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America Doesn't Welcome Everyone Home For the Holidays

by Posted by Mike Rhodes (MikeRhodes [at]
This is a press release from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released on December 10 (International Human Rights Day)
America Doesn't Welcome Everyone Home For the Holidays
Human Rights Activists Say Right to Housing Violated in U.S.

WASHINGTON, DC, DECEMBER 10, 2007-Today a coalition of more than 50 housing and human rights organizations, including the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP), charged the U.S. with systemic discrimination against racial minorities by denying equal access to adequate housing. To commemorate International Human Rights Day, December 10, the coalition is issuing a report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) detailing the discrepancies in how the right to housing is enjoyed in the U.S.

Next February, CERD will review U.S. compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The U.S. signed and ratified the treaty in 1994, but the review - its second - is more than four years late; the U.S. State Department only issued its report to CERD this April.

The U.S. report fails to address the fact that a disproportionate number of minority groups experience homelessness and housing difficulties. Instead, it makes the bold claim that "The United States is a vibrant, multi-racial...democracy in which individuals have the right to be protected against discrimination based...on race in virtually every aspect of social and economic life."

"When African Americans constitute just 12% of the population but represent 50% of homeless people, the government can't credibly claim that everyone is equally enjoying the right to housing," said Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director of NLCHP.

The primary cause of homelessness in the United States is a lack of affordable housing; 13.7 million Americans pay over 50% of their income on rent or live in substandard housing, putting them at high risk for homelessness. These households are disproportionately minorities. Furthermore, a person working full-time for minimum wage cannot afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the U.S., exacerbating the problem.

Under human rights law, a policy counts as discrimination if the impact is discriminatory - even if that impact was unintentional. NLCHP points to the lack of funding for affordable housing and laws that criminalize homelessness as examples of such discriminatory practices.

"At the federal level, a lack of planning and funding has led to huge housing shortfalls for members of racial minorities," said Foscarinis. "At the local level, instead of working constructively to help homeless people, many communities have criminalized homelessness. In some cases, such as Los Angeles' Skid Row, the police target homeless African Americans at alarmingly disproportionate rates."

"The current situation points to a fundamental lack of respect for the rights and needs of poor and minority Americans," said Eric Tars, Human Rights Staff Attorney at NLCHP. "We are pushing for a new vision, grounded in the American belief of equal opportunity, that guarantees us all our basic human rights."

"By signing ICERD, the U.S. committed to overcoming the history of discrimination in this country," Tars continued. "But rather than adequately funding housing programs which are proven to get people off the streets and back into productive society, cities, states, and the federal government all continue to try to sweep the problem under the rug. We're not going to let that happen."

"As we go into the holidays, many people are in the giving spirit -sharing food with food banks, donating warm clothing, which is wonderful," says Foscarinis. "But we need a right to housing-- all year round."

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