USICH Blog

04/14/2014 - 3 Reasons to Address Homelessness as a Human Rights Issue

By Liz Osborn, USICH Management and Program Analyst

Last week, I was honored to take part in a Department of Justice roundtable, focused on domestic violence, sexual assault, non-discrimination and human rights.

I was there to address action steps for collaboration, drawing on USICH’s experience working with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty to promote human rights as a framework to prevent and end homelessness.

There were many thoughtful questions discussed during the panel, but one stood out to me as particularly thought provoking: what benefits and challenges do organizations face when addressing the issue of homelessness from a human rights perspective?

The truth is challenges do exist; such as limited resources and varying definitions of what a human rights framework to ending homelessness should mean. But the benefits far outweigh those challenges. 

Here are three key benefits of addressing homelessness from a human rights perspective:

  1. Housing is a human right, and remembering that keeps stakeholders focused on helping people who experience homelessness achieve permanent housing, rather than on services that—may be well-intentioned but—do not ultimately help people exit homelessness into housing stability. Permanent housing is the primary solution to preventing and ending homelessness and the overarching strategy of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
  2. Human rights put people first. Good strategies start from understanding the unique needs of individuals, families, youth, and Veterans. A human rights approach keeps people and their needs at the forefront of our work.
  3. Homelessness has a human cost. Yes, ending homelessness is cost-effective for the taxpayer (doing nothing can actually costs taxpayers more money). But dollars are not the only cost of homelessness; humans experience homelessness at a horrific expense to the health and well-being of themselves and their communities. When we make the case that safe and stable housing is a human right, our cause is strengthened. We can tap into the passions, relationships, and experiences that cut across sectors--and budget sheets--to create new partnerships and solutions.

For more on USICH’s work on human rights and homelessness, visit our blog series and newsletter or check out Searching out Solutions, our document identifying constructive alternatives to the criminalization of homelessness. 

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