Why is housing a human right?

This Monday, 10 December marks the 2018 International Human Rights Day.

Housing is a human right that affords people dignity. Everyone has a right to a home and it is our job—and that of other agencies, government, philanthropists, corporates and more—to make that happen.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights similarly states that “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.”

This International Human Rights Day provides the opportunity to reflect on the work needed to ensure everyone’s basic human rights are met.

Housing as a human right

Everyone has a fundamental human right to adequate housing.

According the Australian Human Rights Commission, the right to housing is a right to an adequate standard of living – housing that is secure and safe, and enables people to live with dignity.

This is the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and yet inequality and homelessness is on the rise in Australia.

Homelessness is caused by our unequal society. People don’t choose homelessness, yet every night in Australia 116,000 Australians are experiencing homelessness. People are increasingly living in inadequate housing, including severely overcrowded housing where there’s no personal living space, privacy or safety.

As homelessness outpaces population growth in Australia, more Australians are losing access to adequate housing and the basic rights of their safety, security, health and wellbeing.

The experience of homelessness impacts more than the right to housing as economic and social exclusion also impinge on rights to education, liberty and security, social security, freedom from discrimination, and even the right to vote.

Valuing housing through proactive policy

Finland’s Housing First response to homelessness provides an example of how governments can uphold the basic right to housing through proactive policy. Finland is now the only country in Europe where the number of people experiencing homelessness is on the decline to the point where there are almost no rough sleepers (known as “functional zero.”)

The Housing First model began in the United States in the 1990s. It is based on the premise that “safe and secure housing should be quickly provided prior to, and not conditional upon, addressing other health and well-being issues.” Once housing is secured, focus can shift to things like health and wellbeing, securing employment, or engaging with support services.

What needs to be done in Australia?

Homelessness and its corresponding human rights violations stem from structural inequality. The 2018 Australian Homelessness Monitor found both policy action and inaction have impacted on rising levels of homelessness through lack of affordable housing, the growing wealth gap, and a punitive and inadequate social security system (including reductions in Newstart Allowance and rent assistance).

The Australian Homelessness Monitor found our housing crisis desperately needs to be addressed with:

  • Federal and state coordination
  • Addressing causes at a system level
  • Implementing research based policies and initiatives
  • Focussing on prevention
  • Increasing investment in housing supply.

This International Day of Human Rights, help us end homelessness.

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Join the campaign for housing solutions for all Australians Everybody’s Home.