What is a Rights-Based Shelter? Opportunities to Adopt Rights-Based, Gender-Sensitive Approaches to Emergency Shelter Provision across Canada

June 29, 2023

Across Canada, many women, girls, and gender-diverse people live in insecure or unsafe housing – or are made homeless – due to deliberate policy choices. Women and gender-diverse people disproportionately live in core housing need, head single-parent households, and bear the burden of childcare, putting us at risk of eviction when faced with the impossible choice of paying the rent or putting food on the table. There is a severe lack of affordable and appropriate housing that meets the diverse needs of women and gender-diverse people, exacerbated by systemic issues that keep many trapped in poverty and struggling to access housing in overheated rental markets.

For those who do become homeless, they often face overwhelmed emergency shelters that are operating overcapacity. Emergency shelters – including co-ed shelters, gender-specific shelters, and shelters for women fleeing violence – struggle to meet demand because of chronic underfunding and deepening housing need across the country. Certain policies, rules, and practices in emergency shelters also create challenges and exclusions which can lead to people being turned away, separated from their children, or unable to access support.

These problems raise questions about people’s rights, including the right to adequate housing. Now that Canada legislated the National Housing Strategy Act (NHSA) in 2019, there is an opportunity to ensure we build and adequately resource an emergency shelter system that is grounded in people’s inherent right to adequate housing – in both the homelessness sector and the Gender-Based Violence/Violence Against Women (GBV/VAW) sector. The NHSA requires all levels of government to allocate maximum resources to immediately end homelessness for women and gender-diverse people, yet these sectors barely have enough funds to keep the doors open. Can this new legislation transform how we solve these challenges? Can we adopt a rights-based, gender-sensitive approach to emergency shelters across the country?

But what is a rights-based shelter?

Our new Solutions Lab Project aims to answer this question! Three organizations have come together — the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network (WNHHN), the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights (CCHR), and the National Right to Housing Network (NRHN) — to explore how all emergency shelters can become gender-sensitive and aligned with the right to housing, and what changes to policy and investment are needed to make this possible. Funded by CMHC, our goal is to develop and prototype National Rights-Based, Gender-Sensitive Shelter Standards that will help improve emergency shelter service delivery and elucidate the resources needed to do so.

Take Our Survey!

Service Providers in Emergency Shelters: Complete Our Survey!

As part of our Solutions Lab, we have created a Survey to help us understand service providers’ perspectives on applying human rights principles and gender-sensitive approaches within emergency shelters. If you work in an emergency shelter – in the homelessness or GBV/VAW sector – we want to hear from you! We want to understand the barriers you face to applying human rights principles and a gender-sensitive approach in your work, what information and resources you need, and your perspectives on what a “right-based shelter” should look like. We also want to understand how the homelessness sector and the GBV/VAW sector can better collaborate together.

The Survey only takes 10 minutes to complete!

By sharing your insights and experiences, you will help shape the future of emergency shelters in Canada. Please join us!

Take Our Survey!