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Homeless population exploding in Canadian cities

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Vancouver police officers arrest a man during a melee while the city was dismantling an encampment on East Hastings Street in the Downtown Eastside neighborhood in Vancouver, British Columbia on Aug. 9, 2022.

Canadian officials have requested the government's help to clean up the cities' neighborhoods where homeless people have set up encampments.

Vancouver's Mayor Kennedy Stewart called for more support from all levels of government to help find safe, adequate housing for the country's homeless people living in tents, makeshift shelters and dilapidated campervans lined on the streets of Canadian cities that are exploding with the population of those seeking shelter.

Speaking with CBC's Gloria Macarenko on Friday morning, the Mayor of Vancouver said that the city has done as much as it can right now to create safe housing and needs a harmonized effort by all government officials at all levels to be able to resolve the problem of relocating the homeless people scattered across the cities in Canada. "Cities on their own can't do this," he said. "We're doing our best on the ground ... but we need record levels of investment."

He said he spoke this week with new British Colombia Housing Minister Murray Rankin about how the city and province can coordinate their approaches to connecting unsheltered residents to housing.

Stewart said he also sought help from the government of Canada, asking for additional urgent housing funding.

“Vancouver has been home to a significant homeless population since starting an official homeless count in 2005 and the pandemic has only made matters worse, requiring all three levels of government to come together to take concerted and sustained actions,” he stated.

In this regard, a former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing said the cities' officials who were forcefully dismantling the encampments set up by homeless people were ignoring the human rights of those experiencing homelessness and were committing a violation of international law.

Leilani Farha, who is a lawyer, tweeted for "the upholding of human rights law and obligations by all orders of government."

Tired of reading that "compassion" is needed wrt homeless encampments. What's needed is the upholding of human rights law and obligations by all orders of government. Forced eviction is a violation. Plain + simple. It costs nothing (in fact saves) to CEASE these violative acts. pic.twitter.com/aV163utkqU

— Leilani Farha 🍉 (@leilanifarha) August 10, 2022

"To not criminalize, to not treat as charity cases, the population of people who are unhoused, and rather to treat them as rights holders, to treat them with dignity and respect, to understand that they have and should have a say in what their future looks like," she told local media.

"People set up encampments because they have nowhere else to go, they feel they need to live there for a variety of reasons."

"Many of them have been homeless previously. I think some might still be homeless and so I've met some of them … they're an amazing group … they are well positioned to help the city and the region figure out what this community wants."

"That includes determining whether a sanctioned encampment should be proceeded with and if so, where that encampment should be," she also pointed out, further adding, "So, when an encampment is established,  and let's recall, it is the harshest of living, the fundamentals to life and dignity must be provided … the basic necessities have to be provided on the understanding that this is to preserve human life and human dignity."

In the meantime, city workers started earlier this week to destroy the shelters, remove the belongings of homeless people, and dismantle the encampment set up along Hastings Street on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

homeless people everywhere😢 pic.twitter.com/TcLVOnhe6D

— August Christopher Philip (@15_zenthinel_27) August 13, 2022

'Police assaulted'
Police cut off Hastings Street as city staff started the clearing of the encampment on Tuesday.

Vancouver police Sgt. Steve Addison said in a statement that dozens of people had gathered to watch city workers talk with campers and begin the encampment removal.

However, as officers arrived at a community center in the same block as the encampment for an unrelated arrest, they were surrounded, pelted with objects, bitten and punched by people trying to stop police from taking a man on the street into custody.

“This incident is another example of our officers facing violence while trying to maintain some degree of public safety in an increasingly hostile neighborhood,” Addison said in the statement. In total, seven people were arrested and three will return to court later, including a woman and the man whose actions led to the initial police response.

Police said the woman was charged with assault with a weapon.

A statement from Vancouver police on Friday said 44-year-old Alene West was charged after an officer was hit in the head with an object on Tuesday.

The statement said several other suspects were also under investigation for what was described as a “swarming” of officers who were responding to reports of an unruly man at a community center.

On Friday, the federal government announced it would double the budget allocated to shelter for homeless people.

It said Canada's Homelessness Strategy will be increased from $2 billion to $4 billion over nine years. 


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