The Federal Plan to End Homelessness: An Important Step Forward

While the goals of the plan are admirable, I can't help but think the council missed a key opportunity: to affirm that housing is indeed a human right.
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Earlier today, the U. S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.

The plan is a result of tireless efforts by advocates, government officials, and concerned citizens across the country, and is an unprecedented step forward in the fight to right a terrible injustice: allowing men, women and children to go without a place to live, when our country has the resources to house them. But while the goals of the plan are admirable, I can't help but think the council missed a key opportunity: to affirm that housing is indeed a human right.

The Pearson family* is one of millions of reasons it matters so much that we make the human right to housing a reality in the U.S. A house fire, followed by unemployment, recently led this family to live in their car. The Pearsons' children ate breakfast and took showers at a local homeless center every day until advocates were able to help the family find housing - and they are still struggling to make ends meet.

This isn't a rare anecdote; the Pearson family is not alone. Each year, more than three million people experience homelessness, and recent statistics show that family homelessness is rising dramatically due to the foreclosure and economic crises. To stem this growth, and to truly end homelessness, we need a commitment to ensure adequate housing for all Americans. But while numerous international human rights treaties recognize that housing is a basic human right that must be protected, and while the U.S has ratified some of those treaties, it still has not implemented the human right to housing here at home. This leaves families like the Pearsons with no real recourse.

The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness is a very important document and a significant step forward in national policy to address homelessness. It includes a comprehensive description and analysis of the breadth of the crisis of homelessness and housing instability in America, frames solutions including housing, jobs and health care correctly, and calls for unprecedented cooperation among all 19 of the interagency council's member agencies, as well as partnerships between federal and state and local governments across the country. The plan emphasizes the importance of housing in particular as the foundation on which all other solutions depend and on which a healthy life is built.

But the plan lacks specifics on how it will implement those solutions, and does not commit the Administration to any specific funding requests beyond the 2011 budget. Without such specifics, it is difficult to assess how successful it will be in meeting the goal of ending homelessness. And the plan makes no commitment to implement the human right to housing, missing an opportunity to embrace a framework that would hold it accountable to securing the resources it needs to meet its goals.

We at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty are glad for all the ways the plan is strong, and for the input we and many others were able to have that was reflected. We will look forward to working with the Council to turn the plan into strong action--and funding--so that families like the Pearsons can have what we all need: a safe place to live. Because ensuring that all Americans have a home is not optional: it is a basic human right.

*The "Pearson" family's name was changed to protect their privacy.

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