Departmental Honors Project Title
Date of Award
College of Liberal Arts
Several international treaties and declarations affirm adequate housing as a fundamental human right. However, the United States, while a signatory to several of these agreements, does not recognize this right. Homelessness violates the right to housing. Moreover, homelessness often subjects individuals to additional rights violations. These additional violations often occur because governments criminalize homelessness.
Public order laws that criminalize basic life-sustaining behaviors, such as sitting, lying, and sleeping in public spaces, violate several constitutional rights when applied to unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness. Devoid of any accommodation aside from the public streets, such individuals must necessarily perform the prohibited conduct in public, constantly risking arrest based solely on their status “crime” of experiencing homelessness.
This project uses primary and secondary domestic and international legal authority, including constitutional, statutory, and case law to analyze how the United States has systematically failed to recognize the right to housing, and specifically critiques statutory regimes that perpetuate and exacerbate homelessness by making it a crime. This project will then consider approaches that Scotland and France have taken that model the provisions of the right to housing described in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as possible exemplars for the United States. Preliminary research, including the applicability of these human rights-based international models suggests that the United States should adopt a human rights framework, including ratifying international instruments where appropriate, that recognizes and implements the human right to housing. Ultimately, the United States should respect and recognize the right to housing in order to appropriately and adequately combat the criminalization of homelessness.
Semi, Cristina M., "Guilty of Homelessness: Evaluating the Criminalization of Homelessness Through a Human Rights Framework" (2014). Departmental Honors Projects. 20.