“Learning to see the homeless as human beings”: HRDs present report on homeless people in Belarus
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Human Constanta and the Partnership for Human Rights Libereco presented a joint report “Homeless People and the Right to Housing in Belarus” and an online resource about the problems of people without a home.
The initiative focused on studying and highlighting the problems of homeless people in Belarus in order to improve their situation and rights of these people.
The human rights activists covered an array of problems faced by the homeless in our country: the right to housing, discrimination, restrictions on access to public places, arbitrary detention, eviction without providing alternative accommodation, stigmatization, hate speech, and others.
The goal of the research is analyzing public policies and mechanisms of assistance to homeless persons in Belarus in terms of the right of everyone to adequate housing, as well as the presentation of the problems faced by homeless people in gaining access to such mechanisms that impede the full exercise of their rights or result in direct violations.
During the presentation held on April 25 in Minsk, Aleh Hulak, chairperson of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, noted that the researchers wanted to highlight the problem, to force it to the domain of public discussion and debate.
“We are not offering any “recipes” to cure the problem. But it is important to show the problem, to talk about those approaches that could help to develop solutions related to the emergence of homelessness,” he said.
The human rights activist noted that Belarus is currently implementing a UN program “Sustainable Development Goals”, and has already submitted its report arguing that there is no poverty in the country, and, therefore, there is no homelessness.
The activists have analyzed the legislation and international mechanisms, which affect the exercise of the rights of homeless people, media reports, and conducted a series of interviews with people who identify themselves as homeless.
“The problem starts at the level of defining homeless people, and after this the question arises of how many people are in this situation and since we do not have a clear definition for all government bodies, there are no unified statistics, and, therefore, no comprehensive policy for dealing with the problem of homelessness,” Hulak said.
The expert noted that Belarus has not yet developed any policy to tackle homelessness. Nor are there any legal and policy instruments in force to take coordinated action.
There is also a problem of negative attitudes by the police.
“But working directly with homeless people, we found that in fact none of the interviewees said that they have chosen their lives consciously, that homelessness is their lifestyle, and they want to live this way. It's always a coincidence, which the person cannot cope with, for objective qualities and lack of preparation, and wants to get out of this situation,” Aleh Hulak stressed.
The report also provides recommendations to state authorities, including:
- adopting a state program to prevent, reduce and mitigate the consequences of homelessness, based on a human rights approach to housing policies;
- reviewing existing methods of collecting statistics of homelessness with a view to adopting an approach based on an adequate definition of homelessness;
- taking measures to combat discrimination, stigmatization and the spread of negative stereotypes of homeless people;
- taking steps to prevent unjustified limitation of access to public places;
- preventing the recurrence of mass detention practices, administrative arrests, and removal of homeless people outside the city on the occasion of the European Games to be held in Minsk in June 2019;
- taking measures to prevent evictions entailing homelessness of those evicted, and others.
Human Constanta co-founder Nasta Loika said that the activists launched a special Internet page, which, on the one hand, accumulates information about organizations and initiatives that are already helping the homeless, and, on the other hand, offers publications that reveal the actual stories of the homeless.
“One of our goals was showing how one can work with the issue of homelessness, take into account the particular situations of people, abandon to use the word “bomzh” (Russian derogatory acronym for a person of no fixed abode”), show the problems of homeless people, instead of turning them into abbreviations, and in the end — learning to see homeless people as human beings,” Loika said.
Subsequently, representatives of the human rights organizations are planning to include information on homelessness in an alternative report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which will be presented in 2020, and will continue to work in various areas in order to overcome the problem of homelessness in Belarus and stigmatization of the homeless.