On October 19th, the United Nations Special Rapporteur to the Right to Adequate Housing, Lelani Farha, released her new report documenting the “global scandal” of homeless encampments. In January of 2017, Farha spent time in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California to meet with unhoused residents and housed advocates and described the conditions as “cruel and inhumane”. The only U.S. cities explicitly called out for violations in the UN’s report on global homelessness are San Francisco and Oakland.
She states that while the existence of “informal settlements” are human rights violations due to local government’s lack of will to provide permanent housing to all residents, these encampments are also people’s assertion to their denied human right of housing. She declares curbside communities are acts of resilience, resourcefulness and ingenuity in the face of dire circumstances. Rather than criminalize or ignore these settlements, until permanent housing can be offered to all, it is the duty of local governments not to evict curbside communities but to upgrade them and residents of these encampments should participate in all areas of the upgrading, including sanitation, clean water, food services and support services.
Homeless leaders and advocates in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland hosted Ms. Farha, including Coalition on Homelessness, Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), The East Oakland Collective, The Village/Feed The People, and First They Came For The Homeless. Ms. Farha was able to hear and speak directly with people living in encampments and on our streets about the oppression, hatred and police violence they experience everyday. Representatives from these organizations, curbside leaders who are survivors of continued human rights abuses at the hands of government agencies, as well as legal advocates from Ella Baker Center For Human Rights and the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute spoke at the press conference that took place October 23, 2018
In Ms. Farha’s report she frames the encampments and street dwelling in the United States under the same vein as the informal settlements around the world. Finding that “the scope and severity of the living conditions in informal settlements make this one of the most pervasive violations of human rights globally,” states the report. The Oakland conditions of discrimination and harassment of encampment residents and punitive denials of access to basic services constitute “cruel and inhuman treatment and is a violation of multiple human rights…Such punitive policies must be prohibited in law and immediately ceased.”
This assertion falls in line with the 9th Circuit Courts Sept 4th decision that criminalization of homelessness violates curbside communities’ 8th amendment rights and constitutes as cruel and unusual punishment.
“The Report of the 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” is being presented at the United Nation’s office in New York on October 19th. In solidarity with this presentation at the UN, events took place in New York City; Denver, Colorado, and Oakland, CA on October 23.
Writing in support of WRAPs Right to Rest acts in California, Colorado, and Oregon, the Rapporteur summed up her visit in California:
“In my capacity as the UN Rapporteur on Housing, I visited California and saw firsthand the human right violations being experienced by people who are homeless. They are the victims of failed policies—not the perpetrators of crime. The state of California must take action to remedy the criminalization of rest…While I toured encampments and drop-in facilities serving homeless people, the community repeatedly expressed that they simply wanted to be treated as human beings. It is dehumanizing, demoralizing, and unjust to criminalize hundreds of thousands of people due to their housing status.”
The report concludes with step by step recommendations to enhance the lives of over 800 million people around the world who live in informal settlements and inhumane conditions concluding:
“That truth is that by any measure — moral, political or legal — it is unacceptable for people to be forced to live this way. Refusing to accept the unacceptable is where we must begin. All actors must mobilize within a shared human rights paradigm around the imperative of upgrading all informal settlements by 2030.”
The UN Press release on the report can be found here: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23737&LangID=E
The report can be found here: