capitalism crimes Social Issues

U.N. Calls Homeless Crisis in San Francisco and Oakland ‘inhumane’

– A United Nations expert on housing explicitly singled out San Francisco and Oakland as the only two U.S. cities that are part of a “global scandal,” describing homeless encampments there as “cruel and inhumane.”

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Canadian attorney Lelani Farha, presented her 23-page report on Oct. 18 in New York at the U.N. General Assembly after touring the world and visiting the Bay Area in January.

She also visited Berkeley and Los Angeles, but did not mention those cities in her report. On Tuesday, Bay Area housing activists held a rally at Oakland City Hall to discuss the findings.

Farha issued 31 recommendations, namely earmarking enough money for the homeless, making sure building materials are affordable, prohibiting discrimination and stopping the eviction of homeless people and the criminalization of their behavior.

“I visited California and saw firsthand the human rights’ violations being experienced by people who are homeless,” Farha wrote. “They are the victims of failed policies—not the perpetrators of crime.”

Farha said she learned a great deal touring encampments and drop-in facilities serving homeless people.

“The community repeatedly expressed that they simply wanted to be treated as human beings. It is dehumanizing, demoralizing, and unjust to criminalize hundreds of thousands of people due to their housing status,” she wrote in her report.

Farha noted that there was major rat infestation in Mumbai, India due to a lack of waste removal. In Belgrade, Ireland she saw children playing on garbage piles as if they were trampolines. In Lisbon, Africa, people had no electricity. And in California, she wrote, people had no access to toilets or showers and lived in fear of being “cleared off the streets.”

“In North American countries, I’ve visited encampments under highway overpasses deliberately deprived of portable toilets that are subject to having their tents and belongings swept away at any time,” she said in a statement.

Oakland has between 1,900 to nearly 3,000 homeless people in a city of about 425,000 and San Francisco has at least 7,500 in a city of about one million.

City leaders in San Francisco, Oakland and agencies including Caltrans and BART, who own property where homeless people live, have said that they have no choice but to periodically make camps move so that areas can be cleaned and sanitized. Officials worry about hepatitis outbreaks or other dangers, in addition to mountains of garbage that build up near the camps.

In Oakland on Wednesday, a small group of homeless people were ordered to pack up their belongings and tents and vacate the pathway at Lake Merritt near the estuary channel. A man told KTVU that the group was told to relocate to a shelter by the Kaiser Convention Center but that the center was already full.

Oakland spokeswoman Karen Boyd said that crews went to Lake Merritt to clean up overflowing garbage from the homeless residents living in the 20 Tuff Sheds the city put recently, but the situation got “confrontational” and the work wasn’t able to be completed. But, she added, that the city needs to remove the other, non-sanctioned camps. She said that the city is providing other “shelter options” in the Tuff Sheds, which are now called the “Lake Merritt Community Cabins,”, where there are 14 spaces available, or beds at St. Vincent de Paul.

Oakland spokeswoman Karen Boyd said that crews went to Lake Merritt to clean up overflowing garbage from the homeless residents living in the 20 Tuff Sheds the city put recently, but the situation got “confrontational” and the work wasn’t able to be completed. But, she added, that the city needs to remove the other, non-sanctioned camps. She said that the city is providing other “shelter options” in the Tuff Sheds, which are now called the “Lake Merritt Community Cabins,”, where there are 14 spaces available, or beds at St. Vincent de Paul.

Farha is the executive director of the NGO, Canada without Poverty, based in Ottawa. For the last 20 years, she has worked both internationally and domestically on the implementation of the right to adequate housing for the most marginalized groups and on the situation of people living in poverty. She is part of the U.N. Human Rights fact-finding team.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the U.N. on Dec. 10, 1948 and rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Farha gave a deadline of 2030 so that the world will stop “accepting the unacceptable.”

%d bloggers like this: