Homeless Encampments: Connecting Human Rights and Public Health
by Nic Olson
“The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating long-standing issues related to homelessness, including lack of affordable housing, unemployment, poverty, wealth inequality, and ongoing impacts of colonization. Homelessness is often accompanied by narratives rooted in individual blame, criminalization, and reinforcement of substance use and mental health related stigma. Visible homelessness, in the form of encampments, are manifestations of government policy failures that neglect to uphold the human right to housing, and demonstrate eroding investments in affordable housing, income and systemic supports. Encampments make visible that some in our community lack basic determinants of health such as food, water, sanitation, safety, and the right to self-determination. In order for public health to effectively and equitably promote health and enact commitments to social justice, we argue that public health must adopt a human right to housing and homeless encampments. Embracing a human rights perspective means public health would advocate first and foremost for adequate housing and other resources rooted in self-determination of encampment residents. In the absence of housing, public health would uphold human rights through the provision of public health resources and prohibition on evictions of encampments until adequate housing is available.”
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