The Road to Geneva: Criminalization and Discrimination

This is the second edition of a new blogs series (see first blog entry from 10-3-13) on the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s advocacy efforts during the HRC Review of U.S. compliance with the ICCPR. The information in this blog came from the Law Center’s shadow report, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading. The Law Center will host a webinar on the topic of criminalization and the ICCPR next Monday, Oct. 7th 2013.

The harms of the criminalization of homelessness are particularly acute for homeless people who experience one or multiple intersecting forms of discrimination in U.S. society. The impacts of U.S. laws that criminalize homelessness, such as voter disenfranchisement, are especially severe for people of color, immigrants, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, people with disabilities, and others who have historically and currently experience discrimination in the U.S.

Both Article 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protect against discrimination. Article 2 of the ICCPR ensures all rights articulated in the treaty “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political, or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Article 26 notes that people “are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of law.” In regards to discrimination, stark disparities exist in the U.S. regarding who disproportionality experiences homelessness. For instance, The 2010 Census estimated that roughly 25.2% of the U.S. population is nonwhite, but non-white people represent about 60% of the homeless people in shelters. The U.S. Special Rapporteur on racism noted, “the enforcement of minor law enforcement violations…take[s] a disproportionately high number of African American homeless persons to the criminal justice system.”

As related to LGBT issues, a recent survey of service providers for homeless youth found that LGBT youth comprised approximately 40% of their clientele. And, transgender people face one of the highest rates of homelessness in the U.S. with corresponding statistic of nearly 30% of transgender people having been turned away from shelter because of gender identity. A large number of people in these protected sub-groups also face discriminate and disproportionate police enforcement practices. 

After the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (the Law Center) and the U.S. Human Rights Network advocated to the HRC, the issue of discrimination and criminalization of homelessness was added to the HRC list of issues (in violation of Articles 2 and 26) to which the U.S. must respond at the HRC hearings in Geneva, Oct 17-18th. We hope that the Law Center advocacy to the HRC on the issue can lead to HRC Concluding Observations urging the U.S. to raise awareness and address criminalization laws that disproportionately impact people of color, LGBT persons, immigrants, and additional groups discriminated against in the U.S. Those Concluding Observations can be used as a tool for local advocates to reference and to create local practices that proactively address discrimination such as a local Bill of Rights for Homeless Persons.  

-Kirsten Blume, Program on Human Rights & the Global Economy Fellow

The original version of this post can be found on the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s website blog.

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