States’ Duties to Prevent and Eliminate Homeless

Homelessness is a situation where individuals or families do not have a stable, permanent residence. It includes people who are homeless and living in cars, canyons, and underpasses, people sleeping in shelters or hotels, and “couch surfers” (people who stay with friends or family).

There is no single hardship that causes homelessness but rather a range of issues including poverty, scarcity of affordable housing, severe trauma, mental illness, addiction, personal crises, and loss of employment. In addition, some groups are more likely to experience homelessness than others. For example, LGBTQ individuals are at an especially high risk because of a lack of support from family members and the stigma associated with being gay or lesbian.

Most homeless people get back on their feet in a short period of time and are able to find permanent housing after receiving assistance. However, there are those who remain homeless for extended periods of time – so-called “chronic” homeless individuals – and this often happens because they have physical or mental health conditions that make it impossible to live without support.

Chronic homelessness is a serious violation of human rights and a failure by States to protect the right to life. This right is enshrined in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

According to A/HRC/71/310, States have a duty to prevent and eliminate homelessness because it causes premature and preventable death. They are also required to ensure that all persons, regardless of their race, gender or nationality, have access to adequate housing in the context of an inclusive and democratic society.

Some of the most important steps that States can take to prevent and eliminate homelessness are those involving building more affordable housing, improving social services, ensuring effective enforcement of laws related to homeless people, and supporting the creation of sustainable alternatives to homelessness.

Increasingly, State governments are partnering with private and non-governmental organizations to address this issue. For example, in New Jersey, cities and counties are collaborating with organizations such as A Way Home America and SchoolHouse Connection to ensure that youth who experience homelessness receive quality education and housing opportunities.

A handful of states have passed legislation to waive fees for those who are homeless to obtain identification documents, a step that many experts say could help curb the spread of criminal activity and improve security in cities. California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina and South Carolina have already approved similar measures and more are expected this year.

These programs and policies are critical in reducing the number of people who end up homeless by providing them with essential services and the chance to get their lives back on track. They also reduce the stigma that surrounds homelessness and increase the chances of people finding long-term solutions to their problems.

A number of cities and counties are also working to provide shelter and housing options for those who have become homeless as a result of the opioid crisis, which is a major cause of homelessness in some areas. For example, New York City has invested a record-breaking $3 billion in the past two years to address this problem. It is expected that this spending will reach $4.8 billion in the next two years.