Two weeks ago, I did a web training on human rights and homelessness for a small group of advocates in Salt Lake City, Utah at the request of Bill Tibbits, from Crossroads Urban Center. The training focused on issues of the criminalization of homelessness, where homeless people are ticketed for actions that the rest us take for granted – like sleeping, sitting, or eating – because they are forced to do so in public places.
After the training, Bill and his allies decided to conduct a “sleep-in” in a public park. They got great press coverage, emphasizing the human rights perspective that sleeping is a necessity of life, and when a person doesn’t have a private place to do that, to deny them the ability to sleep is to deny their right to live as a human being. Sleeping in the park is no one’s idea of a permanent solution, but until we have enough affordable housing available for all, cities should not violate the human rights of homeless persons just because they have nowhere else to go.
Bill sent me this email on Friday: “Today the Chief of Police invited me to a press conference where he thanked me for drawing his attention to this issue, stated that he intended to halt enforcement of the City’s anti-camping ordinance and that he planned to ask the Council to make some revisions to the ordinances.”
One couldn’t ask for a clearer example of the power of human rights as a tool to re-frame the public debate around issues of housing and homelessness: from training to stopping enforcement of a law that violates human rights in two weeks! While we won’t win most of our struggles quite as quickly, such victories emphasize the potential we can hope for, as well as the need to continue to share human rights tools with our allies.
Congratulations again to Bill and his colleagues. We look forward to helping you keep the momentum going forward!
-Eric Tars, Human Rights Program Director