For many who have not experienced homelessness its causes lead to stigma and prejudice. But, with 78% of workers in the U.S. living paycheck to paycheck — the probability of experiencing homelessness is more common than most realize. At COHRE we noticed a disconnect between human rights discussions and homelessness. Over the next 5 weeks we have set out to focus on the effects homelessness has on human rights, as well as ways to promote human rights in our community through education on the realities homelessness.
Homelessness is a human rights issue
Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.”
Access to safe and secure housing is one of the most basic human rights. However, homelessness is not just about housing. Fundamentally, homelessness is about lack of connectedness with family, friends and the community and lack of control over one’s environment.
A person who is homeless may face violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to education, the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to privacy, the right to social security, the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to vote, and many more.
In 2016 almost 550,000 people in the United States were experiencing homelessness according to a one-night national survey. Two thirds of this population live on the streets while the remainder stay in shelters. In Colorado, the concentration of homelessness is higher than the national average. Colorado’s population of people experiencing homelessness grew by 13% from 2015 to 2016 resulting in a total of more than 6,100 men, women and children without homes.
What is homelessness?
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness in four broad categories:
- People living in a place not meant for human habitation, in emergency shelter, or in transitional housing.
- People who are losing their primary nighttime residence, which may include a motel or hotel or a doubled-up situation with family or friends, within 14 days and lack resources or support networks to remain in housing.
- Families with children or unaccompanied youth who are unstably housed and likely to continue in that state.
- People who are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence, have no other residence, and lack the resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.
Chronic homelessness is defined as an individual who has a disability and has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, and or individual who has a disability and has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years
What causes homelessness?
There are many different causes of homelessness. Poverty and the inability to afford adequate housing are central to the causes of homelessness. These circumstances may result from a number of different experiences, including long-term or short-term unemployment, debt and other financial pressures, and housing market pressures, such as rising rental and house prices and the lack of public housing.
Financial difficulty is often accompanied by other personal or family problems such as domestic violence, poor physical and mental health, substance abuse and other addictions. The inability to cope with combinations of these problems can push individuals and families even closer to the edge.
Even before a person becomes homeless, they may be living at the margins of the society, with few connections to family and the community. Social isolation can mean that they lack the necessary support to assist them through periods of stress and help them manage ongoing problems.
What is being done about it?
Nationally, Opening Doors, introduced in 2010, is the United States’ first and only strategic federal plan to prevent and end homelessness. Their solutions center around seven areas: collaborative leadership, housing, education, jobs, health care, crisis response, and criminal justice reform.
Their benchmarks are broken up into four categories focusing on veterans, chronic homelessness, families and youth, and has been relatively effective on a national scale.
- Ending veteran homelessness – down 47% since 2010.
- Ending chronic homelessness – down 27% since 2010.
- Ending homelessness among families with children – down 23% since 2010.
- Ending youth homelessness (added in 2012) – no data on efficacy.
In Denver, Denver’s Road Home works with 20 community-based service providers to administer coordinated shelter, outreach, job placement and training, and other services for people who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. Between January 2015 and December 2016, Denver’s Road Home in coordination with the Metro Denver Homelessness Initiative and community-based services providers have housed 995 people who were homeless and sheltered thousands.
On September 19, more than 900 volunteers and more than 100 service providers gathered at the Colorado Convention Center for Project Homeless Connect 2017. More than 1300 individuals experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness were connected to essential services, including medical care, employment, food, and identification.