Topic: Internally Displaced Persons, Homelessness, and Human Rights
Though it may not seem so at first, homelessness and displacement have a lot in common. The UN Refugee Agency calls Internally Displaced Persons, or IDP’s, the most vulnerable people in the world. IDP’s are those who have fled conflict and still remain within the borders of their homeland. Often times, IDP’s flee because of violence perpetrated by their own state or by rebel groups within. It’s possible to imagine homelessness in a similar context- those who experience extreme economic, educational, and social marginalization are likely to end up on the street without access to basic resources. Both groups, domestic homeless and international IDPs, experience disenfranchisement at the hands of their own country’s economy, political and social atmosphere. Both groups experience state violence, lack of basic resources, and degradation. Homelessness is often a result of families, individuals and institutions lacking the ability to effectively deal with conflict in a way that is healing and proactive. But we have an opportunity to take action, to bring awareness to these crushing issues and to make a difference in our communities and throughout the world.
Understanding the Issues
Causes of Homelessness
In the United States over 3.5 million people experience homelessness each year. Homelessness in the United States is caused by a combination of factors, the three main ones being unemployment, poverty, and lack of affordable housing. Other factors like untreated mental illness, depression, PTSD, and physical disabilities limit employment opportunities due to deeply ingrained biases and structural violence against both disabled people and those with mental illness- even those who are still fully able to work. Tragic life occurrences like the loss of loved ones, job loss, domestic violence, divorce and family disputes can also be the cause of homelessness.
Housing is often difficult for people in poverty to access because of major limitations by the government on accessing Section 8 Housing Vouchers (low-income housing assistance). People who have a criminal record are legally unable to receive government subsidies for housing in many states, and are discriminated against in their employment searches. And although unemployment rates are dropping in the U.S., even people who can find work don’t automatically escape poverty. The cycle of homelessness is a vicious one that many don’t understand. In order to get a job and fill out the legal employment paperwork, one must have an address. In order to have an address, one must either rent a living space, own living space, or have a secure spot in a shelter- which is rare. So, even if a homeless person was to receive an offer of employment, they are often unable to fill out the paperwork, access clothing appropriate to the position, or find/afford consistent transportation to and from the job.
In 2013, 2.5 million youth considered the street their home. Very near to half of them were under 6 years old. Over 5,000 young people die every year while homeless because of anything from assault or suicide to illness or hypothermia. In a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the researchers found that 46% of homeless youth left their home because of physical abuse and 17% left because of sexual abuse. The average age a teen becomes homeless is 14.7 years old.
LGBTQ youth make up no more than 10% of the U.S. population, yet they make up about 40% of the homeless youth population. Many of the LGBTQ teens in shelters and on the streets reported that their parents either forced them to leave or knew they were leaving and didn’t care, and most have experienced abuse in their homes. Homeless LGBTQ youth are more likely to exchange sex for housing or shelter, are abused more often at homeless shelters (especially adult shelters), and experience more violence on the streets than homeless heterosexual youth. The agencies serving these youth say that a lack of funding from the government, foundations, and the public has become a barrier in being able to provide more services.
Housing is a Human Right
The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 25 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, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” While many think that homelessness is something people are in control of ( just “go get a job” or “pick yourself up by your bootstraps”), homelessness is often caused by things that are out of a person’s control such as discrimination on the basis of race, ability, gender, sickness, as well as economic and environmental factors that they never “chose” to be affected by. Having shelter is a basic human right that we deny to so many millions of people every day. The National Economic and Social Rights Initiative states that “ It is the government’s obligation to guarantee that everyone can exercise this right to live in security, peace, and dignity. This right must be provided to all persons irrespective of income or access to economic resources.” Many think that it’s not the government’s responsibility to provide housing or shelter to our citizens, but we believe differently. We have seen that private, community-based efforts are not enough, even combined with the efforts of the government, and we need to take action to improve the commitment of our states and our government to provide the basic right of life-including shelter and food, to those who are the most deeply and painfully impacted by poverty.
The criminalization of homelessness refers to measures which prohibit life-sustaining activities such as sleeping/camping, eating, sitting, and/or asking for money/resources in public spaces. These ordinances include criminal penalties for violations of these acts.
There are multiple types of criminalization measures which include:
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