Toronto guide talks of human rights and plans for homeless youth

A new guide released in Toronto on Thursday shows how to include human rights into plans and strategies for homeless youth after the United Nations asked countries around the globe to make eliminating homelessness a top human rights priority.

The Your Rights! Right Now! Ending Youth Homelessness: A Human Rights Guide is designed to help those developing local and national strategies, community plans and policies for homeless youth to use a human rights approach. It shows why a human rights approach should be used, provides 10 steps on how to make it work, including immediate obligations, short-term targets and long-term goals, as well as a checklist to ensure plans comply with international law and uphold youth rights.

“It also shows that a human rights approach is not just about what goes into a youth homelessness strategy or community plan, but also about how it is developed,” said Melanie Redman, Executive Director of A Way Home Canada. “Youth must be meaningfully engaged at every step of the process. This may be the single most critical aspect to a successful strategy.”

The guide was created by Canada Without Poverty in partnership with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (Homeless Hub) at York University, A Way Home Canada and the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless.

Identifying systemic causes

A human rights framework not only puts those affected at the centre of decision making, it brings human rights to the forefront of decision making to help identify systemic causes of homelessness. It addresses immediate needs while targeting structural causes and changes how youth homelessness is understood so better solutions can be created. It empowers youth to bring concerns forward and when their human rights are violated, they can access justice. It also prioritizes those in the most desperate of circumstances and requires thought about the consequences of every policy decision.

Youth homelessness is not merely a result of individual circumstances, but systemic patterns of inequality, exclusion and neglect, and of a failure of states to act on their responsibilities as human rights protectors. According to Leilani Farha, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, “Homelessness is, in fact, a violation of Canada’s human rights obligations. In other words, it’s the failure of Canada to implement the right to housing, the right to an adequate standard of living and other human rights that result in youth homelessness.”

Fundamental legal right

“A human rights approach embraces the idea that all young people have a fundamental, legal right to be free of homelessness and to have access to adequate housing,” said York U Professor Stephen Gaetz, director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. “Homeless youth face incredible barriers to accessing services, securing safe and affordable housing and claiming rights.”

Many of the approximately 1.9 million teens who find themselves homeless every year in the United States, along with about 35,000 in Canada and at least 83,000 in the United Kingdom have experienced human rights violations before and during their time on the streets. Some of the most vulnerable to human rights abuses and becoming homeless include LGBTQ2 youth, youth fleeing violence and abuse, newcomer youth, those exiting care, Indigenous youth, youth with mental health issues and those involved with the criminal justice system.

In addition, the guide shows how to incorporate the rights that are of particular importance for youth, including a right to an adequate standard of living, housing, food, work, education, heath, equality, freedom of expression, life, access to justice, freedom of assembly, to personal security and privacy, and freedom from discrimination. – CNW

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