2013 Symposium on the Human Right to Housing

Last week, a capacity crowd of some 130 lawyers, academics and grassroots activists gathered to spend a day discussing the human right to housing, and strategies to build a legal foundation for that right here in the US.

Co-sponsored by NLCHP, the Human Rights Institute of Columbia Law School and the Program on Human Rights in the Global Economy at Northeastern Law School, the Symposium was an inspiring call to action that included concrete examples of progress now being made at the federal, state and local levels to advance the human right to housing for all-and especially for homeless and poor people.

Among those efforts is the growing movement for state level Homeless Persons’ Bills of Rights. Last year, Rhode Island enacted the Rhode Island Homeless Persons’ Bill of Rights, the first such enforceable law in the nation. Now advocates in California, as well as Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut and Missouri are pressing similar campaigns, with support from NLCHP, which also supported the Rhode Island campaign. Last week, the California bill took a critical step forward when the California Assembly’s Judiciary voted it out of committee. Key demands are protections from laws that criminalize homelessness and that discriminate based on housing status.

Undergirding these campaigns is the call for the human right to housing. Protection from discrimination is critically important, but ensuring the right to housing is essential. Because what we’re fighting for is not just protection from arrest for people forced to live in public places because they are without a home. What we truly want, and believe everyone should have in a country that has the resources to provide it, like ours does, is a decent, safe affordable home.

That’s what the human right to housing promises, and what we and those who gathered in NYC last week are working towards. Passing state bills like that now moving forward in CA are a crucially important step in the right direction.

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3 Responses to 2013 Symposium on the Human Right to Housing

  1. Shirley Jones says:

    I believe that we should help the homeless, and hungry in this country, and they should have food, and shelter, because that can be any of us, you may have a job today, but the way our country is going, you may not have one tomorrow, and that could include our leaders as well , no one is promised job security anymore, I pray for the homeless, and hungry everyday.

  2. Kevin Murray says:

    Thanks, Eric, for a great report on an important and impressive event. I was most impressed by the lively discussions about how to best keep up the momentum toward realization of a right to housing in the U.S. and the presentation by Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry about the framing and tactics that have worked for their admittedly very different effort. What, if anything, does NLCHP take from the FtM presentation about how to most effectively campaign for the Right to Housing in the U.S.?

  3. homelessnesslaw says:

    Thanks, Kevin, for participating in the conference and your comment! It would take a year to unpack all of Evan’s fantastic advice and expertise, but a couple things stood out:

    • While, as Evan said, there’s no “silver bullet,” and “the messenger is as important as the message”, Evan’s discussion of the importance of researching what messages do work, and how to tweak them when they have reached some, but not all, of your target population seems very important to their campaign’s ability to move to over 50% popular support. Luckily, based on research done by the Opportunity Agenda, we know that close to ¾ of Americans support the statement “housing is a human right” and 2/3 even believe we may need to devote more government resources to realizing it. Now it’s just a matter of moving people from tacit agreement to action!
    • Evan talked about his first case for marriage equality in Hawaii, one that he won in the courts, but lost in the legislature, as a game changer, because even though they ultimately lost, it gave people the belief that winning was possible, and helped attract more support down the line. We think our recent string of victories – getting HUD to acknowledge homelessness as a human rights issue, getting the Justice Department and US Inter-agency Council on Homelessness to recognize criminalization of homelessness as a human rights treaty violation, getting cities like Madison, WI to pass resolutions recognizing the human right to housing, passage of a state level homeless persons’ bill of rights in Rhode Island (with others already introduced in a half-dozen other states), winning victories in courts that protect homeless people’s rights – shows we may be approaching a tipping point in public, legislative, and judicial consciousness. But we obviously have to do much more to really push it over the top.
    • Last, but not least, Evan talked about forming the national Freedom to Marry campaign and as an egalitarian, welcoming community which provided support to and helped coordinate local campaigns as their campaign matured. A national campaign structure like this would be fantastic to help all the tremendous local work for the human right to housing going on every day really shine, but we don’t yet have the resources to launch it. But Evan’s campaign has been going for almost 20 years, and as he cautioned, they haven’t won a total victory yet. While some advocates (including our own Executive Director) have been working almost that long for the human right to housing, in many ways, our campaign is still very young, so it may be we need another victory or two to help generate the momentum to attract the resources to take our campaign to the next level.

    There’s lots more to unpack from Evan’s remarks, which we anticipate will be published in the symposium edition of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, and video of which should be available online shortly. But we’re grateful for his guidance, and for the support of colleagues like you, and the incredible work of the PHRGE Fellows who have helped us advance the work for the human right to housing to this point. And we’re sure that, in the long run, we will prevail and housing will be recognized and enjoyed as a human right for all.

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