National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
For immediate release Contact: Maria Foscarinis or Tara Slepkow (202) 638-2535 or (603) 860-0342
Increasing homelessness and decreasing housing resources in the U.S. violate the right to housing under International law, charges a report released today by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. Titled Homelessness in the United States and the Human Right to Housing, the report was released on the eve of the World Social Forum, an international gathering of Human Rights activists in Mumbai, India. The report details the right to housing and current U.S. violations of this right.
International human rights law recognizes housing as a basic human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted with US leadership in 1948, states that: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services... (Emphasis added). In 1996, the Habitat II conference, in which the US and 170 other nations participated, reaffirmed these basic principles.
Recent developments suggest that the U.S. is currently in violation of the human right to housing, and related human rights:
At least 840,000 people are homeless at any given time. Over a year, 2.5-3.5 million are homeless; of this number, 1.35 million are children.
There is not nearly enough emergency shelter to meet the need - in a 25-city survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 84% of the cities surveyed in 2003 reported having to turn away homeless persons seeking emergency shelter, due to a lack of resources.
The situation is growing worse - 60% of the cities survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that the length of time people were homeless had increased; and cities reported that requests for shelter increased by an average of 13% in 2003.
Cities continue to criminalize homelessness by arresting people for performing necessary life sustaining activities, such as eating or sleeping, in public places.
In some cases, these violations lead to the ultimate violation of human rights. Homeless people are literally freezing to death on U.S. streets. Said Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director of The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. Each winter homeless people die on the streets across the country - a direct and brutal violation of the right to life guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty the US has signed and ratified. To date, at least two homeless men have frozen to death in the Nations capital this winter alone.
In a preface written for the NLCHP report, Miloon Kothari, Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, UN Commission on Human Rights states, Such a scale of human rights denial is a shocking testimony to the fact that the United States has failed to uphold the human rights of its own residents. Compounding this dire reality is the ironic fact that the U.S. is one of the wealthiest nations in the world and a proud promoter of democracy and freedoms across the world.
NLCHP was founded in 1989 with the mission of preventing and ending homelessness by acting as the legal arm of the national movement to end homelessness.