Farha’s report from the U.N. General Assembly, dated Sept. 29, is titled “On Adequate Housing as a Component of the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living.”
It addresses the Bay Area homeless situation in one section.
“Attempting to discourage residents from remaining in informal settlements or encampments by denying access to water, sanitation and health services and other basic necessities, as has been witnessed by the Special Rapporteur in San Francisco and Oakland, California, United States of America, constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment and is a violation of multiple human rights, including the rights to life, housing, health and water and sanitation,” the report said.
“Such punitive policies must be prohibited in law and immediately ceased,” it added.
The report said that after the U.N. Human Rights Committee voiced concern, the U.S. government introduced funding initiatives for municipalities to rescind laws that “criminalize homelessness.” However, the report advocated “more robust measures.”
Among those Farha spoke with were people living in an encampment before city officials ordered them to move during a “tent sweep.”
Such actions have negative consequences for people suffering homelessness, Farha said.
“It’s damaging because they always have to move,” she told SFGate. “They’re treated like nonentities.”
While officials sometimes say their confiscated belongings are put in storage, “more often they’ll dump everyone’s possessions into one dumpster.”
Farha said that in other countries of the world, such as the global south, there is a struggle to legalize encampments.
“Here, the struggle is simply to be able to create an encampment. In the south, there’s sort of a blind eye that has turned. Once an informal settlement is created, it’s established. Whereas here, they can’t create them.”
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Resident complaints about tent encampments, needles and human feces topped 22,000 in 2016, five times the number reported the previous year.
Some tourism leaders in the city have said the homeless population and hygiene problems are causing a significant slow-down in tourism.
A 2016 count from the Department of Housing and Urban Development found almost 550,000 people to be homeless on a single night in January 2016. About 65 percent were individuals, while 35 percent were homeless as a family. About 40,000 were veterans.
California had about 22 percent of the total homeless population in the U.S., followed by New York with 16 percent and Florida with 6 percent.
The U.N. report criticized laws in rich countries that prevent the construction of rudimentary shelters by the homeless and criminalizes them even for eating and sleeping. States must help implement the right to basic housing as soon as possible, it said.
States must ensure that discrimination, harassment or criminalization on the basis of housing status are prohibited, the report continued. Informal settlements’ rights must be protected, and there must be rigorous action against forced eviction. The report said the judicial system should hear “systemic claims” related to inadequate budget allocations, failure to comply with homelessness response timelines and goals, and inadequate community engagement or collaboration.