Peter A Allard School of Law

SSHRC Partner Engagement Grant: A Human Rights-Based Approach to Homelessness and Tent Encampments in the COVID-19 City

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Allard Law

May 11, 2021

As one of the many faces of Canada’s ever-growing housing affordability crisis, tent encampments have proliferated throughout the pandemic, with COVID-19 cases having spread in shelters where physical distancing is nearly impossible. Tent encampment evictions continue despite the high number of cases in shelters.

Professor Alexandra Flynn is co-applicant in a SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) funded project focused on human rights and homeless encampments.

The project is being conducted in partnership with The Shift, an organization founded by former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Leilani Farhi. It is led by Professor Estair Van Wagner (Osgoode), together with Professor Flynn, Dr. Kaitlin Schwan (The Shift), Professor Deborah Curran (University of Victoria) and Professor Priya Gupta (Southwestern Law, McGill). Together, they aim to mobilize the Shift’s National Protocol on Homeless Encampments in Canada: A Human Rights Approach (PDF), released in April 2020, by filling a fundamental knowledge gap towards implementing the protocol, including an understanding of the overlapping rules related to encampments and the rights of those who live in them—especially in the context of a public health emergency. 

Going forward, I hope that COVID-19 will urge more housing and supports for vulnerable people.

“In the short term, I hope that we will see moratoriums on tent encampment evictions, where resident housing and belongings are destroyed, and more humane treatment of the people living in them,” said Professor Flynn. “Going forward, I hope that COVID-19 will urge more housing and supports for vulnerable people. Tent encampments and inadequate housing are sadly not new.”

Focusing on Canadian cities, the research team aims to develop a database of municipal decisions on tent encampments and whether there have been pandemic-related shifts. They will also be creating research and training materials and publishing academic works to raise awareness and ensure governments develop a human rights approach addressing tent encampment issues. 

The project has connections with Professor Flynn’s other work, in particular another SSHRC-funded project looking at the governance of personal possessions belonging to precariously housed people.  “COVID-19 has highlighted the urgency of housing need and human rights for our most vulnerable community members, including the safeguarding of their things,” she says. 

Original photo by: Daniel Ramirez (CC BY 2.0). Edited for sizing.

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