Reportagem publicada no site do jornal The Guardian, que inclusive foi manchete nesta quinta-feira!
UN investigator accuses US of shameful neglect of homeless
UN special rapporteur says wealthy US ignoring deepening homeless crisis while pumping billions into bank rescues
Chris McGreal in Los Angeles - Thursday 12 November 2009 15.12 GMT
A homeless man in California. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
A United Nations special investigator who was blocked from visiting the US by the Bush administration has accused the American government of pouring billions of dollars into rescuing banks and big business while treating as “invisible” a deepening homeless crisis.
Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur for the right to adequate housing, who has just completed a seven-city tour of America, said it was shameful that a country as wealthy as the US was not spending more money on lifting its citizens out of homelessness and substandard, overcrowded housing.
“The housing crisis is invisible for many in the US,” she said. “I learned through this visit that real affordable housing and poverty is something that hasn’t been dealt with as an issue. Even if we talk about the financial crisis and government stepping in in order to promote economic recovery, there is no such help for the homeless.”
She added: “I think those who are suffering the most in this whole situation are the very poor, the low-income population. The burden is disproportionately on them and it’s of course disproportionately on African-Americans, on Latinos and immigrant communities, and on Native Americans.”
Rolnik toured Chicago, New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Wilkes-Barre, a Pennsylvania town where this year the first four sheriff sales – public auctions of seized property – in the county included 598 foreclosed properties. She also visited a Native American reservation.
The US government does not tally the numbers but interested organisations say that more than 3 million people were homeless at some point over the past year. The fastest growing segment of the homeless population is families with children, often single parents. On any given night in Los Angeles, about 17,000 parents and children are homeless. Most will be found a place in a shelter but many single men and women are forced to sleep on the streets.
Los Angeles, which is described as the homeless capital of America, has endured an 18-fold increase in housing foreclosures. Evictions from owned and rented homes have risen about tenfold, with 62,400 people forced out last year in Los Angeles county.
Welfare payments are not enough to meet the rent, let alone food and other necessities. A single person on welfare living in Los Angeles receives $221 (£133) a month – an amount that hasn’t changed in a decade. The rent for one room is typically nearly double that.
Rolnik said that while she saw difficult conditions in all the places she visited, the worst was on the Native American reservation of Pine Ridge in South Dakota.
“You see total hopelessness, despair, very bad conditions. Nothing I have seen in other cities compared to the physical condition of the housing at Pine Ridge. Nothing compared to the overcrowding. They’re not visible, they’re isolated, they’re far away. They’re just lost,” she said.
Rolnik says that one of the greatest matters of shame is that the US has the resources to provide decent housing for everyone.
“In the US, it’s feasible to provide adequate housing for all. You have a lot of money, a lot of dollars available. You have a lot of expertise. This is a perfect setting to really embrace housing as a human right,” she said.
Rolnik has given a verbal report to the US state department, which has a month to respond to her observations. She will submit a final written report to the UN human rights council early next year.
UN meets homeless victims of American property dream
From New York to LA: UN human rights expert tours US hearing from subprime crisis victims
A home advertised for sale at a foreclosure auction in Pasadena, California. Photograph: Reed Saxon/AP
There were not many people packed in to the Los Angeles “town hall” meeting who had heard of the foreign woman with the unfamiliar title who had come to listen to their tales of plight. But many took it as a good sign that she had worried the last American government enough for it to keep her out of the country.
Deanne Weakly was among the first to the microphone. The 51-year-old estate agent told how a couple of years ago she was pulling in $80,000 (£48,000) a year from commissions selling homes in LA’s booming property market.
When the bottom fell out of the business with the foreclosure crisis, she lost her own house and ended up living on the streets in a city with more homeless than any other in America. She was sexually assaulted, harassed by the police and in despair.
She turned to the city and California state governments for help. “No one wanted to listen. They blame you for being homeless in the first place,” she said.
Others followed, recounting in English or Spanish, sometimes Korean, their personal crises. Some shouted their anger, others laboriously recounted details of losing homes, families forced into overcrowded shelters, life on the streets.
The United Nations special rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik, listened to it all patiently, occasionally taking notes, nodding encouragement.
Rolnik had waited more than a year to tour cities across the US to prepare a report for the UN’s human rights council on America’s deepening housing crisis following the subprime mortgage debacle.
UN special rapporteurs are more often found investigating human rights in Sudan and Burundi or abuses of the Israeli occupation than exposing the underbelly of the American dream. George Bush’s administration blocked her visit, finding itself in the company of Cuba, Burma and North Korea in blocking a special rapporteur.
“I was asking for almost a year before I as allowed in,” Rolnik said.
When Barack Obama came to power she was welcomed to range across America talking to those who have lived on the streets for years and the newly homeless forced out by the foreclosure crisis.
Rolnik, a Brazilian urban planner and architect, said administration officials were genuinely interested in what she might find, if not embracing of her raison d’etre that everyone is entitled to a decent home.