Along with several other non-government organizations and advocacy groups, a lawyer is set to submit collective petitions on housing rights to a United Nations committee in Geneva, Switzerland.
Attorney DJ Larkin of the Pivot Legal Society is just one of dozens of concerned individuals and organizations who are calling on the United Nations to hear about Vancouver’s homelessness and Canada’s housing obligations.
The petitioners expect the U.N. to finalize and announce its recommendations before the end of March.
Canada previously committed to the U.N.’s Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which covers the right to housing. The U.N. last reviewed the country’s progress on this front around 10 years ago—a decade that, according to Larkin and her compatriots, has yielded little fruit despite the recently-elected Liberal government’s promise to invest in affordable housing.
Citing figures from think-tanks and other independent observers, Larkin said that the affordability crisis leaves as much as 250,000 people to experience homelessness every year in Canada, with another 50,000 individuals qualifying as “hidden homeless” (i.e., those who couch surf or squat in vacant structures).
“We thought that participating in this review was particularly important because the housing and homelessness crisis in Canada is growing and it really is at the point where it really is a national emergency,” Larkin told Metro News
Larkin noted that during the previous review, the U.N. has already urged Canada to take steps to the address the problem. She added, however, that the increasing number of people dying on the streets in British Columbia and recent rise of “tent cities” in locales such as Victoria and Abbotsford have placed doubts on the government’s commitment to rectify the problem head-on.
“Instead, what we’re seeing is the increase in use of bylaws and law enforcement to displace people who are found in the streets because of the increase of visible homelessness in Canada,” Larkin said, emphasizing that real estate affordability is spiraling out of control.
“The percentage of people who are paying more than 30% of their income on rent is increasing. We have a disturbing percentage of people who are paying more than 50% of their income on rent, and even people who are paying more than 80%. This puts us in the situation where we have a lot of people at risk of being homeless,” Larkin stated.