information campaigns and promote public dialogue regarding encampments and homelessness.
A clear and level-headed assessment of the situation can help create a broader social understanding of how to respond to encampments, building social trust and confidence in the government’s ability to respond, while protecting the rights and dignity of people living in encampments.