Ending homelessness – social justice and human rights

“We don’t work on homelessness.” It’s a comment I hear from policymakers, funders, and other organizations. But my feeling is that if you work on poverty, and if you work on justice, you work on homelessness.

Over the years, homelessness has come to be increasingly narrowly viewed, and sometimes defined. But if we take a step back, it’s clear that homelessness is really nothing more or less than an extreme form of poverty. It’s a step in a continuum of vulnerability.

People become homeless for reasons ranging from eviction, to job loss, to health crises, to domestic violence, to substance addiction. These are some of the immediate, precipitating events that can send a person or a family or a youth into the streets or shelters, or to someone’s couch or floor. But underlying all of these is a lack of resources to weather these events.

The ongoing foreclosure and unemployment crises make these connections clearer than ever. Formerly middle class people are finding themselves seeking help from food banks and shelters where they were once donors or volunteers. More people than ever are on food stamps (now known as the SNAP program), one of the few remaining entitlement programs.   From 2010 to 2011, the number of people living doubled up due to economic need rose by over 9%.

For us as advocates, working on homelessness means working on ending and preventing it. That means we work on housing, income, education, health care, domestic violence. We work on addressing the causes that make people homeless in the first place. We also work on preventing further harm to people who are already homeless—harm that makes it even harder to end their homelessness. We advocate to make sure homeless children have access to school, and that people aren’t criminally punished simply because they have nowhere to live except for public places.

We view homelessness as a human rights issue, and it’s a basic human rights principle that rights are interdependent. It’s hard—or even impossible—to go to school, to work, to vote, to keep a family together, if you don’t have food to eat, health care for body and mind, or a home to live in. Ending and preventing homelessness in America is a matter of basic social justice.

At the Law Center, we target the most critical issues that cause homelessness—and work for solutions to address them. We’re fortunate to have a stellar team of advocates on staff, assisted by amazing fellows, interns and volunteers, and a network of committed pro bono law firm and corporate partners.  We have a dedicated Board of Directors, led by our extraordinary Chair, Ed McNicholas, who is profiled in this issue.

Together, we’re working to ensure basic human rights for all, here at home.

– Maria Foscarinis, Founder and Executive Director

This entry was posted in Children & Youth, Civil Rights, Housing, Human Rights. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Ending homelessness – social justice and human rights

  1. Margaret Rivas says:

    The “Healthcare for the Homeless Program” in Alameda County is now a travisty. Due to poor leadership most of our services have been cut. We use to help people by getting them into housing or apartments, we would also give them vouchers to stay at local motels in order to get them out of rain and due to poor medical circumstances. We had an 18th month period to train and house families. A medical van was purchased about 1 1/2 years ago and the cost was at least $150,00. This van was suppose to help more residents that are living under the freeways etc.. These are the people that need our help the most. The van would go to at least 20 sites throughout Alameda County and now it is only going to about 10 sites. The Alameda County Management of this program has chosen other priorities and have betrayed so many people that truly need their help. They have chosen to put all there effort in other new project to make themselves look good.

  2. Darlene Matthews says:

    Many of the long term homeless and those who stay at risk are disabled. That is why many returning disabled vets re joining them- in the road. The assumptions that we are mostly drunk or high is hurtful and harmful THIS stigma must be removed. Most shelters are for families or substance abusers finding help with specail needs is next to impossible any where in the USA. If programs do help disabled they are usually for Dev delyed or MH and still NOT physical or special needs accessible many of them charge more than the HUD rent and so the only way to save for housing is to return to the road. Many lowest income disabled lose there voucher because HPRP and other funds are typically controlled by healthy family or rehab organizations and not shared. Most free legal disability rights groups have no legal advocates for section8 FHEO or rep dev delay and children’s issues or don’t do Homelessness or homeless prevention. Many say they have no funds. I’m sick of the threat yearly of homelessness and no real supports or helps to get accessibity. In Aug my time may be up . Looks like only Pine Boxes are permanent housing and one size fits all for too many of us.

  3. P. Hennin says:

    I like the idea of a law foundation representing the homeless and addressing homelessness issues. I have lived in Tupelo for 3 years. I decided I could as easily be homeless traveling as staying where I lived for 30 years, in Oregon. I found that idea to be true. I have skills that are saleable but my circumstance limits the use of them. Setbacks like stolen tools and files because of the lack of permanent storage. No permanent mail address. These are not trivial problems. Without basic security for belongings, finding work becomes difficult beyond the ordinary. Clean clothes, showers, important papers and possesions all become a hit or miss proposition. Maybe Las Vegas would be a better gamble than hoping you’ll wake up and still own your clothes or bicycle or possessions–no thieves last night. Most people who have never been homeless believe that hunger is the main issue. Hunger is the least of the problems I’ve ever had with homelessness. If only more papers would take aninterest in educating the public, perhaps not everyone homeless will be a lazy, drunken bum on the run from the law.
    I must compliment the Tupelo Daily Journal, however, as, even beyond the tear-jerking holiday season when most papers look for feel good articles, this paper does seem to care and runs more than the ordinary share of articles on important issues and organization, year round. I know. They let me write over 20 articles for them about homelessness.
    Thank you again for your work on the invisible and as they say now, politically correctly, the under-represented homeless people who need to know someone cares.

  4. Keith Bender says:

    Waging a War on anything simply means destroying something. The War on Crime has gotten a massive Prison Population which shows where he Affordable Housing Dollars have gone. So, in some ways I wholeheartedly agree that Fighting to end Homelessness is part of the symptoms of Poverty.
    The Impoverished attitude we have about Affordable Housing is the point I wish to push and then pull the Homeless back into Homes as if some void demands filling.

    Keeping as simple as possible on Solution based focus is what I can see as a hopeful and productive use of whatever it is I can help accomplish. Homeless =Homemore. Rocket science to some and all too painfully evident for those of us who are. So I have compressed two themes into one and would hope that some places on our map will put AFFORDABLE HOUSING FIRST. As a collective effort the most vulnerable get placed and so on and so forth.

    Making money is what can be done once someone stabilizes and returns to some sort of balance that works for them. If we must prop them up a bit then that will show itself needed . Housing is a RIGHT! RIGHT?

    If you don’t already believe that then you have no foundation to build upon. Affordable Housing is not an option at that point. It is a mandated accommodation which our economic systems and sub systems must adjust to. Of Course our Colonial Masters still disagree since the Finance system itself is a no win proposition as long as Investment overpowers Habitation needs. So as we walk down the street like the leaning tower of Pisa, remember we choose to live this way.

    Anyone interested in “Blogging-for- Housing”? Nobody searches us out. We need to make enough vibration that we get attention.

  5. Pingback: Homelessness is a Human Rights Issue — Monarch Housing Associates

  6. James Waghorne says:

    On any given night,upwards to 15% of the homeless population are incarcerated for minor offenses. The median average being 24 hours before release. A majority of those locked up are “chronically homeless”. Not counting any homeless is tragic but this practice of not counting those temporally locked up encourages “police sweeps” before the point-in-time census. It also means our citizens get inaccurate information concerning the state of homelessness in America today. The Supreme Court has had many rulings against considering “jail” as being an address for those incarcerated, to protect against such things as “gerrymandering”. By not counting these individuals, HUD is making the case that these homeless should be treated as the same individuals residing in permanent homes.
    On a personal note as an formerly homeless individual, it stinks to be treated as invisible.

    James K Waghorne

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