Over the past decade and a half, the Law Center has been working hard to get the federal government to acknowledge housing as a basic human right and begin taking steps to implement its obligations. As documented in our report, Simply Unacceptable: Homelessness and the Human Right to Housing in the U.S., for many years, the government was openly opposed to defining housing as a human right. It came close in recent years, but didn’t quite get there.
Then, during last year’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), HUD stated for the first time the relevance of this human rights process to its domestic housing and homelessness policies. Last week, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness issued its first-year assessment and update of Opening Doors: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. Among other items, the report states:
HUD has been working on a number of other activities over the past year that helps further the housing objectives in Opening Doors[.] In March 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) conducted the first comprehensive review on human rights done in the United States. For the first time, the United States acknowledged housing as a human rights issue on an international stage. The Department of State, with the support of representatives from HUD, noted its support of the recommendation by UNHRC, which stated “broad range of safeguards for the homeless people to allow them the full enjoyment of their rights and dignity” and supports reducing and ending homelessness as a human rights concern.
This reaffirmation of the importance of the UPR in HUD’s and the Interagency Council’s work on homelessness is another step toward making the human right to housing the framework to which our government holds itself accountable. While these words on paper don’t put homeless families in homes today, they are an essential step toward making sure those homes are created tomorrow, and that homelessness is prevented for more families in the future.
From my personal perspective as the Law Center’s human rights program director, this reference is a gratifying acknowledgment of the work we – and many others across the country – have been doing. For years, pushing the human right to housing felt like banging our heads against the wall, with seemingly little progress. But without those years, we would not have reached this tipping point, where it appears these references are beginning to build on each other.
Small words, but they represent a fundamental shift in policy. And as momentum continues to build, these words and values will help create that future where no one in America spends a single night without a place to call home.
- Eric Tars, Human Rights Program Director