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A woman addresses the crowd during a protest against the city's ongoing removal of a homeless encampment in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver on Aug. 16.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Canada’s housing advocate says her first official trip outside Ottawa will be to British Columbia, where she said the housing crisis facing the country has been amplified by the opioid crisis and at least two tent encampments.

Marie-Josée Houle, who was appointed by the federal government to the job this year, will visit Victoria, Prince George and Vancouver for two weeks starting next week.

She said she wants to learn about systemic housing challenges including the cost of housing, homelessness and encampments, and Indigenous housing. She said B.C. came to her attention because Vancouver, touted as the most expensive to live in Canada, is also the hot spot for many housing-related crises, including homelessness and opioid overdose deaths.

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Ms. Houle said she is “incredibly distressed” with seeing how encampments in Vancouver are being dealt with.

“They’re sleeping rough, and the way that they’re being treated, but also that they’re not being consulted or engaged properly, or appropriately, of what they need and what they want for their own future is a huge violation of human rights,” she said.

Ms. Houle’s mandate requires her to report about what she’s seen, heard and experienced to federal Housing Minister Ahmed Hussen. She will submit recommendations and the minister is required to respond to her report within 120 days.

A spokesperson for B.C.’s Ministry of Attorney General and Responsible for Housing said no meeting is planned between the new provincial Housing Minister Murray Rankin and the advocate. Ms. Houle said she is prioritizing her trip to engage to rights holders, but there’s an open invitation for a virtual meeting with duty bearers that include Mr. Rankin.

Ms. Houle said she may provide advice to other levels of government or decision makers; however, these bodies do not have the statutory responsibility to respond. She’s sent a letter to Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart about the action taken around encampments, she noted.

The mayor’s chief of staff, Neil Monckton, said in an e-mail that city staff are finalizing a response to the advocate.

Ms. Houle is planning to visit encampments in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and CRAB Park.

Fiona York, a long-time volunteer and advocate who works with Vancouver’s homeless population, said she hopes people who live in CRAB Park and who’ve experienced homelessness can talk to Ms. Houle about how the issue is cyclical and systemic.

“It’s obviously a systemic failure that just becomes very cyclical,” Ms. York said, “so people are very often homeless [and] are finding it very difficult to get out of those circumstances.”

Other issues she hopes Ms. Houle can pay attention to include the quality of housing, the lack of housing, and the supportive housing that isn’t suitable for many because of the restrictions around guests.

Ms. Houle has also arranged to meet with the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, and the Prince George Nechako Aboriginal Employment and Training Association.

Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi, executive director of the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, said her goal is to discuss culturally supportive housing for Indigenous people. She said her group has piloted and implemented such programs by incorporating land-based healing and other culturally appropriate approaches. The results are promising, she said, though she added there is much work to be done.

“Thus, it is important to not only think outside of the box but to get outside of the box and to incorporate an Indigenous lens to the process of preventing and reducing homelessness for Indigenous peoples,” Ms. Hunt-Jinnouchi wrote in an e-mail.

Ms. Houle said over the past 30 to 40 years, three levels of governments have been pointing fingers when it comes to housing issues. “It’s everyone’s jurisdiction,” she said. “The status quo has been failing Canadians, that’s one thing that’s very clear. ... And it’s time for some real changes in policy.”

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