Thursday, October 22, 2020
Earlier this week, the new UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, presented his first report to the General Assembly, titled COVID-19 and the Right to Housing: Impacts and the Way Forward. The presentation, and comments by a number of country representatives, can be heard on UNTV, starting at 45:00.
Many of the Special Rapporteur's observations in his report relate directly to the United States. For example, he notes:
"In the United States, a major concern has been the break-up of encampments by local governments contrary to official advice issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in March 2020. Several municipalities, including New York City, Miami, Denver and Philadelphia – unlike others such as Reno, Oakland or Chico – have cleared encampments of homeless persons without providing adequate alternative accommodation or have conducted sweeps of homeless persons sheltering in subways or public places. Given that most homeless shelters in the United States are overcrowded, the policy of breaking up encampments makes little sense in terms of protecting people from COVID-19. While encampments for homeless persons are not in compliance with the requirement under international human rights law to provide safe and adequate housing to those who lack it, clearing them during the pandemic without providing alternatives and secure housing is a gross violation of the right to adequate housing, which infringes upon human dignity."
On this point, the Special Rapporteur recommends that States should,
"House people experiencing homelessness in hotels, motels, second homes, dormitories and/or vehicles for the duration of the crisis and make plans
to move people to permanent housing rather than back on to the streets. Homelessness should be tackled through a sharp increase in the appropriation of funding for temporary housing and for the purchase or expropriation of empty or vacant property for permanent housing."
This is just one small piece of an aggressive proposal to address housing in the context of COVID-19.
The conversation will continue on October 30, at 9:30 EST, with a panel discussion including the Special Rapporteur and an international panel of academics, and activists. More information and registration for the event is here.