Engagement guide

OHRC engagement on poverty and systemic discrimination in the areas of accessible, adequate and affordable housing, mental health and addiction disabilities

 

 

Overview

Freedom from poverty is a human right. It is one of several rights that Canada, its provinces and territories are obligated to uphold under international human rights treaty obligations. Yet many people live in poverty across the country, including in Ontario. Certain groups identified by grounds in Ontario’s Human Rights Code (Code) disproportionately experience poverty, particularly persons with disabilities (including mental health and addictions[1]), women (especially single mothers and elderly women), First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and Black and other racialized communities.

Poverty and systemic discrimination are inter-connected. Poverty exacerbates marginalization and undermines peoples’ ability to redress discrimination. And while the Code specifically prohibits discrimination on the ground of “receipt of public assistance” in housing, it is important to uncover and understand the ways poverty and systemic discrimination are intertwined in all social areas covered by the Code, including employment and services. For example, “receipt of public assistance” in housing means there is still a gap in accommodation protections for other groups who experience poverty but do not receive public assistance.

Research has shown that two inter-related issues that are deeply entwined with causing and sustaining poverty are the lack of affordable, adequate and accessible housing and the experience of mental health and addiction disabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a hard lesson about the interdependence and precariousness of our social and economic rights. This has been especially true in the extreme lack of affordable/accessible housing and the troubling rise in the unmet needs of people with mental health and addiction disabilities. The pandemic has also shown how vulnerable groups, whose experience is exacerbated by systemic discrimination, fare far worse in a crisis.

In its Strategic Plan (2017–2022), the OHRC committed to working towards explicit human rights protection for people who experience poverty, hunger and homelessness. In this context, the OHRC is undertaking an engagement initiative related to poverty, affordable, adequate and accessible housing and mental health and addiction disabilities, and aims to develop a report with recommendations.

The primary goal of the OHRC’s engagement is to advance how the Code is interpreted and applied, by making clear how systemic discrimination causes and sustains poverty in the areas of affordable, adequate and accessible housing and mental health and addiction disabilities.

The OHRC will apply an intersectional lens to this work. Intersectionality means that people may experience many different types of inequalities that work together to limit opportunities and sustain poverty over the long term. Inequalities – including along the lines of gender, race or ethnicity, disability and migration status – are linked to economic disadvantage.

 

Engagement process

The OHRC is seeking feedback from Code-protected groups, First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, academic, legal and community organizations, and people with lived experience. The OHRC has prepared a background paper and questions to support written submissions for the engagement, and also plans to release an online survey to hear from the broader public.

The engagement will happen in three phases:

  1. Written submissions solicited through an email blast to stakeholders and First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups framed by the engagement guide and background paper
  2. Hearing from the public through a survey and public release of the engagement guide and background paper
  3. Convene roundtable online meetings with select stakeholders, OHRC Advisory Groups, First Nations, Inuit and Metis groups and people with lived experience (potentially some meetings in person depending on current public health guidance).

 

Phase one (July – October)

The OHRC will seek written submissions from First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations, academics/researchers, legal and community organizations, service providers and organizations representing people with lived experience.

Written submissions: The OHRC will share a background paper on poverty in terms of social and economic disadvantage, and systemic and intersectional discrimination in the areas of accessible, affordable and adequate housing and mental health and addiction disabilities. The paper will include definitions, research and stories of lived experience. The paper also details the relevant laws and human rights principles and instruments that will guide the poverty engagement.

Individuals and organizations are welcome to make written submissions to the OHRC and send them to: Bryony.Halpin@OHRC.on.ca.

 

Phase two (November – December)

Public survey: The OHRC will seek broader public feedback and will release a short online survey for this purpose along with the background paper and engagement guide.

 

Phase three (November – February 2023)

This phase will include targeted follow-up key informant meetings.

Follow-up meetings: The OHRC will host targeted roundtable discussions/virtual meetings with various individuals and organizations who made written submissions as well as with people with lived experience.

 

Drafting an engagement report with recommendations

After reviewing the findings, the OHRC will begin drafting a report to interpret the Code in this area, along with related recommendations. The aim will be to advance interpreting and applying the Code by making clear how systemic discrimination causes and sustains poverty in the areas of affordable, adequate and accessible housing and mental health and addiction disabilities. Understanding how the Code applies in the area of poverty will help to address human rights issues disproportionately experienced by groups protected under the Code, and exacerbated by systemic situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Key engagement questions

The OHRC wants to hear from community organizations, researchers and people with lived experience on the ways systemic and intersectional discrimination in housing and mental health and addiction disabilities causes and sustains poverty.

The following questions, which focus on experiences of discrimination, have been developed to guide you in your written submission. Discrimination means that you were treated differently because another person assumed you were experiencing poverty/homelessness or that you had a mental health and/or addiction disability, or because of any other Code-protected ground like your race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed (religion), sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status, disability or receipt of public assistance.

Discrimination is not always direct. A person or group may experience “adverse effect” discrimination when disadvantage is indirectly caused, or made worse, because of your identity with a specific Code-protected ground or grounds.

 

  1. The high cost of housing combined with long wait lists for community/social housing[2] has led to an extreme shortage of affordable, stable and safe housing.[3] It can be really hard to find housing, and many people are treated differently when trying because they are experiencing poverty or have a mental health or addiction disability or identify by another Code-protected ground.
    • Please tell us about times when you, or people you serve, had difficulty getting housing or services and how you think that difficulty might have been related to your mental health and/or addiction disability, another Code-protected ground or a combination of grounds like your race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed (religion), sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status, disability or your receipt of public assistance.

 

  1. Many people who experience homelessness are discriminated against when they try to find housing or supports for mental health and addiction disabilities.
    • Have you, or the people you serve, ever experienced discrimination because of being homeless or because you identify with another Code-protected ground, while trying to find housing or help for mental health and addiction disabilities? If so, please describe the experiences, including adverse effects relating to how a service or program is delivered.

 

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic and related public health restrictions are especially hard for people who are experiencing poverty, homelessness or mental health and addiction disabilities.
    • Have you, or the people you serve, ever experienced discrimination while trying to access pandemic-related supports like money from the government, testing/vaccines or rent relief? If so, please describe the experiences, including adverse effects relating to how a service or program is delivered.

 

  1. People who are Indigenous, Black or racialized and who are experiencing poverty will often face discrimination when trying to find housing.
    • If you, or the people you serve, identify as First Nation, Inuit or Métis, or Black or racialized, have you ever experienced discrimination when trying to secure housing? If so, please describe the experiences including adverse effects relating to how a service or program is delivered.

 

  1. People who are First Nation, Inuit or Métis, Black or racialized and who are experiencing poverty may face discrimination when trying to get help for mental health and addiction disabilities. For example, people who seek harm reduction supports (as opposed to abstinence supports) sometimes face excessive hurdles.
    • If you, or the people you serve, identify as First Nation, Inuit or Métis, or Black or racialized, have you ever experienced discrimination when trying to get help for mental health and addiction disabilities? If so, please describe the experiences including adverse effects relating to how a service or program is delivered.

 

  1. People who experience poverty or mental health and addiction disabilities may face discrimination while trying to access other social services outside of housing and mental health and addictions supports.
    • Have you, or the people you serve, ever experienced discrimination while trying to access social services in areas including, but not limited to, transit, health care, food or child care? If so, please describe the experiences including adverse effects relating to how a service or program is delivered.

 

  1. What are some of the adverse impacts relating to systemic discrimination that you encounter as a service provider when trying to secure housing or mental health and addictions supports for the people you serve?

 

 

 

[1] See the OHRC’s Human rights, mental health and addiction disabilities brochure.

[2] Community housing includes social housing and affordable housing.

[3] Zoning restrictions on affordable, accessible or supportive housing have also resulted in greater challenges in accessing housing.