For the last three months, I’ve gotten to live in D.C. and work for the organization that inspired me to go to law school. Sure, that sounds like a white lie you tell your boss to get brownie points, but it’s the honest truth. I’ve been so lucky—in this fellowship and in life in general.
My whole life, I have had a roof over my head, enough food to eat, and access to doctors and good schools. All of that has allowed me to get where I am today. Through stories I’ve read from the Law Center and other organizations, I know how different my life could be and I hate the idea that some people are held back by lack of opportunity.
Explaining what I’ve done at the Law Center is challenging. When I first started my position, my mom wanted to know what type of projects I was working on. My main focus was on establishing housing as a human right in the United States, but it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around that. Even with a background in affordable housing and some exposure to international law, it took lots of reading and listening and critical thinking to make it all click for me. We always talk about human rights as something other countries need to work on. After all, we’re the United States of America—we’re human rights heroes, right?
No matter how patriotic you are, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the human right to housing has not been realized in the United States. And while no one is saying the U.S. government has an obligation to hand out free houses to every American, the right to housing does require us to address the growing homelessness crisis.
We can’t solve this problem overnight, of course. But I hope we can all agree that, while we work to end homelessness and realize the right to housing in the long-term, we must at a minimum provide emergency shelter to those who need it. No, man, woman, or child should have to sleep on a park bench or a sidewalk.
One small step at a time, we can make housing a right, not a privilege. Housing creates stability, security, and a solid foundation for success. I am lucky. But luck should not be a factor when it comes to something as basic as having a roof over your head.
- Shelbey Wolf, PHRGE Fellow