Ethics and Homeless People Treatment

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Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

Do You See Me? Ethical Considerations of the Homeless
The homeless are often seen around city parks, on highways, or under bridges. In big
cities, the homeless gather for safety or sleep during the day time to avoid harm. In an attempt to
discover new knowledge, a researcher may enter the culture with a planned research project in
order to explore a research problem. Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay At times, it is the researcher who learns and the homeless
who teach as the invisible become visible. This is an exploration of such an experience that
occurred as the research project was being prepared. A homeless man in New Orleans, Louisiana,
opened the eyes of the researcher. The research purpose began to fade as human frailty came into
sight.

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The Inequality in Life and Death
Our society focuses on the event of death. It is believed important to alleviate
suffering and to promote a pleasant death. There is extensive education available to teach
ways to care for those at the end of their life. As soon as the impending death is known,
caregivers begin planning the place, the medications, and the support. The underlying
thought is to alleviate as much suffering as possible. With the homeless, there is daily
suffering in survival against the elements. What happens when death is near for the
homeless? The person who is homeless is basically alone, without family. It is an amazing
thought that one dying person is provided such care while another person may die alone on a
park bench without so much as a gentle touch. The homeless often are without support and
family (Song, Ratner, & Bartels, 2005).
If then, society does not want to allow the person who is dying to suffer, should not the
same benefit be awarded to the person who is alive, sometimes suffering, and homeless? Song,
Ratner, & Bartels (2005) point out that the homeless do not have access to care in some
DO YOU SEE ME? ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE HOMELESS 3
situations, but have extreme living situations filled with dangers. Food, safety, and shelter are the
daily concerns for the person who is homeless. Concerns of death due to violence are common;
death is not thought of as a result of illness. Death is always with the homeless, a part of life.
People who are homeless voice a feeling of being shunned by the community. And the homeless
wonder what will happen to their body after death, and will anyone even respect it.
He lay on a shaded bench on the edge of Jackson Square. The wind stirred the branches
over him. With the early morning rain, it was cool in the park. His hand supported his
head keeping it from the hard wood. Next to him was a faded blue backpack; an army
coat covered his thin body. No one seemed to notice him as they scurried by talking and
laughing. He was invisible. He slept peacefully, seemingly free of the encumbrances of
life, unworried, and unhurried.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay
An Obligation to Care
America has become anesthetized to the person who is homeless (Mangano, 2002). The
person is indeed invisible to the public. Mangano, the Federal Homeless Czar, said homelessness
should be abolished; it is a “violation of human dignity” (para. 10). Mangano said homelessness
does not follow the spiritual ideal. Those who are homeless should be fed and clothed. He recalls
the writing of Simone Weil, a woman who lived in France and wrote about the obligations of the
public. She believed anyone who was an elected official had the responsibility to promote caring
for the homeless; it should be a top priority.
If, as some believe, it is the moral and ethical thing to do, to care for the poor, where is
the outcry as cities create laws against feeding the poor in parks? It is illegal to hand food to the
poor in the park in Las Vegas. The homeless are not all identical in need and condition; some
homeless are mentally disturbed and some have recently lost work and have been thrown into the
DO YOU SEE ME? ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE HOMELESS 4
situation. By one law, the entire populations of people who are homeless have been affected
regardless of the reason for their situation (Institute for Global Ethics, 2006).
Is living on the street a crime? Does a person have a right to be homeless? Being
homeless is a complex issue. If a family is homeless, is it the right thing to do to report the
situation to protect the children? Kellenberg (2012) said, not so fast. “One significant legal and
ethical issue facing homeless shelters is whether child services should be notified of homeless
families with children” (para. 1). Child services may remove the child from the family and place
the child in foster care or an institution. Which is better, homeless with family or
institutionalized? When something happens to the homeless, who provides legal counsel to help
resolve the situation, and is it sufficient and accessible?
He was so still except for his slow rhythmic breathing. It was cool out, and his chest was
protected by his arms that were wound around him. From the shaded gate, I stood under
the tree looking at him; he was one of the many homeless in New Orleans. He was not
really invisible, but unseen and unnoticed, even avoided. Would I have noticed him last
year? At the end of the long bench, where he slept, I sat down a few feet from his head.
Suddenly, he opened his eyes and tilted his oval face toward me. I asked if I was
bothering him, sitting on the bench. He replied, no, it was nice to have someone sit by
him, he said. He sat up and stretched, then looked at me. Finally, after a minute or two, I
asked how he was doing. He looked over at me again and replied, fine. Small talk ensued.
He talked about the cold and the rain. He told me he usually slept there in the daytime
where people were about, because it was too dangerous to sleep at night; you had to be
watchful at night. People don’t usually talk to me, he said, why are you? Suspicious, I
thought, but I did not blame him. I told him I just couldn’t pass him by without speaking,
DO YOU SEE ME? ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE HOMELESS 5
and that I was preparing for a research study later on in the year. A research study about
homeless people? he asked. Yes, I replied.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay
Describing and Counting the Homeless
The number of actual people who are homeless is difficult to ascertain. The National
Coalition for the Homeless estimated in the past year that 3.5 million people experienced
homelessness (2012). Each night in the United States, around 730,000 are homeless. Most counts
are accomplished at shelters, but many homeless do not frequent shelters. Many people who are
homeless are able to find a place to wash and dress, and are really not noted as homeless, but
they are homeless. They represent the invisible homeless (Public Broadcasting System, 2002,
April 5).
There are many people who are called homeless. Some stay with others, some frequent
park benches, some stay in shelters or cars. Homeless might mean living on trains, in the woods,
or behind a store. Because of this, it is difficult to count the number of people who are homeless
on any given night. Some counts are done during a brief period at shelters; therefore, those who
are out in the elements are not included. Those who are homeless are sometimes classified as
sheltered or unsheltered. Sheltered means the person is living in a temporary place, or is waiting
to be placed in a permanent place. Unsheltered means the person is living in a place, like the city
park or is sleeping in a vacant building (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Office of Community Planning and Development, 2010).
According to United States Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (2010), the
homeless using shelters are mostly male (62%). Anyone, regardless of their age, race, or gender,
can become homeless. Approximately, 1.59 million people used a shelter for the homeless
DO YOU SEE ME? ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE HOMELESS 6
between 2009 and 2010. Mental illness is present in 26.2% of the homeless; 34.7% suffer with
chemical dependency issues.
He asked if I would come back and interview him when the project started. You can
always find me right here, right here on this bench, he said. Behind him, in the blooming
salmon colored azalea bushes, two bare feet were sticking out from the shrubs and a
slight snoring was heard. I switched my gaze to the man on the ground. He followed my
eyes and said he drank all night; he’s just sleeping it off.
Who Reaps Research Benefits?
The personal contact made with this person who is homeless was initiated because of an
upcoming qualitative research project. During this time, the researcher was learning the area and
the culture. This seeing of the person might not have occurred if the researcher was not learning
the culture. It is important to ask if any research, but especially this piece, will benefit the people
that are being studied and not solely the researcher. Researchers benefit from publications, tenure
and promotion from publications, by speaking engagements and travel to other places to present
the research, and by a fame of sorts as the researcher becomes the sought after expert.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay
The researcher must also consider the effect on the person being studied. Is this an
attempt to socially control the homeless by discovering remedies of the situation through
research? Does the person who is homeless want to be rescued? This person who was homeless
had no door to close on a researcher and no control of his surroundings except to walk away.
Does the researcher have a power over those being researched? And then again, the homeless
may have concerns about information collected but bow down to the officials and researchers
(Firdion, Marpsat, & Bozon, 2005).
DO YOU SEE ME? ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE HOMELESS 7
Is research truly giving a voice to those who do not have a voice? A research group
called CUHP (Constructing Understanding of the Homeless Population) (2012) is collecting
information about research with the homeless. They espouse that collection of life views and
statistics may bring about improved care for the homeless. People who are homeless are left out
of society, ignore, invisible, and that demonstrates vulnerability in itself. Meade and Slesnick
(2002) considered the ethical issues when doing research with homeless youth. The youth are
often without parental guidance. Adults and children alike may be mentally ill and unable to
fully consent to the research. Even though a person consents to the research, how might the
researcher know if the person is cognitively able to participate? Is the homeless person fearful of
the researcher or paranoid about the reason? Does the illness make the person paranoid?
Environmental problems exist for the person who is sheltered or unsheltered; do these
problems affect consent? Although Meade and Slesnick were studying youth, might these
questions apply to adults? Munetz, Galon, & Frese (2002) wrote about mandatory community
treatment for the mentally ill. Many people who are homeless suffer from mental illness. They
argue there are people who are seriously mentally ill and who deny they need treatment. When
the illness deteriorates, the person needs commitment and subsequently will be treated. After
release back on the street, the medications may not be taken, and the cycle begins again.
Through interviews, if the person is found to be deteriorating mentally, does it ethically violate
the person’s rights to report the person for the person’s own protection? This reporting may
cause commitment to an institution for the person.
The Frailty Comes Into View Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay
It is with much concern that researchers face the homeless. The disadvantaged are
vulnerable. Beauchamp, Jennings, Kinney, and Levine (2002) found many homeless have
DO YOU SEE ME? ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE HOMELESS 8
specific personality issues and insufficient coping mechanisms that put them at risk. There are
addiction problems, abuse histories, mental illness, a lack of power, and a hopelessness at times
that makes the homeless vulnerable. “Homeless persons thus may be forced to make tradeoffs
among their interests that more advantaged persons need not make” (p. 550). Some researchers
offer money for participation. For the person who is hungry, the researcher has an unfair
advantage, and the researcher is a figure of “authority, unequal power and knowledge” (p. 550).
It is well known that the disadvantaged are sought as laborers for cheap pay. Does the
disadvantage create exploitation? At the same time, is pay for research a reason to ignore the
homeless as participants who could benefit from the gain of money? Does inclusion in research
remedy the invisible issue and allow the person to feel helpful to society?
People who are homeless often present to institutions for care; usually the emergency
room. Reasons to seek care commonly include tuberculosis, mental illness, addiction, and abuse,
along with other health problems (Faragher, Hayes, Hayes, 2007).
He began to talk about the gas station down the street where he could actually bathe. The
waiters in the restaurant on the corner, the one with the blinking neon sign, hand him
food out the back door. He told about the soup kitchen that is crowded and not so tasty,
but better than nothing. The travel there was dangerous by foot. He knew about all the
places he frequented sometimes. But his preference was to have a cup of coffee and
beignets from the famous café across the street, and if he could get six dollars, that
was enough for dinner. Some days, he was very lucky. Right here on this little square, he
said, there are restaurants, a bathroom, and waiter friends. He preferred to sleep on the
bench in broad daylight where he was safe. Here, he was invisible. At night, he hid in the
bushes. A smile broke across his face, and I looked at him closely. Last night, a
DO YOU SEE ME? ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE HOMELESS 9
policeman came up and tapped my foot. I was sleeping right over there. He said he didn’t
want to arrest me, but since I was on the camera, he had to tell me to move on. Try and
not get near the cameras where people can see, I should have told you to move. Kindness,
from a policeman, he said.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay
Caring has Facets
Outside a church in New York, the police did come and ask the homeless to leave. In
cardboard boxes, huddled for warmth, having found a safe place to sleep, the homeless had
settled in for the night. The church pastor did not mind. Reverend Tewell, the Church Pastor,
said the police came and woke up the homeless. He referred to it as harassment. The church sued
the city and was successful in their quest to keep the homeless at their door. The homeless said
the shelters were dangerous, and it was safer near the church (Public Broadcasting System, 2002,
March 29). Esthetics had lost to safety and human caring as the homeless are criminalized, but
there was an appeal to reverse the ruling.
Mangano (Public Broadcasting Service, 2002, April 5), the homeless Czar for the United
States, said churches should have the right to allow people who are homeless to stay inside and
outside the church. Many homeless are afraid to enter the shelters that are provided for them. Not
only are they afraid of assault, but people with mental illness may be afraid of the confinement.
He used most of the facilities that provide for the homeless in New Orleans. A story
unfolded about a back injury that caused him to lose his job. He was terminated from
employment, because he had been drinking that day. Without insurance or a job, he was
unable to have the surgery he needed, and his fractured vertebras had not healed. He had
found God at the shelter and now believed he was under his care. He pulled the bright
green Bible from his backpack and showed me. What will happen-will happen, he said.
DO YOU SEE ME? ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE HOMELESS 10
He exhibited a gentle spirit at peace with the world and his life. He could not stay on the
bench forever. It would become more and more difficult to tolerate as he aged. A cough
arose that almost strangled him. He was not well.
Abbarno presented to the newspaper an article that detailed an opportunity for the city to
assist the homeless. The suggestion was for the city to build a town for the homeless on some
donated land. The homeless could make their own rules, run their own town, and live there
peacefully. Lots of land would be given away by lottery. His article was returned unpublished.
The editor rejected the piece. Abbarno believed this did not come to fruition, because the
homeless did not donate money to the political funds and did not vote. The powerful had little
interest in the project, as it did not benefit them. Tindner (2002), in a comment about the
perspective, wrote that the editor denied to perspective publication, because the wealthy ignored Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay
the situation.
Conclusion
This was an exploration of what a researcher learned from a homeless person. The
research problem and purpose faded as the researcher was faced with the truth about the daily
struggles of the homeless. As the researcher talked and explained the future project, the tables
turned. The homeless gentleman began to ask questions. The one that stuck out like jagged glass
was his inquiry as to why the researcher stopped to sit by him. Honestly, the researcher replied,
he touched the researcher’s heart. He smiled.
Most people, he continued, do not see me. They pass me by like I don’t exist. Invisible,
that’s what I am, he said.
And that jolted the researcher, because the researcher remembered not seeing either only
a few years ago. Perhaps, it is fear that causes some to not see, or a feeling of helplessness that
DO YOU SEE ME? ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE HOMELESS 11
causes people to walk by without stopping. The sun was out then, peaking through the oak
branches. Steam rose from the streets, and the horse draw carriages pulled up to the curb. As the
researcher studied the horses and mules, the homeless man studied the researcher. Finally, he
broke the silence. Timidly, he started to speak.
Whatever caused you to stop today, to really look at me and ask me how I was doing,
don’t lose that, whatever it was. See me, and see us all out here in the cold and heat. He
stood and gathered his backpack and coat. If you are here when I return, I will stop
again if you do not mind. A smile lit his face, and he reassured me that would be
wonderful. He extended his hand and shook mine with gentleness.
With that simple gesture, the meeting was over. He walked away fully visible to anyone
wanting to see. And people nodded and spoke to me as they passed, and the rain fell upon the
bench gently. Apparently, I was not invisible. Without the research preparation, the getting into
the community, he would still be unseen. The visit with the man who was homeless suddenly
became much more than the exploration of the research environment. An awareness of the
invisibility of the homeless had come forth. Suddenly, the researcher was aware and saw for the
first time the trials of the homeless.

The Homeless Perception and Reality I come from a fairly large city in California so I’ve been around many homeless people throughout my life. I’ve had good and bad experiences when it comes to being around them and dealing with them. My initial view of the homeless is that they are somewhat lazy and that a lot of them are on drugs. I feel this way because I’ve seen and dealt with so many sick, obnoxious people on the streets aggressively asking for money. I always think to myself, if I were in that situation I would find a way. There are so many resources that help people get back on their feet. Instead of begging on the streets, I would go get help. Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay
Many companies, some of which people have been employed with for years have to make cuts sometimes to save money with the changing economy. Some people get hurt at work, in car accidents, etc. and can no longer work. Some people have mental illnesses that keep them from ever holding a steady job. There are also those who have just had a hard life, whether it is a bad family growing up or an unfortunate tragedy that has happened to them. This can happen anywhere in the world. From the readings, I learned that Europeans are more compassionate toward the homeless than Americans, which I found really sad. No matter what the circumstances are, these people are living such a poor quality of life and it’s devastating. It’s true that most people don’t even acknowledge their existence while passing them by. It’s like they’re not even there to most people because they don’t know how to accept that people actually have to live this way. My views on the homeless have changed. Not dramatically because I already felt very sympathetic toward most homeless people, but I learned a myriad of things I wasn’t aware of before. I really never thought about the fact that they feel unseen and unheard. I guess subconsciously I know that many people here in the United States are afraid of what they don’t know and like to pretend that things like this don’t exist in their community. I don’t understand how people can be so cold and apathetic towards other human beings who live under such

Homelessness is about human rights
People experiencing homelessness face violations of a wide range of human rights.

Access to safe and secure housing is one of the most basic human rights. However, homelessness is not just about housing. Fundamentally, homelessness is about lack of connectedness with family, friends and the community and lack of control over one’s environment.

A person who is homeless may face violations of the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to education, the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to privacy, the right to social security, the right to freedom from discrimination, the right to vote, and many more.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

These human rights are protected by a number of international human rights treaties, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). As a party to all these treaties, Australia is under legal and moral obligations to promote, protect and realise the human rights of all people.

This paper explores the many ways that homelessness impacts on a person’s ability to enjoy basic rights and freedoms. It shows that homelessness is more than just a housing issue. Homelessness is about human rights. Homeless people are not merely objects of charity, seeking help and compassion – like all Australians, they are individuals entitled to the protection and promotion of their human rights. Since human rights belong to everyone, it is in the interests of the Australian community as a whole to ensure that the rights of homeless people are respected and protected.

  1. What is homelessness?
    Homelessness is defined under Australian federal law as ‘inadequate access to safe and secure housing’.[1] This exists where the only housing to which a person has access:Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

is likely to damage the person’s health
threatens the person’s safety
marginalises the person by failing to provide access to adequate personal amenities or the normal economic and social support of a home, or
places the person in circumstances that threaten or adversely affect the adequacy, safety, security and affordability of that housing.[2]
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has identified several categories of homelessness in our society. These categories define homelessness in relation to minimum community standards regarding housing. They highlight that homelessness affects people in different ways, depending on their personal situation and needs.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

For some people, being homeless means being ‘roofless’ – living on the streets, in parks or in deserted buildings. This is known as primary homelessness and is the most visible kind of homelessness.[3] For other people, being homeless means moving between various types of temporary shelters, such as the homes of friends and relatives, refuges and hostels; or living in boarding houses on a long-term basis, with shared amenities and without security of tenure.[4] The ABS categorises this as secondary or tertiary homelessness.

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The ABS also identifies a category of people who are ‘marginally housed’. These people are living close to the minimum community standard of housing, such as a family staying with relatives on a long-term basis or a couple renting a caravan without security of tenure.[5] While not strictly within the current definition of people who are homeless, there is debate as to whether their experience of inadequate housing means they should be included in the group of homeless persons.[6]Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

  1. What are some of the causes of homelessness?
    Just as there are many different ways in which a person can be affected by homelessness, there are many different causes of homelessness. Poverty and the inability to afford adequate housing are central to the causes of homelessness. These circumstances may result from a number of different experiences, including long-term or short-term unemployment, debt and other financial pressures, and housing market pressures, such as rising rental and house prices and the lack of public housing.

Financial difficulty is often accompanied by other personal or family problems, such as family breakdown, domestic violence, poor physical and mental health, substance and other addictions. The inability to cope with combinations of these problems can push individuals and families even closer to the edge.

Even before a person becomes homeless, they may be living at the margins of the society, with few connections to family and the community. Social isolation can mean that they lack the necessary support to assist them through periods of stress and help them manage ongoing problems.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

  1. How many people are affected by homelessness?
    Homelessness is a significant issue facing Australia. The 2001 Census recorded almost 100 000 people living in Australia who are experiencing homelessness. This figure showed no substantial decrease in the five years since 1996, despite Australia’s current economic prosperity and growth.[7]

The Census figures also show that homelessness affects people of all ages:

10% of homeless persons are under 12 years old
36% are between the ages of 12 and 24
30% are between the ages of 25 and 44
24% are over 45 years old.[8]

  1. Who is affected by homelessness?
    Homelessness affects a wide range of people from different regions, of different ages and different cultural backgrounds. Some groups, however, are particularly at risk of becoming homeless.

5.1 Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by homelessness
While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up only 2% of Australia’s population, they represent 9% of the total homeless population and 19% of people in improvised housing.[9]Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

Indigenous people in Australia face greater social and economic disadvantage than other sectors of the population. Low levels of education and training, high levels of unemployment, persistent physical and mental health problems and substance addiction all contribute to the high levels of homelessness in Indigenous communities. Many regional and remote communities also face severe housing shortages, which continue to push rent and house prices to unaffordable levels.

Indigenous communities in all areas of Australia endure housing conditions well below those of the general population. Houses are typically overcrowded and lacking in basic amenities, such as adequate sewerage and access to telecommunications.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

Also contributing to Indigenous housing problems is the lack of culturally appropriate housing. Housing in Indigenous communities is often inadequate as it does not cater for the cultural importance of communal and outdoor living and the significance of using public space for cultural activities. This denies Indigenous people the right to fully enjoy their culture and to take part in cultural life, guaranteed under both the ICCPR and ICESCR.[10]

For more information on homelessness and other human rights issues facing Indigenous Australians, see our webpage on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

5.2 Women are significantly affected by homelessness
Statistics suggest that as much as 42% of the homeless population in Australia is female. However, homeless women are often less visible than men and the extent to which homelessness affects women is often underestimated.[11] Homeless women tend to remain out of sight, away from areas where homeless people congregate, for fear of violence, rape or other abuse.[12]

The major causes of homelessness amongst women include domestic violence, sexual assault and family breakdown. These experiences force women from their home, along with their children, in search of a safer place to live. Women in these situations may find they are unable to care for their children and may be forced to place them in the care of family, friends or social services. Some women do not identify themselves as homeless, but rather as targets of abuse, unable to return to their homes.[13]Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

Women who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless often lack control over their lives because they are dependent on others to provide accommodation. They may be pressured to enter into and remain in relationships that offer shelter, even if this places them at risk of harm, in order to meet their immediate needs and the needs of their families.[14]

Women with disability are particularly vulnerable to homelessness. This is because they are more likely to face the causes of homelessness than men with disability and the general population. For example, women with disability have greater levels of unemployment, earn lower incomes and are at greater risk of physical and sexual abuse.[66]Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

Women experiencing homelessness require specialised support services to cater for their particular needs. Such services include sexual assault and domestic violence counselling, pregnancy services, protection of physical safety, income support, and assistance with legal issues, such as parental rights.

For more information on human rights issues facing women, see our webpage on Sex Discrimination.

5.3 Children and young people are disproportionately affected by homelessness
Youth homelessness is one of the biggest problems facing Australia. Current statistics show that almost half of all homeless persons are less than 24 years of age.[15]

Homelessness amongst children and young people is strongly linked to relationship and family breakdown, domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse, anxiety or depression, unemployment and substance abuse. Young people may also find themselves homeless when their families are unable to afford suitable housing or are evicted from their housing.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

In addition to protection under the general body of human rights law, children under the age of 18 are entitled to special rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These include the right to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development and the right to protection against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation.[16]

Children who are homeless are likely to face constant violation of these rights and are forced to endure conditions which are detrimental to their health and development. Homeless children and young people often suffer from extreme levels of distress, low self-esteem, depression, mental health problems and behavioural problems because they are victims of or witnesses to abuse. They are also at high risk of exploitation and further exposure to violence, and often have difficulty participating in school education.

In 1989, the Commission conducted a National Inquiry into Homeless Children. The inquiry revealed disturbingly high rates of homelessness amongst children and young people and highlighted the lack of accommodation available. A range of recommendations were made aimed at improving access to education, training and employment, and increasing the availability of properly resourced and coordinated support services. Seventeen years on, the rate of youth homelessness in Australia remains shamefully high. The 2001 Census showed that 46% of all homeless people are aged 24 or under.[17]Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

5.4 People with mental illness are disproportionately affected by homelessness
A large proportion of the homeless population is affected by mental illness, making them one of the most vulnerable and isolated groups in our society. Mental illness is one of the primary causes of homelessness. People with a mental illness often experience social isolation, have difficulty accessing employment, education and support services, and generally lack control over their lives.

Homeless people affected by mental illness have a range of special needs that require specific types of accommodation and support services. Currently, however, these needs are not being met. Research has shown that there is a critical shortage of appropriate and affordable housing for homeless people with a mental illness. Many people live in homeless shelters and boarding houses, where conditions are inappropriate and inadequate for housing people with mental illnesses. This poses a major obstacle to recovery and effective rehabilitation.

During the day, there [are] up to two or three hundred people on the premises. For anyone with a psychiatric disability that is quite frightening, to be in amongst people with psychiatric, intellectual, drug and alcoholic dependency.[18]Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

In 1993, the Commission conducted a National Inquiry into the Human Rights of People with Mental Illness.[19] The inquiry highlighted the alarming shortage of appropriate services and treatment available to homeless people with mental illness. It made a number of recommendations directed at improving coordination of government and private sector agencies, and ensuring that staff at shelters and refuges be given appropriate training in caring for people with mental illness.

In 2005, the Commission, in association with the Mental Health Council of Australia and the Brain and Mind Research Institute, conducted a national review of the delivery of health care services to people with mental illness. The final report, Not for Service, identified the link between homelessness and mental health issues and urged all Australian governments to recognise the need for national mental health reform.[20]

For more information about human rights issues facing people with disabilities, see our webpage on Disability Rights.

5.5 Refugees and asylum seekers are disproportionately affected by homelessness
People coming to Australia as asylum-seekers or refugees are particularly vulnerable to homelessness due to poverty and social isolation. Depending on which category of visa an asylum-seeker or refugee holds, visa conditions may restrict the right to work, the right to social security, entitlement to Medicare, and entitlement to government assistance for education and training.[21] Consequently, refugees and asylum-seekers may be totally dependent on community support services, which are fragmented and critically under resourced.Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

Many refugees have little knowledge about and understanding of services available to them. New arrivals in particular face social isolation caused by fragmentation of family units, language barriers and lack of connections with the community and support networks.[22]

I had no place to sleep for a little while. I didn’t know where to go to get help. I drove to the country and stayed in the forest there for a little while.[23]

In addition to the social and economic isolation experienced by refugees, many refugees and asylum-seekers come to Australia having survived conflict and trauma, and are grieving the loss of family, community and country. Support services, including housing support, must be designed to manage these needs.

Research has shown that children and young people coming to Australia as refugees are at even greater risk of homelessness and have distinct needs that must be addressed independently of their family or carers’ needs.[24] The CRC guarantees protection for children who come to Australia seeking asylum.[25] Many young people have had limited or disrupted schooling, they may come to Australia alone or in the care of someone unfamiliar to them, and there may be significant religious and cultural barriers that prevent them from taking advantage of available services.[26]Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

For more information on human rights issues facing asylum seekers and refugees, see our webpage on Asylum Seekers and Refugees.

  1. How does homelessness impact on the enjoyment of human rights?
    6.1 Homelessness is a breach of the right to adequate housing
    International human rights law recognises that every person has the right to an adequate standard of living. This right includes the right to adequate housing.[27]

The right to housing is more than simply a right to shelter. It is a right to have somewhere to live that is adequate. Whether housing is adequate depends on a range of factors including:

legal security of tenure
availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure
affordability
accessibility
habitability
location
cultural adequacy.[28]
As a party to the ICESCR, Australian governments at all levels are under an obligation to progressively implement the right to adequate housing. This requires ‘concrete’, ‘targeted’, ‘expeditious’ and ‘effective’ steps, including budgetary prioritisation.[29] In the case of children protected by the CRC, the government has an immediate obligation to take all appropriate measures to implement this right.

In a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2006, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Miloon Kathari, found that Australia had ‘failed to implement its legal obligation to progressively realise the human right to adequate housing…particularly in view of its responsibilities as a rich and prosperous country’.[30]Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay

Some of the specific problems relating to housing in Australia identified by the Special Rapporteur included:

location
the lack of complaints mechanisms for alleging violations of housing rights
the existence of laws which criminalise poverty and homelessness, such as laws which prohibit sleeping and drinking in public
laws that disproportionately impact on homeless people, such as begging laws, public drinking laws and public space laws.[31]
The Special Rapporteur also noted the ‘absolute decline in the availability of low-cost rental housing in both public and private sectors’.[32] Low income households are spending more that 30% of their income on rent or are forced to live in houses which are in poor condition and have little access to services. At the same time, there has been a decline in public housing stock in the face of increasing demand. The result is what the Special Rapporteur described as a serious national housing crisis, affecting many sections of the population. Ethics and Homeless People Treatment Essay