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Homelessness is a Human Rights Issue

What do you think about when you hear the phrase “Human Rights Issue”?  I think about human trafficking, suppression of civil rights, and discrimination, to name a few.  But have you thought about homelessness as a human rights issue?  Many people experiencing homelessness face issues of domestic violence, suppression of rights, and, yes, even human trafficking.  As importantly, people experiencing homelessness need access to what we can all agree is a basic human right – a safe, decent, affordable place to live.  So it makes sense to place homelessness within the context of human rights issues.

Just this week, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness posted a blog titled “3 Reasons to Address Homelessness as a Human Rights Issue.”  You can find the full blog at http://USICH.gov/blog.  Below I’ve quoted the gist of their posting, which I think is important for all who are concerned about homelessness to consider.

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Homelessness has a human cost.  Yes, ending homelessness is cost-effective for the taxpayer (doing nothing can actually cost 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.

Thanks to Liz Osborn at the USICH for making such a thoughtful and compelling argument for addressing homelessness as a human rights issue.  To learn more about the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, Opening Doors (mentioned by Liz above), please visit their website at usich.gov.

One key strategy for ending homelessness is to stop thinking about the issue as a social ill or condition.  It’s a tragic human experience.  It’s also a human experience we can end and prevent. 

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Carson Dean

In September 2008 I became the Executive Director of the Men's Shelter of Charlotte. I've spent almost 15 years working to end homelessness in North Carolina. After working with homeless and runaway youth in Raleigh, I served as the Director of the South Wilmington Street Center (men's shelter) in Wake County and then worked on Orange County's 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. I am a former board chair for the North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness and former chair of the Homeless Services Network in Charlotte. In 2014 I served as the partner agency representative on the United Way Central Carolinas board of directors.

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