“U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts”

via the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty:

U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts
U.N. Human Rights Committee Questions U.S. Delegation

Geneva, Switzerland – On Thursday, March 13, the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed U.S. compliance with a major human rights treaty, raising concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for the practice of criminalizing homeless people for performing necessary life functions such as sleeping and eating in public when they have no private alternatives.

The criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. is documented in a report, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, submitted to the Committee by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (“NLCHP”) and the Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.

The U.S. review, which takes place periodically under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the last review was in 2006), follows a U.S. report to the Committee, submitted on December 30, 2011.

“I appreciate that the federal government is acknowledging that the criminalization of people living on the street for everyday life activities, such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas…raises serious human rights concerns…,” said Walter Kaelin, a Swiss member of the Committee, “There are ample reports about how criminalization of the homeless is discriminatory; how, as stressed by several UN Special Rapporteurs, and also federal agencies, how such instances of criminalization often raises concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

Kaelin continued with specific questions, “Do you already provide, or do you plan to provide incentives for decriminalization? Do you plan to withdraw funding for local authorities that continue to criminalize the homeless in a discriminatory way, in a way that may amount to inhuman treatment, degrading treatment? Do you plan to sanction criminalization policies, or are your activities really limited just in sensitizing local authorities, something very important, but probably not sufficient.”

Rather than responding to the specific questions, Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, US Department of the Interior, responded with a general list of issues being worked on by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, including efforts to encourage cities not to criminalize homelessness, exactly the sort of efforts the Committee said were “important, but not sufficient”.

“The U.S. government knew these topics would be on the Committee’s agenda since last March, when they put it on their list of issues for discussion, and last July, we held a meeting to discuss specific recommendations for action,” said Jeremy Rosen, Policy Director at NLCHP, in Geneva for the review. “The lack of specificity in the government’s response is pretty disappointing.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker continued on behalf of the U.S. delegation by explaining his city’s more constructive approach of providing housing rather than criminalizing, which has led to a 75% decline in chronic homelessness in the state. The mayor said this makes him “surprised when he hears homeless even in the same breath as criminalization.”

However, as documented in the report submitted to the Committee by NLCHP , Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-one of the “ample reports” of criminalization to which Kaelin referred-the approach demonstrated by Salt Lake City is far from universally implemented.

“As homelessness becomes more visible in American communities, some, like Salt Lake City, have made generally positive responses,” said Mr. Rosen. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen an increase in communities passing ordinances banning camping or sleeping outdoors, despite providing no alternative, forcing people to make the cruel choice between sleep and being arrested.”

“Sleep deprivation and hunger are widely recognized as techniques that are cruel, inhuman and degrading when used against prisoners. It shouldn’t matter if the prison is bricks and mortar, or one of economic policies and draconian ordinances,” said Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children’s Rights Programs at NLCHP. “As Committee Member Kaelin stated, the federal action on this issue so far is ‘not sufficient,’ and our government must do more to protect homeless people from these policies.”

“We expected more concrete responses from the federal government at this review,” Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at NLCHP, concluded. “But we look forward to working with the government on additional-and stronger– measures in response to the concerns and questions raised by the Committee.”

The Committee will issue its final recommendations to the U.S. government, called Concluding Observations, on March 26.

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PRESS RELEASE: The Dirty Divide Highlights the Continued Lack of Public Health Equity for Poor Downtown Residents

?????April 18, 2013

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                             

Contact: Becky Dennison, Los Angeles Community Action Network (213) 840-4664

The Dirty Divide Highlights the Continued Lack of Public Health Equity for Poor Downtown Resident

LOS ANGELES — On April 11, the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) released The Dirty Divide, a participatory research project that highlights the continued lack of public health infrastructure for poor residents residing in Downtown Los Angeles – with a particular focus on trash services and restrooms.

“Dirty Divide blends science, politics, outrage and policy development; resisting the gated community of policymakers, Dirty Divide exemplifies the best of public participatory science for environmental and racial justice,” said Michelle Fine, Ph.D., City University of New York.

The report documents a growing dividi­ng line between the “new Downtown” and Skid Row communities, with new Downtowners continuing to see an influx in resources and services of all kinds while Skid Row continues to see resources and services threatened or all together cut. While the gentrification of Downtown LA impacts for more than trash and restroom access and associated public health disparities, but The Dirty Divide provides a snapshot of the inequities that exist in the City’s center – inequities that have been increasingly scrutinized by health agencies.

“As a 30-year resident of Downtown LA, I’m seriously concerned about the growing inequality between the new Downtowners and long-term Skid Row residents,” said low-income resident James Porter. “They complain about the trash, but refuse to give us trash cans. They put in automated restrooms, but they’re always broken. We’re not going to stand for this anymore.”

In May of 2012, the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health (DPH), at the request of the City of Los Angeles, released a report highlighting the severe water and sanitation shortcomings faced by Skid Row residents. DPH recommendations included, among other things, a call for the City to “Provide additional public toilets particularly on San Julian, San Pedro and Crocker Streets” and to “provide adequate number of trash bins with frequent, as needed disposal to prevent the accumulation of trash and debris on the sidewalk.” However, in the year since the relea­se of the report, the City has yet to implement these recommendations.

LA CAN embarked on its own participatory research project to further its continued work on these issues. Findings include that in only 32% of 147 spot checks of public restrooms were they open, clean and stocked with supplies.  In order to respond to the human rights violations outlined in The Dirty Divide and to ensure public health equity, the report offers recommendations that include: 1) Shift current political and governmental priorities and resources from criminalization to housing; 2) Place adequate numbers of trash receptacles in Skid Row and establish frequent trash collection; 3) Increase access to restrooms; and 4) Develop a community health council to address issues for the long-term.

“This report shows how Los Angeles is violating not just with its own health department’s recommendations but international human rights norm,” said Eric Tars of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). “We at NLCHP are proud to support LA CAN in this call for L.A. to live up to its human rights obligations, stop treating its citizens like trash, and start treating them like human beings deserving of their basic human dignity.”

To read the full text of The Dirty Divide, visit www.cangress.org or the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty website, www.nlchp.org.

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