Law Center Statement on Today’s United Nations Report Decrying Ongoing Human Rights Abuses Against Unhoused People

WASHINGTON, D.C. – (November 3, 2023) Today, the United Nations Human Rights Committee highlighted serious and ongoing patterns of human rights abuses — including those against people experiencing homelessness and poverty — in the Concluding Observations from its recent convening that investigated the United States’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

The Concluding Observations devote an entire paragraph to the human rights abuses faced by people experiencing homelessness. It reads:

The Committee is concerned about reports of an increase of state and local laws criminalizing homelessness, of violence against homeless persons as well as at the higher risk of premature death that they experience due to homelessness. It is also concerned about the disproportionate impact of homelessness on persons who are marginalized because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, persons with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minorities, particularly people of African descent, Indigenous Peoples and persons of Hispanic/Latino origin.

Importantly, today’s report reiterates previous recommendations and calls on the United States to:

  • “Abolish laws and policies criminalizing homelessness at all levels, and adopt legislative and other measures that protect the human rights of homeless people;
  • Offer financial and legal incentives to decriminalize homelessness, including by conditioning or withdrawing funding from state and local authorities that criminalize homelessness;
  • Intensify efforts to find solutions for the homeless, in accordance with human rights standards, including by redirecting funding from criminal justice responses towards adequate housing and shelter programmes;
  • Review criminal records policies and practices that can lead to homelessness.”

While the litany of human rights abuses laid out in the report are indeed concerning, they are not surprising. The Law Center and our partners see these abuses play out daily, including when:

  • The National Park Service evicted over 50 people from the McPherson encampment community in Washington, DC;
  • Federal police officers shot and paralyzed a man in Boise, Idaho while destroying his encampment;
  • The murders of people experiencing homelessness, including Jordan Neely, an unhoused person with a history of severe health issues, who was choked to death by a vigilante in a New York City subway car;
  • New York City’s increased criminalization of homelessness, including sweeps of encampments and forced removal of unhoused persons by members of law enforcement;
  • Officials in Norristown, PA threatened encampment residents with eviction despite the county shutting down its only shelter facility;
  • States introduce template legislation from the Cicero Institute to criminalize unhoused persons and subject unhoused persons with mental health disabilities to forced treatment plans.

Moreover, we know that these examples of criminalization are just a small illustration of the lived reality faced by the over 500,000 people experiencing homelessness and the estimated 38 million people living in poverty in the United States.

The National Homelessness Law Center calls on President Biden, Congress, and state and local leaders to not only address the treaty violations outlined by the United Nations, but to also address the underlying cause of these abuses- the persistent and severe lack of housing that is affordable and accessible to low- and no-income households. 

The Law Center thanks the Committee for hearing from our staff member Siya Hegde, a human rights lawyer, who gave powerful remarks before its 17-member expert body in Geneva. In addition, we are pleased that the Committee’s recommendations were informed by a shadow report jointly authored by the Law Center and the University of Miami School of Law’s Human Rights Clinic. 

David Peery, an advocate with lived experience of homelessness and the Executive Director of the Miami Coalition to Advance Racial Equity, who presented in Geneva on Miami’s camping and food sharing bans and organizationally endorsed the joint shadow report, says that this report must compel all levels of government to stop the criminalization of homelessness. Peery states: “Laws that criminalize homelessness are expensive, and a waste of tax-payer dollars. It costs nearly twice as much to incarcerate someone rather than house them with case management services. These laws are disproportionately enforced against people of color, who already disproportionally represented in the homeless population.  In short, making it illegal to be homeless is an expensive way to make homelessness worse. We need housing, not handcuffs.”

Siya Hegde, Staff Attorney at the Law Center, who also presented in Geneva, says that “today’s report is a dire indictment on United States government’s continued failure to meet the commitments outlined in a critical body of international law, as well as its ongoing failure to ensure that everybody has the housing they need to thrive. We are deeply concerned by the use of federal and local police forces to criminalize homelessness. To fulfill the obligations laid out in the Covenant, the US Government’s approach to solving homelessness must focus away from systems and policies that harm our unhoused neighbors and towards the true solution to homelessness: safe, affordable, and dignified housing.


The National Homelessness Law Center’s vision is to cultivate a society where every person can live with dignity and enjoy their basic human rights, including the right to affordable, quality, and safe housing, and its mission is to fearlessly advance federal, state and local policies to prevent and end homelessness while fiercely defending the rights of all unhoused persons.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email