We Still Believe in Human Rights

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty

Written by Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, and Laura Green Zeilinger, Executive Director of the USICH

The original post can be found here, on the USICH’s blog.


Around the country, more communities are working in partnership with the Federal government to develop housing crisis response systems that effectively prevent and end homelessness.  No longer can there be any question that ending homelessness is possible, if we dedicate resources and energy to this goal. This shift brings with it the opportunity for us to meet the basic human rights of everyone in our community—when we put people first and focus on the human need for housing and proven, cost-effective solutions, we can make a difference.

Last year, USICH marked Human Rights Day, by launching a blog series entitled “I Believe in Human Rights.” We believe now as we believed then, that the rights to have basic human needs met are among the most fundamental of human rights and are the core of our moral argument that homelessness should be ended.

The series included more than a dozen blogs, including those from then HUD Secretary and now OMB Director Shaun Donovan, State officials, international advocates, and many more.  One year later, the passion, experience, and commitment to human rights demonstrated in these blogs continue to resonate deeply with us.  Building on the series, USICH launched a new page of its website dedicated to Human Rights and Alternatives to Criminalization. Both USICH and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty were asked to share our model of human rights collaboration at a meeting at the Department of Justice, to help them take their own steps toward addressing justice issues through a human rights lens.

Maria FoscarinisUSICH has used every opportunity to explore what it means to incorporate human rights into practice with local, state, and Federal partners.  We’ve hosted community conversations to explore alternatives to criminalization, partnered with the Law Center to host a dialogue with participants at the Alliance’s National Conference on Homelessness, and explored opportunities for our Federal partners to incorporate this important issue in their relationships with communities.

Simultaneously, the Law Center has been building momentum against criminalization at the international level, where the three U.N. committees which monitor U.S. compliance with its human rights treaty obligations, the Human Rights Committee, Committee on the Elimination of  Racial Discrimination, and Committee Against Torture, each asked the U.S. to explain its policies on criminalization of homelessness; two of the committees also condemned it and called for additional Federal actions to discourage the practice at the local level.

This Human Rights Day, USICH and the Law Center renew our commitment to addressing homelessness as a Human Rights issue and to work across this country to implement evidence-based solutions and stop the criminalization of homelessness. As USICH states in its Searching Out Solutions report, and the Law Center in No Safe Place, criminalizing basic human needs to sleep, rest, eat, or go to the bathroom is wrong—morally and legally—and is the least cost-effective way to address homelessness in our communities.

As we fight the criminalization of homelessness, we emphasize that our goal is not the right to sleep on the street; our goal is ensuring that no one needs to sleep on the street in the first place because everyone has a safe, stable place that is home. That is our goal.

Yes, we believe in Human Rights. We believe in Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 1, when it says that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” And we believe in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal…with certain unalienable Rights.” And we believe in what President Obama stated in Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, it is “simply unacceptable for individuals, children, families and our nation’s Veterans to be faced with homelessness in this country.”

We know we can end homelessness. We know we must end homelessness, because we still believe in human rights.

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