For those of us with a nice car and a good place to call home, its difficult to begin to understand how “those” guys survive in those shanties or on the streets. I invited a friend of mine sometime ago to go and visit a slum in Nairobi (some of you may have heard of the sprawling Kibera slums) and he said he would really love to come but he didn’t know whether he can find a parking space and if he does, he is worried what “those” guys “will do to my car – they may take off a tyre, a light or just scratch it!” To my friend, the thought of driving his new car over heaps of rotting, smelling waste was too much. And this applies to many of us, including me. There is a big wall separating us from the homeless that dialogue is impossible. To us, they are lazy bums, pick-pockets, thugs and criminals only capable of doing harm to us. Perhaps we look like enemies to them too isolated in our sleek cars speeding past them without a care that they are as human as ourselves. They are much more innocent than the dictators who kill innocent people for the sake of power, the corrupt, evil politicians and others in leadership with millions of dollars in their bank accounts and still accumulating more and more … Many of the people on the streets are victims, sick, disabled, discriminated, oppressed and simply rejected by a capitalist, consuming society. I am not a socialist, I know I sound like one right now but I have nothing against just enrichment and I am a firm believer in human dignity ….
The right to housing is an internationally recognized human right. The right is contained in such basic international human rights documents as Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Art. 11.1 of the ICESCR for the right to adequate housing. UN declarations have affirmed the right including United Nations Declaration on Social Progress and Development (1969) and the United Nations Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements (1976). The right to adequate housing is also present in the MDGs Goal 7, Target 11 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG 7-11) (http://www.unhabitat.org/mdg/) aims at a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.
The meaning and scope of the right to housing has been elaborated in General Comment 4. of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the monitoring body under ICESCR. The right to housing should be interpreted broadly to encompass the right to live in "security, peace and dignity". The right to housing is linked to and directly impacts other fundamental human rights such as the right to security of person (in the case of forced or arbitrary evictions or other forms of harassment); the right not to be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with one's privacy, family, home or correspondence), right to health …
While what amounts to adequate housing may differ in different social, economic, cultural, climatic, ecological, and other factors, certain aspects of the right are applicable are applicable across the board in determining adequacy of housing: These include: Legal security of tenure (a certain degree of security against forced evictions, harassment and threats); availability of essential services, facilities and infrastructure such as safe drinking water, sanitation and washing facilities, drainage; affordability; Habitability (adequate space, physical security, shelter from weather, and protection from threats to health like structural hazards and disease); accessibility; location (away from pollution etc) and cultural adequacy.
According to UN Habitat, it is estimated that 1.1 billion people live in inadequate housing conditions in urban areas and in many cities of developing countries, more than half of the population live in informal settlements, without security of tenure and in conditions that can be described as life and health threatening. Among an estimated 100 million homeless people around the world, available data suggest that increasing proportions are women and children. Accordingly, a rights-based approach to development in the housing sector is necessary to empower the poor and the homeless; promote security of tenure, particularly for women and vulnerable groups in inadequate housing conditions; strengthen protection against forced evictions and discrimination in the housing sector; and promote equal access to housing resources and remedies in cases of violations of housing rights. (http://www.unhabitat.org/content.asp?typeid=19&catid=282&cid=789)
A few examples (best practices) illustrate different approaches to combating homelessness and upholding the right to adequate housing. The initiative range from government projects, community projects with international support and UN/NGO initiated projects. While governments are obliged under the ICESCR to ensure the progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights, some governments in the developing world who are largely dependent on foreign support for their economic sustainability may not be able to marshal the resources to deal with overwhelming numbers of poor, homeless people in the cities. It is therefore important in talking about sustainable cities to critically examine how cities in their planning and strategic development can increasingly address problems of homelessness and shanties which undermine sustainability.
Rosario Habitat Program in Argentina
Vancouver , Canada