Written by Leilani Farha
Published by The Toronto Star
Across Canadian cities, homeless encampments are becoming a common sight. The available numbers paint a stark picture.
In Ottawa, city staff responded to at least 375 encampments this year — up 475 per cent from 2020. In Edmonton, with local shelters near capacity, the city removed 1,103 encampments in the first six months of the year. No longer confined to large urban cores, encampments are spreading in suburbs like Ajax near Toronto or Montreal’s Longueuil.
I have witnessed the profound human cost of inadequate housing and related policies. Encampments are glaring evidence of Canada’s housing system in free fall, marked by neglect and greed. They cannot be ignored.
As winter looms, cities in Canada are rolling out their winter survival plans. But we must ask: How many will die of homelessness in the extreme cold this season? Last year, at least five people, trying to keep warm and eat, died in encampment fires in Edmonton. While lighting fires can be hazardous, without a heat source there’s a risk of freezing to death, like Dickie Nelson in B.C. or an unhoused man in Toronto, who died on Christmas Day. In Calgary, frostbite-related amputations spiked.
What should governments do? The common tactic of dismantling encampments and forcing people into shelters, as crudely suggested by Doug Ford, isn’t just costly and challenging, it’s counterproductive. Apart from being a resource drain, this approach cycles people back to the streets.
Photo taken from the Toronto Star article