credit: Ashitaka San/Flickr

The United Nations Human Rights Committee announced that the United States needs to make serious improvements its response to homelessness. The committee said the criminalization of homelessness is “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and breaches international human rights treaties, as stated in a press release issued by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP).

The Committee’s statement followed its two day examination of the United States’ observance of the International Compliance on Civil and Political Rights.

“We welcome the committee’s concluding observations and call on our government to take swift action to solve homelessness with homes, not jails and prisons,” said Maria Foscarinis, NLCHP executive director.

The United Nations said that although the United States government is making positive progress in decriminalizing homelessness, there are definite steps it needs to take to improve the situation.

First, the federal government should eliminate all criminalization of homelessness laws and policies at state and local levels.

Second, the government should encourage people who work with the homeless, including social, health, and law enforcement workers, to cooperate to find more human-rights oriented solutions for homelessness.

Third, the government should provide additional funds for authorities that do not criminalize homelessness and not provide funds for authorities that do.

This statement from the United Nations Human Rights Committee came one week after the death of Jerome Murdough, a homeless veteran who died in an overheated prison cell in New York City. Murdough was arrested for trespassing while he was seeking shelter from the sub-freezing temperatures by staying the stairwell of public housing building.

“Jerome Murdough never should have been in jail in the first place,” said Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children’s Rights Programs at NLCHP.