U.N. Committee Condemns U.S. Criminalization of Homelessness


The U.N.Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in
Geneva today stated it is “concerned at the high number of homeless
persons, who are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities … and
at the criminalization of homelessness through laws that prohibit activities
such as loitering, camping, begging, and lying in public spaces” and
called upon the U.S. government to take corrective action.The Committee
further included criminalization of homelessness in a short list of topics it
wants the U.S. to “provide detailed information in its next periodic
report on concrete measures taken to implement these
recommendations.”The U.S.’s next report is due in 2017.

The Committee’s statement
is part of its Concluding Recommendations, following a two day
review of U.S. government compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination
, a treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1994.

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
(“NLCHP”), which had submitted a report to the Committee as part of the review
process, applauded the Committee’s findings.

“Criminally punishing
people simply for having no legal place continues to put the U.S. on the wrong
foot on the international stage,” said Maria Foscarinis, NLCHP Executive
Director. The organization issued a major report on the criminalization of
homelessness in July, and litigates to challenge the practice. “We welcome
the Committee’s Concluding Observations and call on our government to take
swift action to solve homelessness with homes, not jails and prisons.”

Jeremy Rosen, Director of
Advocacy at NLCHP, was in Geneva for the hearings and stated, “The
Committee’s review also addressed the broader criminalization of race,
highlighted by recent protests in Ferguson, MO around the killing of Michael
Brown. Because homelessness disparately affects racial minorities, and because
homeless persons are often more visible on the streets, this often compounds
their profiling and ill-treatment by police. Until the U.S. reduces racial
disparities in housing, we’re going to continue to see them in criminal
justice, and vice versa.”

Echoing the recommendations of the U.N Human Rights Committee
in March, the Committee’s called on the U.S. to: “(a) Abolish laws and
policies making homelessness a crime; (b) Ensure close cooperation among all
relevant stakeholders, including social, health, law enforcement and justice
professionals at all levels to intensify efforts to find solutions for the
homeless in accordance with human rights standards; and (c) Offer incentives to
decriminalize homelessness, including by providing financial support to local
authorities that implement alternatives to criminalization, and withdrawing
funding from local authorities that criminalize homelessness.”