IACHR and REDESCA Urge States to Adopt Comprehensive Measures to Provide Effective Protection for Unhoused Persons in the Americas

May 11, 2023

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Washington, D.C.—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Economic Rights (REDESCA) are closely monitoring the systematic human rights violations experienced by homeless people in the Americas, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given this situation, the IACHR and the REDESCA have called urgently on States in the region to adopt the maximum structural measures and policies possible given the resources available and to guarantee the human rights of people in vulnerable situations, with an emphasis on economic, social, cultural and environmental rights (ESCERs), including the rights to housing, healthcare, social security, food, water, and sanitation.

The IACHR and the REDESCA observe that unhoused people —that is, those who lack stable, safe, acceptable housing— form part of a vulnerable social group who require special assistance and whose situation is exacerbated by the widespread absence of other rights. This is particularly true given the abandonment and social marginalization they experience and because they do not have anywhere outside the public space to conduct their private lives and social activities.

In light of this situation, the IACHR and the REDESCA noted that, as observed by stakeholders that include UN-Habitat and the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, there are multiple complex causes for homelessness. Likewise, this can take a variety of forms, including not just living in public spaces such as on the streets, but also in vehicles, temporary emergency shelters, camps or temporary shelters, and in unsafe and substandard housing, such as informal settlements.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the pandemic had a major impact on people living in poverty and an even greater one on the homeless population. On this point, according to ECLAC data, there has been a sharp rise in extreme poverty rates in the region: an increase of nearly 5 million people between 2020 and 2021 alone. By 2021, 32.1% of Latin America’s population (approximately 201 million people) were living in poverty, while 13.8% (86 million people) were in extreme poverty. Levels this high have not been seen for at least a decade. Likewise, ECLAC has observed that the pandemic led to much higher numbers of informal settlements and homeless people.

The IACHR and the REDESCA expressed their concern about the lack of disaggregated data on unhoused people at the regional level, which is an obstacle to understanding the differentiated impact that the health crisis had on them and to implementing public policies to improve their circumstances. In this sense, the lack of a suitable, accurate registry constitutes another violation of their rights.

The IACHR and the REDESCA wish to stress that homelessness, in addition to being a form of systematic discrimination and social exclusion for the people experiencing it, is an additional factor of discrimination for them or groups in more vulnerable circumstances. In this regard, people who suffer discrimination based on race, age, ethnicity, place of origin, socioeconomic status, family situation, gender, mental or physical disability, health status, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity are more likely to face obstacles to accessing temporary or permanent housing in habitable conditions. Thus, there is a greater chance of their being subjected to greater stigmatization, criminalization, harassment, or other threats after becoming or remaining homeless.

In view of the vulnerability that unhoused people experience, the IACHR and the REDESCA underlined that, in accordance with universal and inter-American standards, States have the immediate obligation to adopt deliberate, concrete, targeted measures to guarantee ESCERs without discrimination and through all appropriate means, including the adoption of legislative measures. To achieve this, it is vital for them to implement measures to ensure that the minimum requirements for each of these rights are met. With specific regard to homelessness and the right to housing, States must take measures to address systematic homelessness and lack of housing homelessness, as established by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 37/4 of 2018.

Consequently, the IACHR and the REDESCA called on States to take urgent action to guarantee the human rights of unhoused people, particularly their ESCERs. It is essential for these measures to adopt a human rights approach with a gender and intersectional perspective, and for them to include preventive structural policies. Providing social protection for homeless people should be a priority for States, which should promote awareness of human rights among their institutions, security forces, and society as a whole, seeking to spark solidarity with homeless people’s circumstances and the traumas they experience.

Finally, the IACHR and the REDESCA called on States to combat stigmatization and discrimination against homeless people and to adopt economic and fiscal policies that guarantee long-term sustainable solutions to this situation. In a similar vein, they must pay special attention to challenges such as excessive increases in housing costs, forced evictions, the impacts of climate emergencies, and natural disasters. To enable effective public policies, a comprehensive, disaggregated data survey on homelessness in the region is urgently needed to raise awareness of their housing predicament and enable detailed monitoring of progress on any measures implemented.

The REDESCA is an autonomous office of the IACHR that was specifically created to support the IACHR in fulfilling its mandate to promote and protect economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights in the Americas.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 085/23

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