Leilani Farha, a special rapporteur on Adequate Housing for the United Nations (special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN’s Human Rights Council to do fact-finding missions), made an unofficial visit the Bay Area last week and gave a grim assessment of local conditions for the homeless. Farha describes the “cruelty” of chronic homelessness in Oakland and San Francisco.
A reporter for the UK’s Guardian newspaper accompanied Farha and recorded her reactions to Oakland homeless camps:
“In international human rights law,” Farha said, “providing shelter to people who are homeless is the absolute minimum standard for any country, regardless of resources.”
[...] Farha was struck by the stories she heard of homeless people losing their few possessions in encampment sweeps, and laws that criminalize sitting on sidewalks or food sharing. “There’s a cruelty here that I don’t think I’ve seen,” she said.
Farha noted that, although the Bay Area enjoys breathtaking levels of wealth, conditions for the unhoused are comparable to those in chronically-impoverished countries.
East Bay Express reports:
“In Mexico City, I visited a low-income settlement that had been moved by the city onto empty land near a railway line,” [Farha] said. “They had no running water. They stole electricity.” The camp was noisy and dangerous. She noted that the camp in Mexico is virtually identical to those she visited in Oakland, including the Wood Street and 23rd Avenue encampments.
The contrast between haves and have-nots proved even worse when Farha visited San Francisco. On Twitter, she wondered where San Francisco’s homeless population has to go once rousted from public spaces.
Learning about San Francisco’s approach to #homeless people. They are not welcome on sidewalks, that’s clear. But do they have anywhere else to go? #MakeTheShift #Right2Housing pic.twitter.com/bs8CVTk2IZ— Leilani Farha (@leilanifarha) January 20, 2018
The city, of course, would like the homeless population to use one of three navigation centers presently open. According to the city, 72 percent of the 1,150 people taken in since 2015 have moved on to long-term housing.
But the Civic Center, Mission, and Dogpatch centers have a combined capacity of fewer than 250 people. Not a lot of space in a city where the current homeless population approaches roughly 7,500.
Farha, who is also an attorney, is the head of an anti-poverty NGO in Ottawa, Canada, and assumed the special rapporteur role in 2014.
In a 2017 hearing at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Farha said:
Homelessness is an egregious violation of human rights [...] requiring urgent and immediate human rights responses. [...] Homelessness is caused by states’ failure to respond both to individual circumstances and to a range of structural causes: abandoning the responsibility for social protection, implementing laws and policies that discriminate against homeless people, [and] failing to adequately regulate real estate markets.
After her trip to the Bay, Farha headed out to assess conditions in LA, an errand she told the East Bay Express she dreaded after observing encampments here.
- Special Rapporteur [United Nations]
- SF or Mumbai? [UK Guardian]
- Leilani Farha [Twitter]
- Navigation Centers [SF HSH]
- SF 2017 Homeless Count [Curbed SF]
- UN Expert: Homeless Crisis “Cruel” [East Bay Express]
- Farha Statement, UNECE 2017