Homelessness is a profound assault on dignity, social inclusion and the right to life. It is a prima facie violation of the right to housing and violates a number of other human rights in addition to the right to life, including non-discrimination, health, water and sanitation, security of the person and freedom from cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment.
Homelessness has been declared a human rights violation by such authoritative bodies as the UN, the South African Human Rights commission and many court judgments.
South Africa’s progressive Constitution clearly enshrines the rights of the nation’s citizens to adequate housing (26.1-3) and basic health-care services.
For too long, the state has acted in ways that seem to indicate those experiencing homelessness are not worthy citizens. And for too long, despite the reality being that the state is not ensuring these rights for all its citizens, the state is still not being held accountable for these failings.
This has resulted in growing numbers of those referred to as chronically homeless as well as this same group of citizens not being able to attain the highest standard of health, which causes premature and preventable deaths and indicates a failure of the state to adequately protect the right to life. Further to this, the right to life encompasses the belief that every citizen has the right to enjoy his or her life in dignity.
Homelessness is stigmatised and often addressed with criminalisation, violence and aggressive policies that violate, rather than safeguard, the rights of the persons involved.
Persons experiencing homelessness are also often discriminated against on the basis of their housing status or due to their lack of an official address, affecting their political, economic and social rights, such as their right to participate in elections, their right to work, or their right to access certain social benefits.
And it is for this reason that I believe that the only way we are going to address, reduce and eventually end chronic homelessness is to rely on our ability to change the mindsets of two groups of individuals: those experiencing homelessness themselves and the general public.
We must also ensure that we not only work towards reducing the numbers of those living on our streets but that we also work towards eventually preventing people from landing up on the streets in the first place.
The first step in achieving all of this is enlightening our children and our youth.
We have to work on ensuring that we are building towards a well informed new generation in so far as homelessness is concerned.
We can’t just sit back and let them believe the myths and false preconceived ideas that we were and they are currently exposed to.
My role and that of others with lived experience of homelessness is to talk to and expose the reality of the homeless experience and to this end we will soon launch such a vehicle.
Called “Outsider”, this non-profit organisation’s role is going to be to ensure that we get the reality and information about those experiencing homelessness out there to contradict the narrative that has developed through generations of misinformation.
Parents and communities then have a duty to ensure that our children are exposed to the truths and realities and ugliness of the horrible experience that is homelessness and which individuals have had to endure because for too long, the public has been led to believe that we can’t change it.
We can change it! Chronic homelessness is solvable! But it means we have to change.
Children are our future. What we do today impacts on our future.
* Carlos Mesquita.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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