3 Reasons to Address Homelessness as a Human Rights Issue

Last week, I was honored to take part in a Department of Justice roundtable, focused on domestic violence, sexual assault, non-discrimination and human rights.

I was there to address action steps for collaboration, drawing on USICH’s experience working with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty to promote human rights as a framework to prevent and end homelessness.

There were many thoughtful questions discussed during the panel, but one stood out to me as particularly thought provoking: what benefits and challenges do organizations face when addressing the issue of homelessness from a human rights perspective?

The truth is challenges do exist; such as limited resources and varying definitions of what a human rights framework to ending homelessness should mean. But the benefits far outweigh those challenges. 

Here are three key benefits of addressing homelessness from a human rights perspective:

  1. Housing is a human right, and remembering that keeps stakeholders focused on helping people who experience homelessness achieve permanent housing, rather than on services that—may be well-intentioned but—do not ultimately help people exit homelessness into housing stability. Permanent housing is the primary solution to preventing and ending homelessness and the overarching strategy of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.
  2. Human rights put people first. Good strategies start from understanding the unique needs of individuals, families, youth, and Veterans. A human rights approach keeps people and their needs at the forefront of our work.
  3. Homelessness has a human cost. Yes, ending homelessness is cost-effective for the taxpayer (doing nothing can actually costs taxpayers more money). But dollars are not the only cost of homelessness; humans experience homelessness at a horrific expense to the health and well-being of themselves and their communities. When we make the case that safe and stable housing is a human right, our cause is strengthened. We can tap into the passions, relationships, and experiences that cut across sectors--and budget sheets--to create new partnerships and solutions.