Call for Input: Decriminalization of homelessness and extreme poverty

30 August 2021

Issued by:
Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal
Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier de Schutter
Purpose:
To receive an overview on laws and regulations at national, federal state or local level that may still prohibit or sanction begging, staying, sleeping, easting or undertaking any other life sustaining activities in public spaces.
Deadline:
Closed

Objectives

The Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights (A/HRC/21/39), adopted by Human Rights Council resolution 21/11 in September 2012 underline that States should "repeal and reform any laws that criminalize life-sustaining activities in public places, such as sleeping, begging, eating or performing personal hygiene activities". Furthermore States should "review sanctions procedures that require the payment of disproportionate fines by persons living in poverty, especially those related to begging, use of public space and welfare fraud, and consider abolishing prison sentences for non-payment of fines for those unable to pay".

The Guidelines for the Implementation of the Right to Adequate Housing (A/HRC/43/43), specify that "States should prohibit and address discrimination on the ground of homelessness or other housing status and repeal all laws and measures that criminalize or penalize homeless people or behaviour associated with being homeless, such as sleeping or eating in public spaces. The forced eviction of homeless persons from public spaces and the destruction of their personal belongings must be prohibited. Homeless persons should be equally protected from interference with privacy and the home, wherever they are living." They further recommend: "States should provide, within their justice system, alternative procedures for dealing with minor offences of homeless people to help them break the cycle of criminalization, incarceration and homelessness and secure the right to housing."

Similarly in June 2020 the Human Rights Council called in resolution 43/14 on States to "take all measures necessary to eliminate legislation that criminalized homelessness."

Key questions and input sought

The Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights have sent in June 2021 a request for information to all Member States of the Council of Europe and to European and National City Networks and Associations.

The Special Rapporteurs invite as well other States, local Governments, civil society organizations, National Human Rights Institutions, national associations working with the homeless, and other relevant stakeholders to submit information concerning the following issues:

  • Laws or regulations that prohibit begging, eating, sleeping, or performing personal hygienic activities in all or certain public places, including their texts and whether they are still in force and enforced.
  • Laws or regulations that allow for petty offences the detention or imprisonment of individuals who are unable to pay the respective fine.
  • Comments whether any of these laws and regulations may violate international human rights law.
  • Information about attempts made or planned to decriminalize begging, eating, sleeping or performing personal hygienic activities in public places.
  • Measures and services available at municipal, regional or national level to support people living in poverty from having to resort to beg, sleep, wash, defecate or perform other hygienic activities in public places, because they lack access to employment, social assistance, adequate housing, public showers and toilets.

Responses received

States

Local and regional Authorities and Associations

Human Rights Institutions, Ombudspersons

Civil Society and Academics