Homelessness is a fact of life in all countries of the world, regardless of the level of development of their economic or governance systems, and it has been spreading with impunity, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Leilani Farha, warned today during the presentation of her latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council.
“Widespread homelessness is evidence of the failure of States to protect and ensure the human rights of the most vulnerable populations,” Ms. Farha said noting that it is “one of the least examined consequences of persistent inequality, unfair distribution of land and property and poverty occurring on a global scale.”
In her report, the Special Rapporteur examines how homelessness is caused by States’ failures to respond both to individual circumstances and to a range of structural causes, abandoning responsibility for social protection and allowing unregulated real estate speculation and investment to exclude a growing number of people from any form of housing.
“Homelessness is a result of State acquiescence to real estate speculation and unregulated markets — a result of treating housing as a commodity rather than as a human right,” the independent expert stressed.
“The common denominator in virtually all structural causes of homelessness is government decision making inconsistent with human rights,” she said. “This has left millions of people subject to a violation of rights to life, health, housing, equality and non-discrimination, among others.”
The Special Rapporteur pointed to the social stigma, discrimination, violence and criminalization experienced by those who are homeless. From individuals sleeping on the streets, to families in makeshift dwellings, Ms. Farha’s statement to Council highlights the urgency of fighting the invisibility of the issue.
The expert urged all governments to recognize homelessness as a human rights crisis and commit to eradicating this global phenomenon by 2030, in line with the new UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“States must address the root causes of homelessness by establishing national strategies anchored in human rights and the right to adequate housing. We have been silent and have failed to tackle one of the most pervasive violations of human rights, but our lack of action can make us complicit,” she underscored.
The Special Rapporteur noted that 2016 can be a catalyst for the discussion on homelessness as the global community starts implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and prepares for Habitat III (the world Conference, on housing and sustainable urban development).
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/HRC/31/54
Ms. Leilani Farha (Canada) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. She took her function in June 2014. Ms. Farha is the Executive Director of the NGO Canada without Poverty, based in Ottawa, Canada. A lawyer by training, for the past 20 years Ms. Farha has worked both internationally and domestically on the implementation of the right to adequate housing for the most marginalized groups and on the situation of people living in poverty. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/HousingIndex.aspx
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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