Speakers in Social Development Commission Share Personal Stories of Homelessness, Stressing Solutions Must Focus on Racial Equality, Women’s Empowerment

SOC/4886
12 February 2020
6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)

Speakers in Social Development Commission Share Personal Stories of Homelessness, Stressing Solutions Must Focus on Racial Equality, Women’s Empowerment

Tackling homelessness throughout the world means tackling social issues as vast and varied as income inequality, housing shortages, racism and women’s empowerment, the Commission for Social Development heard today, as speakers who have personally experienced homelessness shared their thoughts with Member States and representatives of non-governmental organizations on the third day of its fifty-eighth session.

“Let’s get one thing straight:  this is no such thing as ‘the homeless’,” said James Abro, author of Facing Homelessness:  A personal memoir of homelessness and recovery.  “There are only individuals experiencing housing displacement and the reasons […] are as unique and varied as there are stars in our sky.”  Drawing on his experiences in New York’s homeless shelters — where he encountered African- and Hispanic‑Americans suffering the impact of mass incarceration — he said the city, with few affordable housing units, must stop treating shelters as temporary solutions.  Instead, they should be turned into permanent housing alternatives for those unable to afford overpriced rents.

Chris Gardner, an entrepreneur and philanthropist from the United States whose memoir Pursuit of Happyness became an eponymous feature film starring Will Smith, recalled his own experience — fleeing a violent stepfather with his mother and older sister — to describe “the power of one” to affect change.  Inviting delegates to consider what they might do in a similar situation, he appealed for humanity to be added to the globalization equation, for a total commitment to the empowerment of women and girls, and for expanding the definition of persons at risk of homelessness to include working women.

Amanda Misiko Andere, Chief Executive Officer of Funders Together to End Homelessness, said that racial equity must be at the heart of new approaches that meet the needs of homeless people of colour.  She agreed with other speakers that Governments alone cannot end homelessness, adding, however, that philanthropy lacks the resources to replace public dollars.  What it can do is to use its voice to generate the political will needed to engage in evidence-based practices that can do more than just taking the visible homeless off the streets, she said.

Luiz Alvaro Salles Aguiar de Menezes, Secretary for International Affairs of the Municipality of São Paulo, said that 3.3 million of the 21 million residents of Brazil’s largest metropolitan area live in inadequate conditions — a situation that resulted from rapid urbanization over the last century.  To address the problem, São Paulo has come up with projects and partnerships that aim to restore the dignity of homeless people and reaffirm the responsibility of local governments, including a job creation alliance with the private sector and a social leasing programme for families financially unable to rent their own homes.

Francisco Delgado, Vice-Minister for Human Development and Social Inclusion of Costa Rica, delivered a keynote address in which he emphasized the importance of a multisectoral approach to homelessness, as well as society’s ethical obligation not to neglect the issue.  He shared several best practices from his country, including the development of a smartphone app that enables members of the public to flag homeless issues to social workers.  He also discussed the forthcoming launch in five Latin American countries of a “Housing First” initiative that aims to get homeless individuals and families quickly into permanent housing without preconditions or barriers to entry.

Sam Tsemberis, Executive Director of Pathways to Housing and a faculty member of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in the United States, citing the Gini coefficient, said there is a direct link between wage inequality and the number of homeless people in a given country.  In absolute terms, the United States is just behind India in terms of the number of homeless, while the rate is half that in Canada and the European Union due to lower wage inequality, he said.  He discussed the staircase way through which the Housing First approach combines treatment, transition and accommodation — a new way of thinking that puts the homeless themselves at the heart of decision-making.

Mark McGreevy, Founder of the Institute of Global Homelessness at DePaul University in the United States, who moderated the discussion, said homelessness is clearly a multifaceted issue in need of a common definition and better global data.  Worldwide, he said, an estimated 100 million people suffer from street homelessness, 15 million are evicted from their homes annually, 1.6 billion live in inadequate conditions and another 883 million live in slums.  Listening to homeless people — who understand the challenge best — is crucial, he said, adding:  “We ignore their voice at our peril.”

In the afternoon, the Commission held an interactive dialogue with senior United Nations officials on its priority theme for 2020, namely, “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness”.

Representative of the Netherlands, Maldives, Algeria, China, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Lebanon, Mexico and Argentina spoke when the Commission resumed its general discussion.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 13 February, to continue its general discussion.

Multi-Stakeholder Forum

This morning, the Commission convened a multi-stakeholder forum on the theme “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness”.  Moderated by Mark McGreevy, Group CEO, DePaul International and Founder of the Institute of Global Homelessness at DePaul University, it featured the following panellists:  Luiz Alvaro Salles Aguiar de Menezes, Secretary for International Affairs at São Paulo Municipality, Brazil; Sam Tsemberis, Founder and Executive Director of Pathways to Housing, and faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, New York, United States; Chris Gardner, entrepreneur and author of Pursuit of Happyness; Amanda Misiko Andere, Chief Executive Officer, Funders Together to End Homelessness; and James Abro, Author of Facing Homelessness:  A personal memoir of homelessness and recovery.  Francisco Delgado, Vice-Minister for Human Development and Social Inclusion of Costa Rica, delivered a keynote address.

GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire), Commission Chair, said that, while Governments have the primary responsibility for ending homelessness, they cannot do it alone.  A whole-of-society approach is needed, with civil society organizations and philanthropic communities playing important roles.  The private sector can also help by addressing deficits in affordable housing and building a viable housing finance market that caters to the needs of middle-income, lower‑income and informal‑income households.  Today’s forum will be a platform for social partners to share good practices, address homelessness from various perspectives and contribute to the search for evidence-based, long-term strategies to end homelessness.

Mr. DELGADO agreed that Governments cannot end homelessness alone.  A multisectoral approach is required, he said, emphasizing that society has an ethical duty not to neglect the issue.  He highlighted some examples of good practices in his country, such as substantial funding to ensure that children do not find themselves sleeping on the streets, follow-up coaching for young people emerging from homelessness, and health care for such vulnerable groups as pregnant women and those with chronic disease.  Technology is a new area that Costa Rica is exploring, he said, noting that the Government is working with a non-governmental organization (NGO) to develop a first-response app that would enable members of the public to identify problems on the street and prompt a response from social workers.  Data suggests, however, that several key areas still need to be addressed.  Ninety per cent of the homeless in Costa Rica are men of working age with little education, he said, adding that half of them are in the capital and 80 per cent are Costa Rican citizens.

Going forward, the Government wants to engage more with the private sector, he said.  It has already built a network of enterprises willing to train those who have been homeless, but more attention needs to go towards affordable housing.  Costa Rica must also be more proactive to prevent homeless in the first place by addressing such issues as mental health, substance abuse and the revolving door between prison and homelessness.  He went on to note the establishment two years ago of a regional network of five Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, supported by the European Union, to share experiences, leading to the launch this year of the “Housing First” initiative.  He concluded by saying that building a more inclusive society is possible, based on education, health care, social protection systems and the empowerment of women alongside recognition of human rights.

Mr. TSEMBERIS said that a one-night survey in the United States in January 2019 put the number of homeless across the country at 562,742 people.  It is nevertheless possible to imagine that the real number is between 1 million and 2 million.  The structural phenomenon of homelessness in the United States today has its origins in the early 1990s, he said, explaining that, in prior decades, homelessness was episodic.  Capitalist approaches produced homelessness at a rapid rate, he said, with the number of homeless people outpacing the number coming off the streets.  President Ronald Reagan is often viewed as the one who created structural homelessness in the United States due to the cessation of many social programmes and a halt to public housing construction during his time in office, he said, adding that a soaring real estate market has made housing unaffordable for many people on low incomes.  Citing the Gini coefficient, a widely used inequality yardstick, he said that there is a direct link between wage inequality and the number of homeless people in a given country.  In absolute terms, the United States is just behind India in terms of the number of homeless, while the rate is half that in Canada and the European Union due to lower wage inequality.  He went on to say that the Housing First approach aims to support those unable to cope on their own as they emerge from shelters or prisons.  It is a staircase approach that combines treatment, transition and accommodation.  It is a new way of thinking that puts the homeless themselves at the heart of decision-making.

Mr. MCGREEVY said that, at the time of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, homelessness was a type of emerging poverty that was widely overlooked.  “Homeless people around the world were clearly being left behind,” he said.  Welcoming the increasing attention to the issue — as demonstrated by the Commission’s 2020 theme — he said homelessness is the result of such factors as racism, ageism, poverty, Government austerity measures, the impacts of conflicts and war, and the human fragility to which all are vulnerable.  At the personal level, drivers such as mental health issues and addiction — “challenges that can face all of us from time to time as we go through life” — may also play a part.  What is clearest is that homelessness is a multifaceted issue, he said, pointing out that an estimated 100 million people around the world suffer from street homelessness, 15 million are evicted from their homes annually, 1.6 billion live in inadequate conditions and another 883 million live in slums.  Spotlighting some of the most innovative responses to homelessness developed in recent years, he called for efforts to improve global data collection and measurement and to develop a common definition.  He also noted that listening to homeless people — who understand the challenge best — is crucial, stressing:  “We ignore their voice at our peril”.

Mr. ALVARO, noting that São Paulo represents the challenges faced by many urban centres around the world, said 3.3 million of the 21 million residents of the city’s metropolitan region live in inadequate conditions — including in 1,800 slums and 2,000 “irregular places”.  That situation is a result of a process of rapid urbanization over the last century, he said, calling for more attention to the lack of adequate housing in many large cities.  To face that problem, São Paulo has developed projects and partnerships that aim to restore the dignity of homeless people and reaffirm the responsibility of local governments.  Citing a solid alliance between the State and the private sector, he spotlighted the “Trabalho Novo”, or “New Job”, programme which ensures the right of homeless and at-risk people to job market access.  In partnership with 130 companies, more than 5,000 people have been trained 1,246 are employed.  Among other initiatives, he drew attention to São Paulo’s Social Leasing Programme — which supports families who are financially unable to rent homes — and outlined plans to build 25,000 housing units for low-income families by the end of 2020.

Mr. GARDNER said that universal experiences — such as childbirth, graduation, marriage, a new job and home, and the loss of a loved one — are universal, and that where people are on the planet is secondary to where they are in spirit.  However, an estimated 2 per cent of the world’s population is on the run from war, conflict, revolution, drugs, gang violence and the negative impacts of climate change.  If all those people were in the same place at one time, they would be the world’s tenth-largest country with a population greater than Japan, Mexico or the Russian Federation.  Some might call such people infiltrators, but he said he prefers to call them survivors.  Describing his personal experience, he said he was born into a family plagued by extreme domestic violence.  Anticipating further beatings at the hands of his stepfather, his mother found somewhere else to live, but in her haste to get him, his older sister and herself to safety, she forgot the keys to the apartment.  She burst into tears, but he became her hero by climbing a tree, jumping onto the porch and coming down the stairs to open the door.  “That was the power of one,” he said, asking delegates to consider what they might do in a similar situation.  He called for humanity to be added to the globalization equation, for a total commitment to the empowerment of women and girls, and for expanding the definition of persons at risk of homelessness to include working women.

Ms. ANDERE, discussing the work of her organization, said that structural and racial inequities are the root cause of homelessness and the persistent racial discrimination in housing, unemployment, health care, education and the criminal justice system contribute to high rates of homelessness for people of colour.  Racial equity must be at the heart of new approaches that meet the needs of homeless people of colour.  While Governments alone cannot end homelessness, philanthropy does not have the resources to replace public dollars.  It can, however, fund the push and pull of public funds and use its voice to build the political will needed to engage in evidence-based practices that solve homelessness rather than just taking the visible homeless off the streets.  Too often, she added, funders work in silos and fail to engage others who might not yet see what they can do to end homelessness.  She went on to say that philanthropy must recognize its own power as funding gatekeepers.  Currently, systems to address poverty and homelessness are built by well-intentioned NGOs and Government partners that act as gatekeepers to resources.  Investing to end homelessness means disrupting and liberating a system that gives any one entity power over an individual’s basic rights and needs.

Mr. ABRO, recounting his own experience, called for an examination of the changing social values and economic practices — taking place in wealthy countries, such as the United States — which are undermining the democratic goal of shared prosperity and leading to dramatic spikes in homelessness.  What homeless people need is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but support to help them to get out of their predicament in their own way.  “Let’s get one thing straight:  there is no such thing as ‘the homeless’,” he said. “There are only individuals experiencing housing displacement and the reasons […] are as unique and varied as there are stars in our sky.”  Recalling his own experience, he said he became homeless in New Jersey after having moved there to care for a terminally ill parent.  After re-stabilizing his own housing situation, he began working with others who were suffering displacement and writing a book about the experience.  “The very concept and function of home had changed dramatically in my lifetime,” he said, noting that most of the displaced persons with whom he works are younger than him by a generation or more.  The idea of a safe and stable home had never been available to them, as their parents often worked low-paying or unsteady jobs and suffered from a volatile housing market.  Whereas his own father had been a skilled union labourer with good benefits, union leaders today are fighting desperately for minimal wages and health‑care coverage.  Upon moving to New York, he entered the city’s shelter system and encountered a generation of African- and Hispanic‑Americans suffering the impact of punitive mass incarceration policies.  Meanwhile, the city has few affordable housing units, which are only available because of subsidies paid to wealthy landlords.  In that context, he urged officials to stop treating shelters as temporary sources of housing and instead turn them into what is really needed — permanent housing alternatives for people who cannot afford overpriced rents.

In the ensuing discussion, conversations emerged about the challenge — and usefulness — of attempting to formulate a concrete definition of the term “homelessness”.  The panellists also responded to a range of questions about ways to assist particular populations facing homelessness – especially youth.

The representative of Denmark said that, from her country’s perspective, there are two key solutions to tackling homelessness.  One is to tirelessly collect more data on the root causes and social challenges driving homelessness in order to provide tailored solutions.  The other is to evaluate the methods being applied, share best practices and implement the most effective solutions.  Noting that one third of homeless people in Denmark are under age 30, she asked the panellists to speak to that specific challenge through the lens of a Housing First approach — namely, one which aims to connect people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing without preconditions.

Mr. TSEMBERIS responded that, as many different groups of people suffer from housing instability and a lack of affordable housing, a Housing First solution is flexible enough to change the arrangements of service support to better fit the populations being served.

Mr. ALVARO agreed that data collection is crucial and underlined the importance of better understanding who homeless people are, where they are and what they need.

Ms. ANDERE said that all interventions and policy designs must centre around the power of homeless people themselves, including young people who are disproportionately impacted.  Prevention strategies are also critical as to avoid waiting until people become homeless, she said.

A representative of the civil society organization Transdiaspora Network pointed out that many of the solutions presented by experts focus on employment as a way to lift people out of homelessness.  However, millions of homeless people are youth who are not even old enough to enter the labour market, he said, asking the panellists to weigh in on that contradiction.

Mr. GARDNER recounted his meetings with the executives of various large corporations, who often claim to care about the needs of young people as a core issue.  However, when presented with the question of youth homelessness, they lack interest because that population offers no opportunities for sales.

The representative of France, noting that the panellists today who have personally experienced homelessness were American, said the phenomenon is different in Asia and Africa, where the homeless are treated differently from their counterparts in Europe.  He wondered if it might be possible to envisage a broad definition of homelessness that would enable Governments to better measure the problem.

Mr. MCGREEVY said homelessness should not be narrowly defined but viewed in a broad way that brings personal stories to bear.  Mr. GARDNER asked how much of a definition of homelessness would be needed if a Commission delegate found himself or herself homeless with their family.

A representative of the New Future Foundation, describing gentrification as a crime against humanity, asked who will investigate predatory lenders, mortgage fraudsters and other criminals behind a system that does not work for the poor or the powerless.  Mr. GARDNER replied that he looked forward to “taking the ‘A’ train” to her Harlem neighbourhood to explore the issue further.

Also speaking were representatives of the Red Dot Foundation, Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Zomi Innkuan USA.

Interactive Dialogue

In the afternoon, the Commission held an interactive dialogue with senior officials of various United Nations system entities on the theme “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness”.  Moderated by Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant-Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, it featured four panellists:  Srinivas Tata, Director of the Social Development Division of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Christina Behrendt, Head of the Social Policy Unit, International Labour Organization (ILO); Marco Toscana-Rivalta, Chief of the New York Liaison Office of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; and Francesca De Ferrari of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN‑Habitat).

Ms. SPATOLISANO said that today’s session is organized in response to a 2019 Economic and Social Council resolution which invited United Nations system entities and other stakeholders to outline their work in areas related to the Commission’s priority theme.  The dialogue will explore global and regional trends in homelessness, as manifested in the activities of the various United Nations entities, as well as how that system assists — and is ultimately held accountable by — Member States in building capacity around affordable housing policy, social protection and efforts to combat homelessness.

Mr. TATA outlined some of the common challenges facing Member States across the vast ESCAP region.  If “homeless” is defined as including those who lack access to adequate housing and slum-dwellers, then more than 30 per cent of the region’s population would be considered homeless.  The phenomenon is largely an urban one, with millions of children working on the street in extremely difficult conditions.  While the Asia-Pacific region has been an engine of global growth in recent decades, that progress has been uneven.  Meanwhile, climate change is changing weather patterns and even soil quality, and hundreds of millions are now impacted by slow-onset natural disasters, such as droughts, or more extreme ones.  “That situation is only going to get worse,” he warned, drawing attention to the resulting displacement and loss of livelihoods and income.  He also noted that the region is ageing rapidly and that women are most vulnerable to homelessness due to a lack of land tenure rights.  The way forward is to increase Government spending on social protection, he said, noting that the average spending in the region is around 3 per cent of national budgets as compared to the global average of about 11 per cent.  In that vein, ESCAP and ILO are working to develop a regional modality for social protection which countries may adopt on a voluntary basis.

Ms. BEHRENDT, echoing some of those points, said that social protection systems should be universal and well-coordinated with other State services.  Guaranteeing at least a basic level of income and access to health care is crucial for preventing homelessness.  While access to adequate housing is a human right, it is not yet recognized as such by many countries around the world.  Today, about 45 per cent of the world’s population is protected in at least one area, while the rest — about 4 billion people — lack any type of protection at all.  Calling for more attention to homelessness as a phenomenon — and for stronger investments and political will to combat it — she said that, according to ILO estimates, about $527 billion, a very small percentage of the global economy, would be needed to fund cash benefits across developing countries.  Adequate housing reverberates across many of the Sustainable Development Goals, including health, access to water and sanitation, and livelihoods and work.  ILO has laid out a framework for social protection floors, recommending that people be guaranteed at least a very basic income across their lifespan, along with universal health care and maternity care.  Against that backdrop, she drew attention to the Global Partnership for Universal Protection — led by ILO and the World Bank — and invited States to sign onto it.

Mr. TOSCANO-RIVALTA said that housing is a question that is central to the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and its implementation.  Disaster risk is fundamentally the result of exposure and vulnerability of people and assets in the face of a hazard.  Disasters are instinctively viewed as the result of natural phenomenon, but more often they are the unintended consequences of economic, social and environmental factors.  Two different persons facing the same hazard, even if they are members of the same family, will have different risk profiles reflecting their social, economic and political situation.  He went on to discuss the impact of small disasters that do not make the headlines on the less fortunate, including their effect on development assets.  For a small island developing State, disaster-related losses can equal 30 per cent of social spending.  He added that homelessness is a driver of increased exposure to disaster risk, and that investing in disaster risk reduction can change individual disaster risk profiles.

Ms. DE FERRARI said that access to housing is a prerequisite to employment, education, health and social services, as well as other fundamental rights.  Citing an ILO report, she said that only 45 per cent of the global population is covered by at least one social protection benefit.  She noted that the New Urban Agenda recognizes the contribution that adequate housing can make to sustainable development and peoples’ well-being.  Realizing Goal 11 means understanding that housing is not just a roof over one’s head, but also a human right that requires a broad effort from all stakeholders, keeping people always at the centre of thinking and action.  She went on to say that the commodification of housing has increased people’s vulnerability to homelessness, and invited delegates to a forthcoming presentation by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing on this issue.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates asked questions and shared national experiences in addressing housing issues.

The representative of Venezuela noted his country’s efforts to promote “auto-construction” whereby people build their own homes, particularly in rural areas.  The representative of Finland noted that not many people know about the Sendai Framework.

The observer for the European Union asked, among other things, how ILO can support countries to put social protection systems into place.  The representative of the Association of Christian Counsellors of Nigeria asked what the Commission is doing to address insecurity, which does not discriminate.

Ms. BEHRENDT said that it takes years to build social protection systems, but the process must start with a national dialogue which defines priorities and establishes the steps going forward.  On the Commission’s role, she said it should look at achieving more policy coherence.  She added that insufficient thought goes into talking with finance ministries to ensure sustainable funding for social protection systems.

Mr. TATA said that, in the Asia-Pacific region, many countries have large informal economies and not-so-large tax bases.  Understanding each country’s constraints results in better outcomes, he said, adding that patience is also essential.  Civil society organizations are becoming more strategic in their thinking and understanding how to get results.

Mr. TOSCANO-RIVALTA said that many countries have national platforms for disaster risk reduction that predate the Sendai Framework.  Rather than think in terms of actual disasters, countries should think about risk, he said, adding that there is no need to wait for a disaster to happen to reflect upon the way in which disaster risk profiles are changing.

Representatives of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loretto Sisters) and the New Future Foundation also spoke.

General Discussion

Mr. KUMRU, youth delegate from the Netherlands, said that, all around the world, major private investors and corporations are entering the housing market and benefitting from the weak positions of individual homeowners or potential buyers.  Since the end of the global economic crisis in 2009, the Netherlands has seen an increase of 122 per cent in its homeless population — from 18,000 to 40,000 today.  In The Hague, an international city of peace and justice, long lines form at shelters.  Young people are unable to acquire a personal living space due to the mass acquisition of real estate by private investing groups, accompanied by high costs of living.  Describing that group as “economically homeless”, he stressed that human rights cannot be ignored nor blatantly commodified.  Member States should consider new measures in which young people are part of the decision-making structure on housing issues, as well as housing market regulations.

Ms. YAGKOUBI, a second youth delegate from the Netherlands, echoed those points, noting that the Commission’s current session includes zero youth delegates from the global South.  Such a discrepancy will only create new inequalities, she warned, urging all Member States to include an independent, elected youth representative in their delegations to United Nations conferences.

ZUHURULLA SIYAAD, Deputy Minister for Housing and Social Development of Maldives, expressed concern that housing, an essential basic need, is largely unaffordable for the majority of the world’s population.  One billion people live in slums or informal settlements, and housing is the single largest expenditure across nations.  “This situation is clearly untenable and should not be allowed to perpetuate,” he said.  While homelessness is negligible in Maldives, the country nevertheless suffers from an acute shortage of affordable housing.  In response, the Government is providing deserving people with 7,000 housing units in the capital, Male, by the end of 2020.  Work on another 4,000 units will also begin this year, he said, outlining additional proposals to introduce new schemes for housing and affordable housing loan schemes.  Spotlighting large-scale migration to the capital — driven in part by rising sea levels that push people out of their ancestral homes — he said that financing remains a major challenge.  In the past, the Government borrowed from lenders whose interest rates were prohibitively high.  “We urgently need viable solutions to improve access to financial resources at affordable rates,” he said.

SOFIANE MIMOUNI (Algeria) said that achieving the Goals requires cooperation between all States and fulfilling commitments in a common yet differentiated manner.  The right to adequate housing is enshrined in Algeria’s Constitution, he said, adding that the country is building 250,000 housing units every year to keep pace with growing urbanization.  He also noted that Algiers was in 2016 declared the first capital city in Africa with no slums.

ZHANG JUN (China), associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, quoted President Xi Jinping as saying that houses are for living, not for speculation.  It is in that spirit that China is building more affordable housing, transforming dilapidated housing and extending support to beggars and the homeless.  Turning to the novel coronavirus epidemic, he said that China, under the President’s leadership, is adopting comprehensive and rigorous measures to combat it.  Medical professionals and others from all walks of life are fearlessly battling the outbreak with all their might.  While China is saddened by the loss of 1,100 precious lives, there have been positive developments, including a decline in the number of confirmed cases outside Hubei Province.  He emphasized that China is taking an open, honest and transparent attitude about the epidemic.  The international community should demonstrate solidarity, share its experience and technology, evaluate the outbreak impartially, avoid over-reaction, reject the politicization of health issues, and leave no room for racist comments or stigmatization.  Any epidemic is temporary, he said, adding that the cold weather shall pass and that spring will come.

BOGOMILA KORMANOVA and MINKO DASKALOV, youth delegates from Bulgaria, aligning themselves with the European Union, said young people are agents of change that will bring the world closer to achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda.  Urging Member States to adopt a bottom-up approach to their social protection schemes — including the fight against social exclusion and homelessness — they said that funding quality education is the best investment a country can make if it is spent effectively.  “By providing quality education, Member States give the tools in young people’s hands to have a lifetime of learning, growth and adaptability that leads them to security,” they said, adding that the requirements to enter the workforce are getting more demanding, even as a lack of job opportunities exacerbates such challenges as social exclusion, poverty and homelessness.

RENÉ GABRIEL LAUER (Luxembourg), associating himself with the European Union, said that homelessness violates a range of human rights and represents an extreme manifestation of the high cost of housing that affects everyone.  Among the distinct types of homelessness are chronic homelessness and transitory homelessness, he said, stressing that the phenomenon cannot be seen as a personal failure but instead a structural one.  Noting that homelessness is multidimensional in nature and thus requires a holistic, multisectoral response, he said Luxembourg adopted a national anti-homelessness strategy which is based on the principle known as “Housing First”.  Having evaluated its various social programmes, the Government found that the many aspects of homelessness and social exclusion should be further integrated, and more solutions are needed for those people who are not residents of Luxembourg, he said.

AMAL MUDALLALI (Lebanon), associating herself with the Group of 77, said the world is living in a “chilly autumn” as the drivers of homelessness — especially inequality — are becoming more severe.  Noting that the phenomenon is becoming more resistant to current solutions, she spotlighted such factors as rapid urbanization, structural and economic drivers, political conflict and environmental challenges.  Meanwhile, homelessness remains taboo in many countries, and many without homes try to remain invisible in order to avoid stigma.  Women and children are the most vulnerable, as many countries’ family laws are biased against women, and Government approaches fail to address those factors holistically.  Despite all those challenges, she spotlighted the 2030 Agenda as a source of hope to bring new support structures to those who currently live without a roof over their heads.

Mr. RIOS BADILLO (Mexico) described homelessness — in both developing and developed countries — as a crude manifestation of poverty and inequality, a violation of human rights and an affront to universal aspirations for happiness and well-being. Ensuring the right to housing requires inclusive public policies and a multisectorial approach.  He noted the measures that Mexico has been taking, including an increase in the minimum wage and efforts to promote social housing.  He went on to say that the priority theme of the Commission’s fifty-ninth session should be aligned with that of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that cross-cutting and rights-based approach to social development.  In that regard, his country has a robust social protection system which targets vulnerable families, based on a minimum income floor, improving quality of live and promoting social mobility.  A multipronged approach has led to an increase in coverage for all population segments.  He added that, for Argentina, the family is a key institution for developing human capital.  Turning to emerging challenges, he said that his country is addressing the challenge of food security by ensuring that the most vulnerable citizens gain access to food through income supplements.

For information media. Not an official record.