Let Freedom Ring

Posted: April 10, 2008 in Civil Rights, Compassion, Discrimination, Homelessness, Housing, Morality

Yesterday I received an email from a friend of mine who writes a blog called WanderingVets.

The email had a link to an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

It turns out that the city of Seattle was in the process of evicting David "Squirrelman" Csaky from his modest 300 square foot home – a home he built with his own hands over a period of two years.

Oh, did I mention that Mr. Csaky is homeless and the house in question is a treehouse some 30 feet above the ground?  

Housing is a basic human right. More than that – housing is a basic human need.

The increasing costs of housing, an economy that is weakening daily, wages that have not kept up with inflation and the loss of more than a quarter million jobs since the beginning of the year are creating economic havoc in the lives of all Americans. As a result, more and more people are finding themselves unable to maintain housing. Those who cannot find temporary housing with family or friends, ultimately find themselves at local homeless shelters.

Despite this however, our elected leaders – at every level of government – are doing little or nothing to find a way to adequately address this issue. This inaction violates international human rights law.

The very first sentence of the Housing as a Right page on National Low Income Housing Coalition website states,

"The homelessness crisis in the United States serves as an indicator of violations of internationally recognized human rights, including the human right to adequate housing."

In 1947, the United States adopted the Declaration of Human Rights , and the United Nations adopted it the following year.

Article 25; item 1 of the Declaration 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, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

Although the Declaration was adopted by the United States over 60 years ago, current U.S. law does not clearly recognize housing as a basic human right.

I find it objectionable that in a nation where all persons are considered to be equal; a nation that prides itself on protecting the rights of its citizenry; a nation that considers housing a basic human right, that there is no legislation that seeks to find a way to ensure that all of its citizens are afforded suitable housing. The consequence is that more people are finding themselves homeless.

Programs that are designed to provide relief to the nations’ millions of homeless have faced cutbacks in funding. The ripple effects of these budgetary cuts are being felt in every community as local homeless support service agencies are forced to reduce – and in some instances eliminate altogether – some of their services to the homeless. Some shelters are even on the verge of having to shut down operations and close their doors.

We cannot, however, place the entire burden on the government. We, the community, must also shoulder part of the burden.

We talk about wanting something to be done about homelessness. We moan and bellyache about the homeless loitering here or there. We call local law enforcement if we see them in our neighborhoods, or going through the trash looking for aluminum cans or plastic bottles.

We tell our local elected officials that the "problem" must be addressed. But, most of the time, when we say that something must be done about the homeless, what we really mean is that something needs to be done to make them go somewhere else. And, in the end, the only thing that seems to get done is that local governments pass laws that penalize and further make it difficult for the homeless to find a way off of the streets.

How can we expect our elected representatives to acknowledge and respect basic human rights, when we ourselves won’t?

We need to keep in mind, that for every one who is homeless, there is a person beneath that disheveled exterior – a person just like the rest of us; someone who can feel hope or despair. More importantly, we need to remember that that person is entitled to be treated with basic human dignity, not with scorn.

Homelessness is a form of slavery; a form of imprisonment.

When we turn our backs on those who suffer the indignities of homelessness, we’re turning our backs on ourselves and our community. When we discriminate against person who is homeless, we are showing ourselves unworthy of the very respect that we want others to show us. When we make all manner of excuses for not helping the homeless, we deny another person the potential freedom to become a member of our community.

Abraham Lincoln said,

"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves."

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Comments
  1. AnAmerican says:

    After reading the article about David Csaky it seems that the community in which he lives has gotten it right, even if the local government didn’t. It’s great to see folks helping out those in need…and also refreshing to know that homelessness is getting some much needed attention by the media.Thanks for sharing.

    AnAmerican,

    What I noticed in particular about the article regarding Mr. Csaky, was something one of his “neighbors,” Brandon Ferrante, said about him:

    “He’s taken care of the neighborhood.”

    Despite his homelessness, it seems that Mr Csaky held repect, not only for his neighbors, but for the area in which he lived…

    Not necessarily the stereotype of what people tend to envision a homeless person to be.

    – m –

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