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close this bookStrategies to Combat Homelessness (HABITAT, 2000, 228 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPreface
View the documentAcknowledgements
View the documentList of acronyms
View the documentExecutive summary
Open this folder and view contentsI. Introduction
Open this folder and view contentsII. Defining homelessness
Open this folder and view contentsIII. The scale of homelessness (in selected countries)
Open this folder and view contentsIV. Why are people homeless?
Open this folder and view contentsV. Characteristics of homeless people
Open this folder and view contentsVI. Street children
Open this folder and view contentsVII. Interventions for and with homeless people
Open this folder and view contentsVIII. Interventions for and with street children
Open this folder and view contentsIX. Recent policy developments
Open this folder and view contentsX. Conclusions and proposals for combating homelessness
View the documentAnnex 1. A selection of important international instruments on homelessness and the right to housing
View the documentAnnex 2. What does adequate housing mean?
View the documentList of references
View the documentThe United National Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) has launched a Global Campaign for Secure Tenure.

Annex 1. A selection of important international instruments on homelessness and the right to housing

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)

The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights requires States to respect, protect and fulfil the contents of the following article:

"The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself [sic] and his [sic] family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent" (United Nations, 1966a: article 11(1)).

The Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements (1976)

The Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements states that:

"The highest priority should be placed on the rehabilitation of expelled and homeless people who have been displaced by natural or man-made catastrophes, and especially by the act of foreign aggression. In the latter case, all countries have the duty to fully co-operate in order to guarantee that the parties involved allow the return of displaced persons to their homes and to give them the right to possess and enjoy their properties and belongings without interference" (chapter II (General Principles), paragraph 15).

The Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 (1988)

The GSS asserts that:

"the right to adequate housing is universally recognized by the community of nations...All nations without exception, have some form of obligation in the shelter sector, as exemplified by their creation of ministries or housing agencies, by their allocation of funds to the housing sector, and by their policies, programmes and projects....All citizens of all States, poor as they may be, have a right to expect their Governments to be concerned about their shelter needs, and to accept a fundamental obligation to protect and improve houses and neighbourhoods, rather than damage or destroy them " (UNCHS, 1990).

World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children (1990)

The Children's Summit convened in New York in 1990 noted that:

"Each day, millions of children suffer from the scourges of poverty and economic crisis - from hunger and homelessness, from epidemics and illiteracy, from degradation of the environment. They suffer from the grave effects of the problems of external indebtedness and also from the lack of sustained and sustainable growth in many developing countries, particularly the least developed ones " (paragraph 5).

Agenda 21 (1992)

In Chapter 7 of Agenda 21, adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, there are clauses referring to aspects of the human right to adequate housing and homelessness (UNCED, 1992: chapter 7). These include that -

"Access to safe and healthy shelter is essential to a person's physical, psychological, social and economic well-being and should be a fundamental part of national and international action. The right to adequate housing as a basic human right is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Despite this, it is estimated that at the present time, at least 1 billion people do not have access to safe and healthy shelter and that if appropriate action is not taken, this number will increase dramatically by the end of the century and beyond" (paragraph 6).

In addition, it stresses that -

"As a first step towards the goal of providing adequate shelter for all, all countries should take immediate measures to provide shelter to their homeless poor" (paragraph 9.a).

Moreover, it states that -

"....People should be protected by law against unfair eviction from their homes or land" (paragraph 9.b).

It also calls upon governments to accelerating efforts to reduce urban poverty through inter alia -

(ii) Providing specific assistance to the poorest of the urban poor through, inter alia, the creation of social infrastructure in order to reduce hunger and homelessness, and the provision of adequate community services" (paragraph 16.b.ii).

Programme of Action of the World Summit on Social Development (1995)

The Programme of Action of the World Summit on Social Development identifies homelessness as one of the manifestations of poverty (United Nations, 1995b: paragraph 19).

Thus, paragraph 29 states -

There is a need to periodically monitor, assess and share information on the performance of poverty eradication plans, evaluate policies to combat poverty, and promote an understanding and awareness of poverty and its causes and consequences. This could be done, by Governments, inter alia, through:

(a) Developing, updating and disseminating specific and agreed gender- disaggregated indicators of poverty and vulnerability, including income, wealth, nutrition, physical and mental health, education, literacy, family conditions, unemployment, social exclusion and isolation, homelessness, landlessness and other factors, as well as indicators of the national and international causes underlying poverty; for this purpose, gathering comprehensive and comparable data, disaggregated by ethnicity, gender, disability, family status, language groupings, regions and economic and social sectors;

Paragraph 34.h goes on to stress that urban poverty should be addressed by-

"Ensuring that special measures are taken to protect the displaced, the homeless, street children, unaccompanied minors and children in special and difficult circumstances, orphans, adolescents and single mothers, people with disabilities, and older persons, and to ensure that they are integrated into their communities."

Habitat Agenda (1996)

The Habitat Agenda addresses homelessness, the right to adequate housing and broader human rights issues extensively throughout the text.

Paragraph 11 states -

"More people than ever are living in absolute poverty and without adequate shelter. Inadequate shelter and homelessness are growing plights in many countries, threatening standards of health, security and even life itself. Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing, housing, water, sanitation, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. "

Paragraph 26 proclaims, inter alia:

"We reaffirm that all human rights - civil, cultural, economic, political and social - are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. We subscribe to the principles and goals set out below to guide us in our actions. "

Paragraph 38 stress that -

"In implementing these commitments, special attention should be given to the circumstances and needs of people living in poverty, people who are homeless, women, older people, indigenous people, refugees, displaced persons, persons with disabilities and those belonging to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. Special consideration should also be given to the needs of migrants. Furthermore, special attention should be given to the specific needs and circumstances of children, particularly street children."

Paragraph 39 asserts -

"We reaffirm our commitment to the full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing, as provided for in international instruments. In this context, we recognize an obligation by Governments to enable people to obtain shelter and to protect and improve dwellings and neighbourhoods. We commit ourselves to the goal of improving living and working conditions on an equitable and sustainable basis, so that everyone will have adequate shelter that is healthy, safe, secure, accessible and affordable and that includes basic services, facilities and amenities, and will enjoy freedom from discrimination in housing and legal security of tenure. We shall implement and promote this objective in a manner fully consistent with human rights standards."

Paragraph 40 asserts, inter alia: a commitment to -

"promoting the upgrading of existing housing stock through rehabilitation and maintenance and the adequate supply of basic services, facilities and amenities ".

This is joined by a commitment to:

"Promoting shelter and supporting basic services and facilities for education and health for homeless people, displaced persons, indigenous people, women and children who are survivors of family violence, persons with disabilities, older persons, victims of natural and man-made disasters and people belonging to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, including temporary shelter and basic services for refugees. "

In paragraph 60, it is asserted that -

"Adequate shelter means more than a roof over one's head. It also means adequate privacy; adequate space; physical accessibility; adequate security; security of tenure; structural stability and durability; adequate lighting, heating and ventilation; adequate basic infrastructure, such as water supply, sanitation and waste management facilities; suitable environmental quality and health-related factors; and adequate and accessible location with regard to work and basic facilities: all of which should available at an affordable cost. Adequacy should be determined together with the people concerned, bearing in mind the prospect for gradual development. Adequacy often varies from country to country, since it depends on specific cultural, social, environmental and economic factors. Gender specific and age-specific factors, such as the exposure of children and women to toxic substances, should be considered in this context."

Paragraph 61.c reiterates that governments should take appropriate action to promote, protect and ensure the full and progressive realisation of the right to adequate housing through adopting policies aimed at making housing habitable, affordable and accessible, including for those who are unable to secure adequate housing through their own means, by, inter alia: "promoting supporting services for homeless people and other vulnerable groups".

Paragraph 204 notes that-

"The full and effective implementation of the Habitat Agenda... will require the mobilization of additional financial resources from various sources at the national and international levels and more effective development cooperation in order to promote assistance for shelter and human settlements activities. This will require, inter alia:...

(y) Promoting assistance for activities in the field of shelter and human settlements development in favour of people living in poverty, particularly women, and vulnerable groups, such as refugees, internally displaced persons, people with disabilities, street children, migrants and the homeless, through specific targeted grants;..."

Regional instruments

The legal recognition of housing right features in regional systems of human rights law, under the auspices of the Council of Europe, the Organisation of American States and the Organisation for African Unity. Most notably, the revised European Social Charter (1996) includes an independent provision recognising housing rights in its Article 31:

"With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to housing, the parties undertake to take measures designed: (1) to promote access to housing of an adequate standard; (2) to prevent and reduce homelessness with a view to its gradual elimination; (3) to make the price of housing accessible to those without adequate resources ".

States that have ratified the new Charter have added further legal responsibilities towards their citizens by explicitly guaranteeing the effective exercise of the right to affordable housing of an adequate standard. These states officially recognise that the prevention, reduction and elimination of homelessness are official considerations of paramount importance. As part of the effective exercise clause in Article 31, a 'collective complaints procedure' now enables NGOs and other recognised groups to present formal legal complaints to the European Committee of Experts over violations of, or non-compliance with, the norms of the Charter. This is an important step forward (UNCHS, 1999d: paragraph 11).


The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Housing Rights has noted that

"... the fundamental necessity of an adequate place to live in peace, dignity and security is such that a recognition of housing rights must be seen and interpreted, in the most general sense, to imply that a claim or demand can be made upon society for the provision of or access to housing resources should a person be homeless, inadequately housed or generally incapable of acquiring the bundle of entitlements implicitly linked with housing rights" (UNCHS, 1995c).

UNCHS (Habitat) have earlier listed the following possible actions in order to combat, reduce and eradicate homelessness:

A. "Encourage the creation of rights availing homeless individuals, and families to an enforceable right to the provision by public authorities of adequate, self-contained affordable land or housing space, of a public, private or cooperative nature, and which is consistent with human rights standards. "

B. "Encourage the creation of administrative capacities to monitor, assist and ensure that the housing rights of chronically ill-housed groups, those with special housing requirements or those with difficulties acquiring adequate housing shall be accorded a measure of priority, in both the housing laws and policies" (UNCHS, 1999d: paragraph 71.b).