The priority theme for this year’s CSocD was “affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness” and this side event covered legal mechanisms and social protections. Denise Scotto gave an overview of the UN system and the legal aspects of navigating housing and homelessness, and later a number of law students present joined the conversation. Suresh Nadella presented on the “Clean & Green Challapalli” project in his home town in India. Citizens there have been motivated to tackle the problem of outdoor defecation and have gone beyond solving that to beautifying the roadways and enjoying a renewed sense of ownership and participation in their town.

Grove Harris presented, representing the Temple of Understanding. We used a moment of silence, to think of the homeless refugees and immigrants around the globe. Millions of Syrians, how many thousands through out Latin America, and so many more. Let’s take a moment to think of those displaced by environmental events, worsened by climate change, such as the Australians fleeing devastating burning of the continent, Calfornians whose homes were destroyed by fire last summer, Puerto Ricans who have suffered through hurricanes and now earth quake, Indigenous peoples in Alaska whose way of live is being destroyed as the oceans warm, all those in small islands developing states who are considering where to go as the oceans rise. And remember those who are homeless due to economic systems that do not provide sufficient decent jobs, affordable housing, and support for illness including mental illness and addictions.

Our relationships to our households- those of our family, of our countries, and our global household are all in question, under threat. Homlessness is a huge and multifaceted issue- it goes far beyond the plight of those living on city streets. Our home goes beyond our individual homes, to include our home on the planet, and the management of our economy. The American Heritage Dictionary tells us that economy is management of resources of the household, or of the country, coming from Greek ‘oikos’ for house. The word ‘ecology’ which looks at “relationships between organisms and their environment” also comes from ‘oikos’ and is related to words like household, villa, and village.

Our personal households, the usual domain of thinking about homelessness, are related to our place in the environment, to our participation in ecology, and also to the larger systems of resource management of our local, national and increasingly our globalized economies.

A recent NYT article tells us that half of NYC sky scrappers are empty, while affordable housing has become increasingly scarce.

First, the typical new American single-family home has become surprisingly luxurious, if not quite so swank as Manhattan’s glassy spires. Newly built houses in the U.S. are among the largest in the world, and their size-per-resident has nearly doubled in the past 50 years. And the bathrooms have multiplied. In the early ’70s, 40 percent of new single-family houses had 1.5 bathrooms or fewer; today, just 4 percent do. The mansions of the ’70s would be the typical new homes of the 2020s.

While NYT and other major cities are losing the people, the vibrancy, the workforce as inhumane economics change urban infrastructure. Some say that NYC is essentially a theme park now, catering to tourists and the elite, rather than a city of vibrant neighborhoods.

Legal Remedy –  Moms 4 Housing
To begin to consider legal remedy,  we explored the #Moms4Housing story out of Oakland California that suggests civil disobedience may be necessary to get at creative legal cooperative solutions.   Three moms and their kids occupied a one bathroom three bedroom house for a few months, raising the issue of human right to shelter nationally, with much community support.  They were eventually evicted, but brought the owners, Wedgewood Corporation that flips property for profit to the table with the mayor and the affordable housing corporation.  The women will be able to buy the home, and they’re looking to have the affordable housing corporation have the right of first refusal on all future sales, to attempt to bring back affordable housing stock.  In Oakland homelessness has increased 47% in 2 years.

While occupying a home one does not own is not legal, why protect the corporate right to profit more than the human right to housing?  The right to private property is deeply enshrined in American law, but do we want to be a nation where families are living on the streets and buildings are being refurbished taking them out of the affordable housing stock?

There is growing feeling that disrupting the system civilly is necessary.  No one is well served by increased homelessness for the many and increased profit for a few.

Access the articles:

Why Manhattan’s Skyscrapers Are Empty

Moms 4 Housing: Deal reached to negotiate sale of West Oakland house to nonprofit

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