The global homeless population has reached a astounding estimated count of 100 million and 1 billion (UNCHS, 2000). Homelessness is a concern in every country as the homeless population continues to grow. The lack of attention to this crisis as a human rights issue has permitted the population of homeless persons to reach the staggering 100 million. Homelessness is experienced by the individual on multiple dimensions. Peter Somerville (Somerville, 2013) explains that homelessness is a deprivation of bodily comfort, joy, love, privacy, stability, and hope (pg. 384). All of these elements are entitled people as their human rights.
United States and India have similar standing with their homeless populations. In 2013, it was reported that in the United States “about 195 of every 100,000 people were homeless (Rich, 2014). In India, the numbers varied slightly. The 2011 Indian census reported “146 of every 100,000 people in India are homeless” (Mahamallik, 2016). Although the per capita of homeless in India seems lower, the population of Indians exceeds that of the United States by approximately 900,000 people. In total, the United States has an unofficial estimate 1.6 million people homeless. Similarly, India has an estimated 1.77 million homeless population (Mahamallik, 2016).
Homelessness in definition varies between the two countries. Indian government defines homelessness as ”
The United Nations (1948) creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR) in 1948 declared housing a human right. Article 25(1) of the document 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…
The article states housing as a component of adequate living. The protection of the human right to housing applies to each member state of the United Nations, of which both the United States and India are included. Recognition of this provision means the United States and India will take considerable action to ensure this right is fulfilled for each of their citizens with accordance to all other rights outlined in the UDHR.
In addition to the UDHR, several international treaties have explicitly stipulated housing as human right. The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (1966) article 11(1) directly elaborates on the housing rights of the people. The article states,
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his 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.
Other treaties which include housing as a human right include The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), article 5(e)(iii). This document details the obligation of the state to protect the right of the people to not be racially discriminated against in regard to housing. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) article 27(3), parts the states obligation to provide assistance and support programs to the children and families in the way of housing.
In the United States and India, the persistent issue of chronic homelessness is a violation of the human rights of the citizens human right to adequate housing. The frequent lack of assistance for these citizens and failure to address the cycle of homelessness is evidence of the lack of adherence to their international obligation of human rights. This paper will delve into the United States and India’s current stance on the human right to housing and homelessness within their borders. First understanding how homelessness has manifested to the current tragedy we see today. By observing the theories and ideas which explain the phenomenon and applying them directly to the policies of each state.
Housing continues to remain a vital source of shelter, comfort and social status. Housing achieves physical needs by providing security and shelter from weather and climate (Clement, 2012). Housing meets psychological needs by giving those that benefit from it a sense of personal space and privacy (Namazian and Mehdipour, 2013). The accommodation provides a communal area for families as a fundamental unit of society. The economic needs are sometimes met by the functioning of a house as an epicenter of commercial production (Clement, 2012; 102). The shelter is thus a necessary human requirement that needs to be met needs to be of priority.
Government initiated interventions for assisting homelessness in developing countries are frequently negative and unhelpful (Speak and Tipple, 2006). The same useless attitude by the government is exhibited in developed countries like in the United States. Both the United States and India the environment homeless people find themselves in is characterized by attitudes of hostility, suspicion and apathy that are directed towards them (Speak and Tipple, 2006). This type of behavior and environment according to (Speak 2006) is conditioned by the negative and belittling language and images that are used by the public media and politicians in their portrayal of homeless people as criminals, unemployed, beggars and drunkards. The homeless in India and USA are labelled as transient, loners, helpless, non-citizen, immoral, mentally ill, villains, and beggars (Speak and Tipple, 2006). The research study by Speak and Tipple (2006) it was established that competitiveness, worth; appearance, pity, charity and compassion were frequently used to justify this negative portrayal of homeless people.
The world’s leaders gathered together to acknowledge and recognize the living conditions of slum dwellers as one of the major issues facing humanity at the September 2000 Millennium Summit (Department for International Development – Britain et al., 2017). The world leaders agreed to contribute to significantly improve the living conditions of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020 (Department for International Development – Britain et al., 2017). The Millennium Summit was a positive step in the direction of ensuring the sustainability of the urban poor population as a priority above poverty reduction strategies. According to the poverty reduction strategies were but only modest in grasping the scope of the problem of homelessness.
Houseless households are defined by the Census of India as households that do not dwell in buildings or census housing but live in the open environments such as the roadsides, pavements, under staircases, flyovers, in pipes, railway platforms and places of worship (HLRN, 2017). Addressing the structural causes of homelessness and ensuring that homeless people of India are eventually able to move into adequate and affordable permanent housing should be the government of India’s priority (HLRN, 2017). A scheme called the Shelters for Urban Homeless (NULM-SUH) was a scheme developed by the National Urban Livelihoods mission of the Government of India (Banerjee-Guha, S, 2009). The plan sought to provide a standard of 50 square feet of space per person to homeless people in homeless shelters since the homeless are only ascribed roughly 15 square feet of space per person in homeless shelters (Banerjee-Guha, S. (2009). India possesses the economic capacity to guarantee sound infrastructure and access to essential services for its homeless populations with the increased of its GDP to 7.3 percent in 2016 (Parulkar, 2016).
Speak (2005) recounts that in India, residents of settlements that are identified as slums are entitled to a plot in an area that is regularized. In spite of this entitlement the residents of squatter areas such as Juggi and Jompri clusters are allowed a plot in a regularized area only if their homes have been cleared (Speak, 2005). Thus, if a household has a plot in a regularized area with the presence of a shack on it, it is not considered as homelessness because of the landholding (Speak. 2005). Planners in India that are responsible for providing housing land to deserving cases categorize a person as eligible for their housing land allocation programs if they do not have property or a roof (Speak, 2005).
In India, According to UNCHS (2000), homeless people living on pavements are not permitted to receive any plot of land because their names are rarely recorded on voters’ list and as a result do not possess ration cards (UNCHS, 2000). There are also specific groups of people that are excluded from being categorized as homeless people. Hindu sadhus, Banjaras (Gypsies) and Loharas (a nomadic tribe that are blacksmiths) are also not entitled to land.
In India, like in some countries, the homeless do not need to actively be involved in criminal activities to be considered ‘criminals. This is evident in the construct of state laws such as the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act (1959) in India, which classifies begging or homelessness as an illegal activity (Goel, 2010). Merely being found living on the streets is a cause for arrest. There was a time when pavement dwellers were evicted from the dwellings in Mumbai. The evictions were justified because on the streets of Mumbai the young boys engaged in incessant begging while men without jobs involved themselves in thievery. The thieves when caught justified their robbery by telling the police that there was no one within the city of Mumbai that didn’t commit the crime (Banerjee Das, 2002).
Indian welfare policies retain a socialist orientation that gives the National government the huge responsibility for anti-poverty work. Urbanization in India involves large-scale displacements. For the homeless, the living options include the street itself, as well as squatting, homeless camps and slum-quality rental options (Glasser, 1994). Attempts to lessen or eradicate street homelessness by providing urban public housing in India have been fruitless. The reason for this is that the poor are peripheralized away from their livelihoods (Huchzermeyer and Karam, 2006).
Concerted government initiatives to develop the rural infrastructure exist in India’s case. A flagship initiative such as the Bharat Nirman plan which was established in 2005 sought to establish rural housing, roads and water, telephony and electricity supplies (Wardhugh, 2012). The plan outlined targets of ensuring the construction of 6 million rural houses over a period of 4 years from 2005/2006 following. According to Busch-Geertsema, Culhane, and Fitzpatrick (2016), this plan was deemed to have accomplished the aim for which it was implemented when it became a success on four out of six measures attempted (Busch-Geertsema, Culhane, and Fitzpatrick, 2016). The scheme saw construction of over seven million dwellings from 2005/06 onwards (Busch-Geertsema, Culhane, and Fitzpatrick, 2016)
The Special Rapporteur of the United Nations (UN) on the Right to Adequate Housing advised India’s policymakers to adopt human rights-based housing policy for people that were living in the slums and on the streets (Parulkar, 2016). India’s government were also urged to implement existing homeless policies, such as the National Urban Livelihoods Mission shelter guidelines, which guarantee people in shelters access to social protection programs (Parulkar, 2016). National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM) aims to provide permanent accommodation that is equipped with essential services to the urban homeless under the Scheme of Shelter for Urban Homeless (SUH). The latest results indicate that only 658 shelters have been built since the Shelter for the Homeless program was launched in 2013 (Nair, 2017). 342 of the 658 shelters were already existing shelters that were refurbished. New shelters that were constructed total 316 (Nair, 2017). It was revealed by Census (2011) that the numbers of existing shelters in India are currently only able to cater for 35 thousand homeless people (Nair, 2017).
US response has evolved into a comprehensive view of homelessness representing a combination of housing and service needs. U.S Policy response to homelessness has grown to take a holistic outlook on homelessness (O’Connel, 2003). The U.S also recognized the importance of having continuous data to support homelessness development programs and as a result have community-wide administrative data systems (O’Connel, 2003). O’Connel (2003) cites the prevalence of failures of mainstream systems in the United States in addressing issues of mental health, substance abuse treatment, judicial and foster care systems as a contributing factor to the occurrences of homelessness.
Likewise, in the US, income support and housing subsidies are only provided for low-income families with children, older adults, and disabled people (Sherman, 2013). No public assistance is available to aid homeowners with housing costs. Also, single men receive little more than food stamps that can be used for food purchase, and then only on a time-limited basis of 3 months in any 36-month period (the amount varies based on income) (Cohen, 2015). The McKinney-Vento Act (MVA) of 1987 was the first significant federal legislative response to homelessness (Cohen, 2015). It was passed both the House and Senate with large bipartisan majorities and at a later stage was renamed the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (Cohen, 2005). This act provided funds for emergency shelter, transitional accommodation, and permanent housing, job training, primary health care, mental health care, drug and alcohol treatment, education programs, and other supportive services (Cohen, 2005). The act according to Canefield et al (2012) was designed to alleviate the educational barriers that were faced by homeless school-age children. The bill sought to improve access to education by addressing the: geographic, economic, administrative, cognitive, and psychosocial hindrances to schooling amongst homeless school-aged children (Canefield et al. 2012). Wynne et al. (2014) stated that before 1985; neither the legislative nor judicial processes had solved the educational barriers faced by homeless families. According to Aviles de Bradley (2008) Richards v. Union Free School District Number 4 (1985) was the first case to address this problem. The MVA recognised that homelessness is a multifaceted problem in which the needs of the homeless required more than a shelter and bed (Cohen, 2005). The statutory goal of the McKinney Act was to progressively transition the homeless toward stable housing and independence (Cohen, 2005). The failure of Housing Readiness arose from the unwise and unfair means in which the welfare was disseminated (Cohen, 2005). The inability of Housing readiness programme brought about a new housing strategy for the homeless called Housing First (HF). Hennigan (2017; 1418) describes HF as “the new orthodoxy when dealing with the small, long-term, visible and recalcitrant fraction of the greater homeless population”.
Housing First (HF)
MVA and Housing Readiness were more traditional treatment models that according to Hennigan (2017) expected a linear progression toward self-sufficiency’ for example ensuring that the homeless who acquire housing become sober, obtain employment, normalised through treatment or therapy if faced with chronic illnesses and mental disease (Hennigan, 2017). Under the MVA homeless clients had to become deserving of housing before they obtained it. The self-sufficiency and achievement of housing for the homeless can be gained with or without the help of support services of HF (Hennigan, 2017). The HF approach acknowledges the provision of housing as a right for the homeless rather than a privilege. Housing is mentioned by Cohen (2015) as part of the solution to address the conditions among the homeless such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, or schizophrenia. HF programmes have been implemented in Australia, Canada. They are frequently targeted at a particular group of people that are experiencing homelessness. Examples of this are “single adults who experience mental health issues or who are visibly or chronically homeless” (Katz, Zerger and Hwang, 2017). The HF philosophy recognizes that the rehabilitation of such conditions in the homeless is arduous without them having adequate, stable accommodation (Cohen, 2015).
Hindrances of the HF model
The HF model was developed to precisely aid chronically homeless individuals with co-occurring severe mental illness and substance use disorders (Watson et al. 2017). Various problems related to the implementation of evidence-based practices such as HF is due to the lack of detailed explanations of interventions within scientific literature and the occurrence of miscommunication also has a role to play in the implementation of HF (Watson et al. 2017). One of the hindrances of the application of the HF model was a lack of understanding of the importance of harm reduction. This was attributed mainly to the lack of fidelity guidelines that were available at the time of its implementation in the United States in the early 2000s (Watson et al. 2017). This resulted in the implementation of low-barrier entry requirements which allowed active substance users and those engaged in risky behaviour access to housing without the harm reduction strategies necessary to keep them housed (Watson et al. 2017).
The current state of the preservation of human rights in the United States and India is relatively similar in the sense that although there are initiatives that exist to combat the issue of homelessness, there remains a significant deficiency in achieving the intended objectives of these domestic policies. Both countries seek to adhere to international human rights laws through the policies that they have implemented at the household level. In the United States, this is evident in the endorsement of the first significant federal legislative response to homelessness called the McKinney-Vento Act (MVA) of 1987 which later became the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (Cohen, 2005). In India, it was the Bharat Nirman plan of 2005. The HF philosophy of eradicating homelessness is being carried out through various House First organisations. Failures in homelessness eradication owe to the lack of enforcement and the slow process of ensuring adequate housing for its homeless populations (Banerjee-Guha, S, 2009). According to Kaur and Pathak (2006), due to the lack of reliable data, for the homeless population in India has not received due attention from policymakers and researchers. According to Cross et al. (2010), the Ideology surrounding homelessness eradication in the US does not tend to endorse government responsibility to ensure livelihoods other than in the case of the disabled and has been sluggish to support a government role in providing housing provisions for the homeless. India on the other hand, fails to raise access to mental health services for vulnerable people such as the homeless (Kaur and Pathak, 2016). The lack of progress in providing access to housing by India, in spite of its increasing GDP (Parulkar, 2016) is evident that the seriousness of housing as a necessity for rehabilitation of mental homeless is a reflection of a lack of implementation.