In 2013, the Calgary Homeless Foundation received funding through the Human Rights Education and Multiculturalism Fund to explore issues related to human rights within the homeless community. To investigate the  dynamic and multi-faceted issue of both homelessness and human rights, CHF initiated a 2-year participatory action research project to identify areas of concern within the homeless community related to issues of discrimination  and human rights – particularly related to service access – as well as assess the level of awareness and appropriateness of information related to issues of human rights, service access and appeal/grievance processes. Critical to the initiation of this work was engagement and collaboration with the Client Action Committee.

Many sectors were consulted as part of the project, including police services, bylaw services, health services, shelter providers, outreach teams, lawyers and law students, and Aboriginal service providers. Most importantly, the Client Action Committee (CAC), a group of clients with lived experience of homelessness facilitated by CHF for the last 3 years, was integral in providing client perspective on the project. A core group of 9 clients helped to organize focus groups and interviews of people experiencing homelessness to share their stories and bring to light what rights were most often being violated. Through this process, over 100 clients were consulted. Many of the items in the charter were included as a result of actual experiences of real people. It has been incredible to see the pride the members of the client committee rightfully have in the work they’ve done on this project. They are empowered to stand up for not only their own rights, but the rights of others experiencing homelessness.

An exciting part of the process of developing the charter was the creation of the documentary, “Do you see me?”. This powerful short film increases awareness of the discrimination faced by those experiencing homelessness – often in accessing services and tools that they need to end their homelessness. It poses the question to which the Charter is part one of the answer.

The charter pulls together existing rights that are a current part of legislation. It asserts that all citizens of our community – regardless of housing status – are equal in dignity, rights, and responsibility. The Charter is the first of its kind in Canada and is being unveiled in Calgary on June 18. It will be a starting point for discussion about rights and discrimination and how we can all work together to stand up for and promote the rights of those experiencing homelessness. Follow along and participate in the launch from afar using the hashtag #homelessrights.

The next phase of the project will include lots of work strengthening relationships with health, law enforcement, service providers, as well as the community at large – organizing training sessions to start working together to stand up against discrimination on a micro and macro level – both standing up for  community members when we personally witness discrimination and working to end discriminatory policies and practices – and empowering clients to know their rights and what to do if their rights have been violated.