More vacant homes than there are homeless persons

December 30, 2011 12:38 PM

3.5 Million Homeless and 18.5 Million Vacant Homes in the US

By Diane Sweet

homelessshelter

The National Economic and Social Rights Initiative along with Amnesty International are asking the U.S. to step up its efforts to address the foreclosure crisis, including by giving serious consideration to the growing call for a foreclosure moratorium and other forms of relief for those at risk, and establishing a housing finance system that fulfills human rights obligations.

New government census reports have revealed disturbing information that details the cold, hard numbers of Americans who have been deeply affected by the state of our economy, and bank foreclosure practices:

In the last few days, the U.S. government census figures have revealed that 1 in 2 Americans have fallen into poverty or are struggling to live on low incomes. And we know that the financial hardships faced by our neighbors, colleagues, and others in our communities will be all the more acutely felt over the holiday season.

Along with poverty and low incomes, the foreclosure rate has created its own crisis situation as the number of families removed from their homes has skyrocketed.

Since 2007, banks have foreclosed around eight million homes. It is estimated that another eight to ten million homes will be foreclosed before the financial crisis is over. This approach to resolving one part of the financial crisis means many, many families are living without adequate and secure housing. In addition, approximately 3.5 million people in the U.S. are homeless, many of them veterans. It is worth noting that, at the same time, there are 18.5 million vacant homes in the country.

The stark realities that persist mean that millions of families will be facing the holidays in temporary homes, or homes under threat, and far too many children will be wishing for an end to the uncertainty and distress their family is facing rather than an Xbox or Barbie doll.

Housing is a basic human need and a fundamental human right. Yet every day in the United States, banks are foreclosing on more than 10,000 mortgages and ordering evictions of individuals and families residing in foreclosed homes. The U.S. government’s steps to address the foreclosure crisis to date have been partial at best.

The depth and severity of the foreclosure crisis is a clear illustration of the urgent need for the U.S. government to put in place a system that respects, protects and fulfills human rights, including the right to housing. This includes implementing real protections to ensure that other actors, such as financial institutions, do not undermine or abuse human rights.

There is a link available at the Amnesty International website for anyone who is interested and would like to join the call on the Obama administration and Congress to urgently step up efforts to address the foreclosure crisis, including by seriously considering the growing call for a foreclosure moratorium and other forms of relief, and establishing a housing finance system that fulfills human rights obligations.

[Via Amnesty International]

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In the US Homelessness is a Crime

U.S. Cities Criminalize Homelessness, Violate Human Rights Agreements

Tent City
First Posted: 8/26/11 03:42 PM ET Updated: 8/26/11 05:03 PM ET, The Huffington Post

The challenges poor and homeless Americans often face accessing clean drinking water and restroom facilities violate international human rights standards, according to a report issued by a United Nations investigator this month.

Catarina de Albuquerque, a U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, visited the United States in late February at the invitation of the U.S. government.
She found homeless individuals around the country not only struggle to access running water and restroom facilities but increasingly face criminal and civil sanctions when they improvise solutions.

The right to safe drinking water and restroom facilities is a part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The U.N. report’s findings detail just a few of the ways that U.S. cities and counties are failing to meet these obligations because of how they opt to deal with homelessness, said Eric Tars, human rights program director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

The most recent federal homeless count data available is from January 2010. It shows there were 700,000 individuals in the U.S. who were homeless. The Department of Housing and Urban Development report found that homelessness grew very little between 2009 and 2010. But the share of families who lack a place to sleep continued the rapid expansion that began during the recession. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of homeless families grew by 20 percent.

The nation’s elevated unemployment rate and the large number of foreclosures have increased demand just as municipal and state budget problems have led to a reduction in services available to the poor and homeless. As a result, many communities — in particular suburban communities where services for the homeless are often nonexistent — are confronting an increasingly visible homeless population forced to sleep in city parks or take up residence in one of a growing number of tent cities, Tars said.

Some cities have begun to regulate tent cities issuing temporary permits that allow churches or other organizations to host the homeless for few months. But in many more cities, developers, business district boosters and city councils have clashed with the homeless, encouraging police to issue more frequent tickets for violations such as sleeping in public, loitering, littering or public urination and defecation, Tars said.

This year, in Sacramento, Calif., city efforts to discourage homeless individuals and families from taking shelter in a growing tent city have included shutting off the water supply to nearby a fountain and locking or removing public restroom facilities, he said. A spokesperson for the city of Sacramento did not immediately return request for comment Friday.

In 2009, Sacramento drew national attention when the “Oprah Winfrey Show” aired a segment describing the number of newly homeless people moving into that city’s homeless encampments, said Amy Williams, spokeswoman for the city manager’s office. But the city has not had problems with homeless individuals misusing public facilities and has not shuttered restrooms of cut water to fountains, she said. In 2009, Sacramento did temporarily close its park restrooms because of a budget problem. At that time, at least one city park’s restrooms were not reopened due to community complaints about the homeless, the Sacramento Press reported.

In 2009, a Gainesville, Fla., a developer convinced the city to begin enforcing a nearly 20-year-old ordinance barring some social service agencies from distributing more than 130 meals per day. For two years, one downtown shelter was forced to turn homeless individuals away from its soup kitchen line. The city changed the policy this month to allow soup kitchens to serve an unlimited number of meals during a limited number of hours each day.

In 2007 Los Angeles began an initiative to reduce crime downtown, leading police to issue thousands of citations to homeless individuals for things such as flicking the ash from a cigarette onto the sidewalk (cited as littering) to urinating or drinking in public, said Tars. Those citations have been overwhelmingly issued to poor and homeless black people, he said. When downtown art gallery crawls bring to the area upper-income city residents who frequently walk from one gallery to another with full wine glasses in hand, police do not take action, he said.

In 2009, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty issued a study of the crackdown and others like it around the country that named Los Angeles the No. 1 “meanest city” for its treatment of the homeless. A spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the report “short-sighted and misleading” at the time, Reuters reported.

“Rather than doing good things like providing more housing, more shelter, more assistance, cities are using these measures to push problems out of view,” said Tars.

Tars said the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty is planning a series of cases to challenge ordinances that criminalize activities — such as using the restroom, sleeping or accessing water — that can not be avoided or handled in private if a person is homeless.

“What this [U.N.] report will allow us to do is go into court and argue that these laws violate international standards and amount to what a U.N. investigator said was cruel and unusual punishment,” Tars said.

Manjoo Takes on US Domestic Violence Laws

Rashida Manjoo, UN Expert, Chides U.S. Over Domestic Violence

Us Domestic Violence
08/23/11 08:10 AM ET   AP

GENEVA — A U.N. human rights expert has criticized the United States for failing to properly protect women from domestic violence, citing a 1999 Colorado child slaying case.

The U.N. investigator on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, says U.S. laws on domestic violence lack substance and aren’t properly enforced.

Manjoo singled out the case of Colorado woman Jessica Lenahan whose three daughters were killed by her estranged husband. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last week sided with Lenahan in a complaint against the United States.

The Washington-based civil-rights tribunal recommended the U.S. government carry out a full investigation of the case and strengthen legislation against domestic violence.

Officials at the U.S. mission in Geneva were unable immediately to comment Tuesday.

Violators of LGBT Human Rights Abroad, Stay Out!

Obama Bars U.S. Entry For Violators Of LGBT Human Rights Abroad

By Chris Johnson on August 5, 2011, The Washington Blade

President Obama issued a proclamation on Thursday that could prohibit those engaging in LGBT persecution overseas from entering the United States.

The proclamation bars entry of immigrant and non-immigrant aliens who organize or participate in war crimes or serious violations of human rights — which could include those seeking to pass legislation in Uganda that would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts.

“The United States’ enduring commitment to respect for human rights and humanitarian law requires that its Government be able to ensure that the United States does not become a safe haven for serious violators of human rights and humanitarian law and those who engage in other related abuses,” Obama states.

Specific language in the proclamation explicitly states that those who persecute people based on their “sexual orientation and gender identity” are among the categories of those who won’t be able to enter the United States.

Additionally, the proclamation prevents not only those who perpetuated human rights abuses overseas from entering the United States, but also those who have “attempted or conspired to do so.”

“The proclamation also bans admission to the United States for those who are complicit in organizing these abuses — not just those who carry them out,” a White House fact sheet states. “As such, it allows the United States to act before planned abuses and atrocities metastasize into actual ones.”

The proclamation gives the secretary of state, or the secretary’s designee, the authority to identify people who won’t be able to enter the United States based on this new guidance.

However, other language in the proclamation states that such an individual could enter the country if the secretary of state determines that the “entry of such person would be in the interests of the United States.”

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said the order gives the Obama administration “an important tool to use in dissuading extremist actions that are prejudicial to basic human rights, and in encouraging the development of inclusive laws and societies.”

“The Council praises this move, which could in principle be used to justify the exclusion of hate-promoting politicians like Ugandan parliamentarian David Bahati, who introduced a ‘kill the gays bill’ in a previous legislative session in Uganda and may do so again,” Bromley said. “That bill, of course, would have carried dire consequences for LGBT individuals in Uganda.”

Bahati was previously invited to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in February 2010, but was later disinvited by organizers and didn’t make an appearance after he introduced his draconian anti-gay bill.

Oh hey, United Nations!

I know that I am a little late to the game in this news, but I thought I would share it here anyways:  the Associated Press reports that “the United Nations endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people for the first time ever Friday [June 17, 2011] passing a resolution hailed as historic by the U.S. and other backers and decried by some African and Muslim countries.”  Making international progress (and love)!

Read more.