What do you think is the root cause of homelessness? – Part 3

Homelessness – The Root Causes – Part III

In Part I & Part II,  I have been asking the question – “What do you think is the root cause of homelessness?”  (Join the movement – tweet your answers on Twitter with the tag #whyhomeless).  I pointed out that –

The right to housing is a basic human right defined by the United Nations, ratified and signed by Canada and most other Western nations. And yet,  it is the lack of affordable housing which most suspect to be the leading contributor to homelessness in every town and city in North America where it exists.

Photo - Board of Regents - Dan Bergeron / fauxreel - in Torontoist

Photo - Fatima - Dan Bergeron / fauxreel - in Torontoist

To determine the root cause of homelessness it’s important to investigate the genesis of the single cause most often targetted – the lack of affordable housing – in view of the United Nations covenant. The international agreement is:

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

It includes such basic human rights as – the right to Self-determination, equal rights for men and women,  the right to work,  the right to just and favorable conditions of work,  the right to form and join trade unions,  the right to social security and social insurance,  rights to protection and assistance for the family, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, the right to education, the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications…

And –

Article 11 – The right to an adequate standard of living

Which clearly states:
1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing- and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent.

This right to “adequate housing” is so crucial, that it is the only factor to be extensively defined and in a General Comment to the Covenant, General Comment No. 4 – which  reveals the extensive nature of the protection included under article 11 and elaborates legal interpretations of the right to adequate housing which go far beyond restricted visions of this right as simply a right to shelter. In it, the Committee, which has given more attention to the right to housing than to any other right under the Covenant, states (in part):

“The right to housing, should not be interpreted in a narrower restrictive sense which equates it with, for example, the shelter provided by merely having a roof over one’s head . . . Rather it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity”.  The Committee has defined the term “adequate housing” to comprise –

  • security of tenure
  • availability of services
  • affordability
  • habitability
  • accessibility
  • location
  • and cultural adequacy

Affordability is defined such that personal or household financial costs associated with housing should be at such a level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not threatened or compromised;  Location so that adequate housing must be in a location which allows access to employment options, health-care services, schools, child-care centres and other social facilities; and cultural adequacy means that the way housing is constructed, the building materials used and the policies supporting these must appropriately enable the expression of cultural identity and diversity of housing.

The states and nations party to this covenant (including Canada) regognize the interdependance of basic rights – ” the full enjoyment of other rights – such as the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of association (such as for tenants and other community-based groups), the right to freedom of residence and the right to participate in public decision-making – is indispensable if the right to adequate housing is to be realized and maintained by all groups in society” .  Further, rights such as the right to adequate housing in turn are integral to a persons ability to enjoy other basic human rights.

It is important to discuss this in our investigation of the root causes of homelessness – especially in the light of our own government policies – policies, laws and regulations at the municipal, provincial and federal levels can not be in contravention of this covenant. We must hold policy makers and politicians accountable to the rule of law in how our social safety net is put into practice and demand that barriers to the enjoyment of basic human rights are removed. We must be vigilant to ensure that nobody is subjected to discrimination which affects their right to adequate housing.

For example – if we look at the conditions on First Nations reserves and the housing solutions provided there, can we say that our First nations people have access to housing which is affordable and meets the internationally agreed upon standards for location and cultural adequacy?

In the next part I’ll review how the United Nations has helped develop a broad definition of homelessness. Many people do not take the time to define “homelessness” in their policies and programs. If we are to determine root causes then we must use a common definition.

Your comments are needed – share this with as people as possible, on Facebook, Digg, Reddit. If you’re on Twitter, tweet this link and your comments with the new Twitter hashtag #whyhomeless.  Reply to me @canayjun Get the word out.

BE the change!

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