Homeless encampments, slums and other informal dwellings exist in the poorest and richest countries in the world, and they represent a systemic violation of human rights, according to a new United Nations report.
According to the report, prepared by U.N. Special Rapporteur Leilani Farha, nearly a quarter of the world’s urban population lives in informal settlements, be they slum communities in the global south or homeless encampments in North America.
The nature of informal settlements in urban areas is dual, Farha wrote. On the one hand, they represent failure on the part of states that deprive their people of fundamental human rights.
“On the other hand, informal settlements are often an incredible accomplishment, a profound expression of individuals, families and communities claiming their place and their right to housing,” Farha wrote.
Governments have a responsibility to bring people indoors and ensure access to basic services, such as water and toilets. They should stop using courts to authorize evictions from informal encampments, she wrote.
Governments have a responsibility to bring people indoors and ensure access to basic services, such as water and toilets.
Farha traveled to Los Angeles and the Bay Area for an informal visit, which received extensive coverage in January 2018. She told Real Change in February that what she encountered was “very difficult to see,” particularly in the context of the vast wealth in the state’s urban areas.
“What did I see: People living in tents under bridges, by railway tracks, sandwiched behind highways, no sanitation, no toilets. Many without even a [portable toilet],” Farha said.
In the report, she says “the conditions facing homeless people in California constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment and is a violation of multiple human rights,” going on to say that policies that attempt to discourage residents from remaining in encampments must be prohibited.
Farha rounds out the report with 31 recommendations for state actors going forward to address the “global scandal” of informal settlements in urban areas. Chief among them is the creation of additional affordable housing and including residents of informal settlements in policymaking.
“The truth is that by any measure — moral, political or legal — it is unacceptable for people to be forced to live this way,” Farha concludes. “Refusing to accept the unacceptable is where we must begin. All actors must mobilize within a shared human rights paradigm around the imperative of upgrading all informal settlements by 2030.”
Seattle set a deadline to solve homelessness in a decade back in 2005. In 2015, Seattle and King County declared the growing problem of homelessness a crisis. That crisis continues unabated.
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Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
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