National Homelessness Law Center: WASHINGTON, D.C. – (November 3, 2023) Today, the United Nations Human Rights Committee highlighted serious and ongoing patterns of human rights abuses — including those against people experiencing homelessness and poverty — in the Concluding Observations from its recent convening that investigated the United States’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Concluding Observations devote an entire paragraph to the human rights abuses faced by people experiencing homelessness. It reads:
The Committee is concerned about reports of an increase of state and local laws criminalizing homelessness, of violence against homeless persons as well as at the higher risk of premature death that they experience due to homelessness. It is also concerned about the disproportionate impact of homelessness on persons who are marginalized because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, persons with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minorities, particularly people of African descent, Indigenous Peoples and persons of Hispanic/Latino origin.
Importantly, today’s report reiterates previous recommendations and calls on the United States to:
- “Abolish laws and policies criminalizing homelessness at all levels, and adopt legislative and other measures that protect the human rights of homeless people;
- Offer financial and legal incentives to decriminalize homelessness, including by conditioning or withdrawing funding from state and local authorities that criminalize homelessness;
- Intensify efforts to find solutions for the homeless, in accordance with human rights standards, including by redirecting funding from criminal justice responses towards adequate housing and shelter programmes;
- Review criminal records policies and practices that can lead to homelessness.”
While the litany of human rights abuses laid out in the report are indeed concerning, they are not surprising. The Law Center and our partners see these abuses play out daily, including when:
- The National Park Service evicted over 50 people from the McPherson encampment community in Washington, DC;
- Federal police officers shot and paralyzed a man in Boise, Idaho while destroying his encampment;
- The murders of people experiencing homelessness, including Jordan Neely, an unhoused person with a history of severe health issues, who was choked to death by a vigilante in a New York City subway car;
- New York City’s increased criminalization of homelessness, including sweeps of encampments and forced removal of unhoused persons by members of law enforcement;
- Officials in Norristown, PA threatened encampment residents with eviction despite the county shutting down its only shelter facility;
- States introduce template legislation from the Cicero Institute to criminalize unhoused persons and subject unhoused persons with mental health disabilities to forced treatment plans.
Moreover, we know that these examples of criminalization are just a small illustration of the lived reality faced by the over 500,000 people experiencing homelessness and the estimated 38 million people living in poverty in the United States.