A Right to Dignity and Housing

In 2012 the question was asked, “Is there a homeless bill of rights for the State of Delaware?  The question was asked by someone who had experienced homelessness in Delaware, and coming through that experience, recognized the need to protect the rights of people who did not have housing.  People experiencing homelessness whether living in shelters, transitional housing, couch surfing, in cars, or surviving on the streets do have rights that are violated in intentional and unintentional ways.  Unfortunately, housing status, such as being identified as homeless, can serve as a barrier to obtaining that much needed permanent housing, making already vulnerable individuals and families targets for the most incredulous practices and policies that chip away at basic human rights, dignity, and humanity.      

Conversations regarding a homeless bill of rights for Delaware lifted the importance of people not facing discrimination due to housing status when seeking employment, services, and housing.  Those conversations also supported the belief that  housing is a right for every human being. The lack of low income and affordable housing across the country has caused many to double-up or lose housing because they simply cannot pay increasing housing costs. Once housing is lost, credit and eviction histories, fines for activities while living on the streets, and rental assistance provided through housing vouchers can be barriers to obtaining housing from landlords.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, however we know that stigma, myths and stereotypes connected to homelessness support perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors that dehumanize people without housing, and punishes them for being in the situation they find themselves.  Housing and homeless advocates understand that having housing is basic to addressing the multiple reasons individuals and families can experience homelessness; among them a loss of income, eviction, domestic violence, and emotional or mental challenges.  Efforts that promote homeless prevention are also a major part of the ending homelessness equation. Providing legal representation for people facing homelessness can deter illegal evictions.  The revision of policies that serve to dismiss people who are not able to check the boxes that would allow social services to assist them, can prevent loss of housing as well. The UDHR is a reminder that having permanent and affordable housing supports people having a better quality of life by maintaining or creating stability.

 Advocacy for housing as a right continues to be a rallying cry for many who work with housing and homelessness, and the emerging issues connected to both.  The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) every year convenes the National Forum on the Human Right To Housing, a two day gathering of currently and formerly homeless, advocates, government officials, and attorneys from around the country exploring ways to end the criminalization of people identified as homeless. As the only national organization focused on ending homelessness utilizing the power of the law, NLCHP has collaborated with community groups, organizations, and others working with the issue of homelessness through their “Housing Not Handcuffs” and more recently “I Ask For Help Because” campaigns.  Both efforts seek to eliminate the criminalization of homelessness by addressing the injustice of fines, arrests, and incarceration of people without a place to go (accused of loitering), and people asking for help (accused of pan handling). Overall, the mission is to bring attention to and address why people have no place to go, and have the need to ask for help.

The next National Right to Housing Forum will be held in Washington, D.C., June 5-6, 2019.  It is an excellent opportunity to connect with others working to end homeless. To learn more about this year’s conference and to register go to https://nlchp.org/forum-registration/.  To learn more about Housing Not Handcuffs visit www.housingnothandcuffs.org. We believe that everyone has a right to housing.

DeBorah Gilbert White