“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”
― Nelson Mandela, July 2005
By Barbara Poppe, Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
The belief in basic human rights is a primary reason many of us are committed to ending homelessness. Think about it. Which one of us doesn’t agree with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” or the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal…with certain unalienable Rights?” The rights to have basic human needs met are among the most fundamental of human rights and are the core of our moral argument that homelessness should be ended.
Yet, despite these strongly held beliefs, we too often express only the cost-effectiveness argument to why ending homelessness makes sense. Of course, ending homelessness makes good economic sense and is great public policy; we should continue to make that case. But we should always remember and remind ourselves that ending homelessness is a moral issue, that ending homelessness is something we must do rather than something we should do.
Later this month, USICH will mark Human Rights Day through a special newsletter focused on the U.S. laws and regulations that protect human and civil rights of people who experience homelessness. Today, we launch a month-long guest blog series called "I Believe in Human Rights." Through this series, we hope to enable a diverse group to express their personal beliefs about human rights and highlight topics that are covered by international and domestic human rights.
So let me begin this series by stating clearly: I believe in human rights. I believe all people are born equal and have inalienable rights to have their basic human needs met and to be treated with dignity and respect. These are beliefs rooted in my childhood, from teachings and lessons from my parents, church, and community work. These are beliefs that drive my passion and labor, still.
I grew up in the United Church of Christ which is steeped in the social Gospel – “Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?”( NASB, Matt. 25.44)
Through my mother and Girl Scouts, I learned to live by the Girl Scout Law, “I will do my best to be honest, to be fair, to help where I am needed…”
My father went to law school when I was in junior high, and I recall vividly debates we had over the dinner table about the role of law and the bill of rights. One of his first cases was defending the rights of female employees to a workplace free from gender discrimination.
As a young adult, I was immersed in Cincinnati’s peace and justice movement, which was connected to the national activist movement led by the Community for Creative Non-Violence and the National Coalition for the Homeless.
From growing up in a conservative, rural community to leading the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, these early life lessons established my moral compass and continue to fuel my passion for ending homelessness.
We hope to inform and inspire you in the important work that you do to promote human rights as part of ending homelessness in your community. Please join in the dialogue on Twitter (@USICHgov) and Facebook by using #RightsEndHomelessness.
For more from USICH's human rights series, visit http://usich.gov/issue/human-rights/.