New York, 27 April 2022 - A special event on Affordable Housing and Ending Homelessness was held in the framework of the High-Level Meeting Week on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda.
This meeting builds on the momentum generated by the resolution “Inclusive policies and programmes to address homelessness, including in the aftermath of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which was tabled by Algeria, Djibouti, Madagascar and Senegal on behalf of the African Group and adopted in January 2022 at the General Assembly.
After the opening statements, Rob Robinson, a former homeless person and currently the USA-Canada Coordinator of International Alliance of Inhabitants urged all to include the homeless themselves in making the policies necessary to end homelessness given that it is rare for the marginalised people to be given a public podium to express their concerns.
He also highlighted the gaping contradiction that homelessness in the United States exists despite 16 million vacant homes in the country.
The meeting was attended by over 70 in-person and online representatives, as well as those from a broad coalition of stakeholders, including 25 Member States, 6 local authorities and 15 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Through the statements at the meeting, five key themes emerged.
First, participants of the meeting emphasised that it is critical to recognise housing as a human right. The participants at the meeting reiterated that the protection of the human right to housing should always be placed above property rights and the use of housing as a commodity.
Second, moving forward on addressing homelessness, it is important to recognise the structural causes of homelessness, which include unemployment, lack of education, intergenerational poverty, unaffordable housing markets, among others – and to address homelessness in this broader context, including issues of substance abuse and domestic violence.
Third, there was a broad call to facilitate ending homelessness by international collaboration, exchange of best practices and mutual learning.
For example, Yves Leterme, Former prime minister of Belgium and Chair of the European Platform, noted how the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have set up the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness for this purpose.
The US-based International Alliance of Inhabitants provides a grassroots example of international exchange, as it has worked closely with the Movement of People Affected by Dams in Brazil (MAB), the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil (MST), Abahlali base Mjondolo in South Africa (the Shack dwellers movement) and the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages in Spain (the PAH).
Fourth, the meeting revealed a broad consensus on the need to monitor homelessness as a tool to hold governments accountable to their commitments to end homelessness. Monitoring the prevalence of homelessness is necessary to evaluate the success of programs. Monitoring also necessitates clear definitions of different kinds of homelessness, so that disaggregated data can be collected.
Fifth, the COVID-19 pandemic increased homelessness by widening the structural causes of homelessness and showed how pandemic catalysed governments to take action, and demonstrated that if governments show political will, homelessness can be addressed. The City of Tshwane, South Africa, built 27 temporary COVID-19 shelters, housing 2000 people, in just 10 days, stating that: “In 10 days, we managed what we could not do in 10 years,” said Stephan de Beer from Tshwane, South Africa. Post-pandemic, it is important to such relief measures are formalized and institutionalized into long-term solutions.
Moving forward, UN-Habitat will work in close collaboration with stakeholders committed to ending homelessness, who can reach out through Christophe Lalande, UN-Habitat’s Lead Housing Specialist in the Land, housing and shelter section (Christophe.firstname.lastname@example.org).
The collaboration will help to prepare a report to the General Assembly on the progress that has been achieved and challenges that remain in the implementation of inclusive social development policies and programmes to address homelessness. Those include recommendations for possible indicators on social protection and access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing in the aftermath of COVID-19.