The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 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.”

Despite being signatories on the UN Declaration of Human Rights for the past 75 years, not all Australians have full enjoyment of their human rights and some rights become less protected when housing is insecure or unavailable.

QCOSS’ Sector Development Human Rights lead, Ren Flannery spoke with Community Lead for Logan Advance to Zero, Darren McGhee about the people of Logan who are forced to sleep rough. Darren’s in depth understanding of the circumstances leading to homelessness starkly highlighted how having a roof over your head enables enjoyment of a range of rights. Throughout the conversation, he repeatedly asked, “does shelter give you more rights?”

The UN Declaration of Human Rights outlines our human rights under 30 Articles. If you are someone who does not have a stable place to live, Article 25, your right to an adequate standard of living, is likely to be only one of the rights that is limited.

In Ren’s conversation with Darren, limitations on a range of rights were identified.

Article 3: Right to life, liberty and security of person.

Working closely with people sleeping rough, Darren paints a visceral image of what it looks like to lose your liberty, security and dignity. Being on public display, a person without housing lives their day-to-day life being scrutinised and judged by the public in everything they do. Many will not have a secure place for their belongings, which keeps them tied to a public space.

Darren says it is not known how many people sleeping rough die in our hospitals each year, but it is likely that a person living rough has a shorter life expectancy.

Article 12: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Just like you, Darren says, people experiencing homelessness are reliant on coping strategies, such as recreational activities that help to occupy their time, distract them from their troubles and give them a break from the burdens they carry. Without walls people experiencing homelessness have limited privacy and their choices can be subject to criticism, discrimination, and judgment.

For many people experiencing homelessness owning and maintaining a phone is one of life’s most unattainable privileges. Without access to communication, people are cut off from their loved ones, employment and housing opportunities, support services, and vital lifesaving emergency services.

Darren described the work police and service providers are doing to support strengthening public spaces policies to avoid the detrimental impacts of move on orders that can disconnect people from services that are a valuable lifeline.

Article 25: 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

Many elderly people and people living with disability or ill health experience hygiene related illness, dehydration, and infection. Even if this is treated in hospital, once well, they are often discharged straight back onto the street.

Darren and other service providers are working closely with council to build the understanding that people need dignity to be able to engage with systems that will improve their situation. He shared stories of how difficult it can be to access income support payments. Often, people experiencing homelessness go without this financial support.

People can be completely reliant on support services for the essentials, including food, hygiene products, clothing and medication. Darren said people living with homelessness are vulnerable to weather conditions, assault, discrimination, and ill-health. Their living circumstances create barriers to enjoyment of the economic and social participation.

Housing is a basic human right, essential to the enjoyment of many other rights. As Queensland experiences an unabating housing crisis, we can all call for a society where everyone has a roof over their head. Join the movement, by signing up to our Town of Nowhere Campaign.

7 December 2023
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