New York, 18 January 2022 -- UN-Habitat advocacy efforts at the United Nations headquarters have resulted in a General Assembly committee resolution in support of policies aimed at preventing and addressing homelessness, particularly in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
As the agency within the United Nations system mandated to promote socially and environmentally sustainable cities for all, UN-Habitat has tackled homelessness as a precondition for the full realisation of human rights, as well as its ability to meet Agenda 2030.
The Third Committee of the UN General Assembly — tasked with a range of social, humanitarian affairs, and human rights issues —adopted in November by consensus the resolution on Inclusive policies and programmes to address homelessness, including in the aftermath of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The resolution, put forward by the Africa Group, sets the stage to develop tools and devise evidence-based policies ensuring that the homeless -- and their human rights-- are not left behind.
In May 2019, in cooperation with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), UN-Habitat convened an Expert Group meeting on affordable housing and social protection systems to address homelessness. The meeting aimed at deepening the understanding of the challenges at hand and developing a shared approach to ending homelessness.
The group meeting’s conclusions fed into the Secretary-General’s report on Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness.
On the basis of that work, the Commission for Social Development adopted in February 2020 the first UN system resolution on homelessness — later endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council. The topic of homelessness continued to remain highly visible throughout 2020. It became central in the Secretary-General’s report Our Common Agenda, which called for a renewed social contract anchored in human rights. It also envisioned the start of a new era for universal social protection defined by better healthcare, basic income security, adequate housing, education, lifelong learning, and decent work.
While the process leading to the General Assembly resolution started before the COVID-19 pandemic, the imperative to recognise and solve homelessness took up a new meaning during and in aftermath of the health and socio-economic crisis created by the virus. Disproportionately affecting people experiencing homelessness, the pandemic also left thousands at risk of losing their homes — especially among already marginalised groups.
Throughout the emergency phase, UN-Habitat joined hands with stakeholders to call for the provision of housing for people in need and for long-term solutions to addressing homelessness.
With the phasing out of the many measures introduced at the peak of the crisis, a rise in evictions due to loss of income and steeper housing prices are becoming evident. Groups already marginalised find themselves once again at the wrong end of the spectrum, and inequalities widen.
The resolution passed by the General Assembly represents a strong commitment by Member States to step up to the challenge and ensure that human rights are protected, respected, and fulfilled, and that no one is left behind.
The resolution also calls on Member States and local governments to develop holistic programmes and policies cutting across different sectors. This applies to initiatives in the field of physical and mental health, housing, education, and employment, as well as measures ensuring access to digital technology and finance.
It also encompasses preventive strategies and policies aimed at eradicating the root causes of homelessness, in particular improved access to affordable housing, enhanced social protection measures, and combating discrimination. It encourages Member States to harmonize the measurement, collection, and disaggregation of data on homelessness.
UN-Habitat, which served as the Secretariat for the negotiations on the text of the resolution, will support Member States in meeting their commitment through the preparation of a bi-annual Secretary-General report. The report, prepared in consultation with other UN bodies, will map achievements and challenges in the implementation of inclusive policies and programmes to address homelessness.