An Open Discussion on CsocD 2020 - "Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness"
Tuesday June 4, Brian Wilson - The Working Group to End Homelessness hosted an open discussion on “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness.” The meeting began with an opening presentation from Memo Campuzano. He began by sharing a story called the Tree of Love. The story is about a group of homeless people who had no place for privacy and therefore had no place to be intimate with their partners. The tree was the only place for these people to feel like they had a private place. It was a powerful way to begin this meeting since stories such as the Tree of Love reminds all who are present the importance for advocating for the homeless. After Memo’s presentation, moderator Jean Quinn opened the discussion to the panelists. The panel members included; Daniela Bas from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Iris Bailey, Sr. Winifred Doherty of the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors, Craig Mokhiber of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights New York, and Dame Louise Casey who is the chair of IGH.
Perhaps the most memorable and moving moment of the morning came from Iris Bailey who recalled her life as a homeless woman. Throughout her experience as a homeless woman she witnessed and felt the effects of homelessness first hand. Ms. Bailey was placed in mental health institutions as well as temporary shelters. She remembers the fear and feeling of uncertainty in this period of her life. She recommended that the government “Stop building shelters and start building affordable housing.” She also called for the end of discrimination of homeless people. Ms. Bailey’s brave remarks moved everyone in the room and her final message to all of us was that “You have to live it to know it.”
Everyone in the room agreed that homelessness is a violation of human rights. Daniela Bas was the first to speak on this point. She said, “To have a home is a human right.” She also spoke energetically of the need to develop policies to enforce such human rights as well as stopping the violations before they can happen. Craig Mokhiber called homelessness a breach of human rights. He said that homelessness is a complex issue and it can be the catalyst to many other human rights violations, which is why Mr. Mokhiber called homelessness an “octopus” because of the way it can be connected to so many other issues. Sr. Winifred Doherty echoed Mr. Mokhiber’s view and spoke about its effects on women and children. Homelessness can leads to lack of education and malnutrition for children.
Many of the speakers offered recommendations that could be done. As Ms. Bailey said the government should “Stop building shelters and start building affordable housing.” This was reflected by Dame Louise Casey’s remark that “You can not always ‘house’ your way out of homelessness.” She also called for nations to begin collecting data and statistics so that there can be action. Similarly, Mr. Mokhiber said people often forget that homelessness is a human rights violation because there is no data or statistics to support it. Another recommendation was made from Daniela Bas who said that focusing on peace and security efforts is crucial since conflicts are a large factor of homelessness around the world.
The major theme from this meeting was the call for a common definition, description or language on homelessness at United Nations. This is an urgent issue with the future of the Working Group to End Homelessness but also for the future of homelessness globally. The obstacle the WGEH is facing is creating language that is inclusive and non-controversial so that it does not ostracize any member states or NGOs. At the meeting, there were people who spoke on behalf of the need for common language as well as those who cautioned against it. During the opening presentation Memo proposed using the language established by a group of experts on the issue in Nairobi, Kenya recently,
"Homelessness is a condition where a person or household lacks habitable space with security of tenure, rights and ability to enjoy social relations, including safety. Homelessness is a manifestation of extreme poverty and a failure of multiple systems and human rights”
Dame Louise shared that it is time for a common description as soon as possible. She warned the group against waiting around another decade for a description or definition. Others in the room, such as a representative from the Mission of Austria as well as Daniela Bas, recommended against establishing a description or definition like the one proposed by Memo.
Overall, this meeting was a great opportunity for the WGEH to meet and come together before July’s high level political forum at the United Nations.