Human rights and our homeless neighbors

Adopted in the wake of the horrors of World War II, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is no less relevant today, especially in view of the horrors visited upon Chico’s homeless population.

Article 25, Section 1, states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Patrick Newman

In shelter deprivation, the homeless experience a primary human rights violation. This violation engenders collateral rights, made obvious and necessary for the sustenance of life and the defense of personal liberty:

1) Whereas homeless residents of Chico have no property on which to store or prepare food, they have a right to life-sustaining, community-provided food supplies. 2) Whereas homeless people cannot routinely obtain, store or launder clothing, they have a right to life-sustaining, community-provided, weather-appropriate clothing. 3) Whereas homeless people have no homes in which to rest, they have a life-sustaining “right to rest” in public spaces. 4) Whereas the homeless have a right to rest, materials necessary for the life-sustaining act of sleeping—such as bedding, tarps and tents—must be made available. 5) Whereas the homeless have no toilet access on private property, they have a right to 24-hour, community-supported toilet access on public property. 6) The homeless have a right to privacy and security in their possessions; that is, a right to freedom from arbitrary intrusions and actions by law enforcement personnel. 7) The homeless have a right to peaceably assemble in the public space. 8) The homeless have a right to refuse services, especially where compulsory sheltering is a means of de facto incarceration.

These rights are self-evident and inalienable. No abridgment of these rights—regardless of how evident in the city of Chico’s practices—can erode fundamental principles of justice. Principles applying, in any decent society, first and foremost to the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

The author is founder of Chico Friends on the Streets.

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