An Anglican bishop, along with a coalition of leading anti-poverty and housing advocates, has urged the federal government to adopt a “rights-based” approach in its upcoming National Housing Strategy and poverty reduction strategies.
“We come together today to send a clear and consistent message to the federal government regarding the need for a rights-based approach to addressing housing, food and justice for all, particularly among the First Peoples of this great nation,” said Bishop John Chapman, who took part in a press conference on Parliament Hill October 16, the eve of the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
“This is not just the work of charity,” said Chapman. “We are discussing human dignity, the beauty and wonder of every human being, the unique gift a person brings to our civil society.”
A human rights approach is the most effective framework if Canada expects to address the socio-economic disadvantage suffered by millions who are homeless, inadequately housed and living in poverty, said Leilani Farha, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing and the executive director of Canada Without Poverty, who was also present at the press conference. “It would also ensure people could exercise their rights through new accountability mechanisms for all levels of government—a feature missing from current policies on poverty and housing.”
Farha said Canada is a “lucky country” that has a stable democracy, the 10th largest GDP in the world and is fiscally strong. “Yet here today, we have very persistent and high rates of poverty at close to five million people…we have at least 235,000 people who are homeless in a year [and] close to 900,000 people using food banks every month.”
The problem is that governments in Canada “have failed to address the situation as an urgent crisis,” said Farha. “They have failed to see and acknowledge that these are life-and-death matters and they have failed to see these as violations of human rights.”
The federal government’s 2017 budget proposes to spend more than $11.2 billion over 11 years on a first-ever National Housing Strategy. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) is expected to come out with the strategy later this year.
Jean-Yves Duclos, federal minister of Families, Children and Social Development and minister responsible for CMHC, has said, “We will ensure that more Canadians have access to housing that meets their needs and that they can afford. We will reduce housing need, lift more Canadians out of poverty and contribute to strong, more inclusive communities.”
But the anti-poverty, housing and homelessness advocates say that isn’t enough.
“It is essential for Canada to develop and implement a rights-based anti-poverty plan without delay for the 4.8 million people across the country who are living in poverty,” said Joe Gunn, executive director of the faith-based Citizens for Public Justice. “We have heard from people from coast-to-coast-to-coast and have heard a broad call for national leadership to eradicate poverty.”
Chapman also noted that since 2009, the diocese of Ottawa, the Anglican Church in Canada and all 25 member churches of the Canadian Council of Churches have supported Dignity for All, a multi-partner, non-partisan campaign co-organized by Citizens for Public Justice and Canada Without Poverty.
“We wait in anticipation for the government’s long-awaited National Housing Strategy and their Anti-Poverty Strategy, and our collective response, as citizens of this great country, to the United Nations Declaration of Rights for Indigenous People and, our response as a nation to the 94 Calls to Action,” said Chapman.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended the Calls to Action as part of a summary of its landmark final report in 2015.
As for the diocese of Ottawa, it “is firmly committed to walk the talk,” said Chapman.
The diocese works in partnership with the City of Ottawa and others to support five community ministries, said Chapman. Their services include a refugee sponsorship program, housing for women, a drop-in support for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, and a day program for women and children. The Bishop’s Child Poverty Initiative, which includes The Daily Bread Project, teaches children life skills in order to maintain their health through good nutrition.
“This is no small endeavour,” said Chapman. “Faith-based communities have been working for the poor, the marginalized, the homeless and the hungry longer than anyone. It is the mission of God.”