Should The Poor Have Human Rights Based On ‘Social Condition’?

a row of older buildings at night, the storefront below residents appear prosperous.
Older buildings in Gastown, the original core of the city, and a part of Vancouver B.C.'s Downtown East Side. The photographer lists its features, including "hip" contemporary boutiques and, more important to this post, poverty. Read more history here.

Whether promoted by the United Nations or part of a country’s definitions of the rights of its citizens, the Human Right to Housing has a kind of full-stop certainty in its expression. You either have housing, or you don’t. Stated so simply, it suggests that any form of rudimentary shelter with a roof might be declared as ‘housing’ to fulfill its definition.

The UN has added the word ‘adequate’ to create the term: Human Right to Adequate Housing. Now its definition is qualified by all those things that the UN has identified that need to be present to fulfill their concept of ‘adequate.’ Still, even if and when those conditions are fulfilled, there remains a kind of full-stop certainty. You either have adequate housing according to the definition, or you don’t.

This post concerns the ‘in the meantime’ between hoping to have adequate housing one day — and it may be years — while you climb slowly up a waiting list until finally, one day, you are in a position to experience your human right.

In the meantime, what rights do you have? Obviously, you don’t have housing, which you have a right to, but there isn’t (Yet? Ever?) enough to go around for your income — if you have any. In the meantime you need to survive without housing.

Now consider the inevitable fact that without the adequate housing that you are entitled to as a right, you will be forced to break the law.


Sleeping in a doorway, for example. That may see you charged with trespass. Nature calls, you piss in an alley. Several laws or by-laws potentially broken here. We could go on. The question is, with the absence of the housing to which you are entitled, are there any human rights that are triggered, which might allow you to legally survive until the day you have a home?

No and yes. No, as local laws and by-laws see you as a criminal. And yes, as the international convention on human rights, which is signed by almost every country on the planet, says that even when unhoused, you have rights.

That’s why PIVOT is pushing for a commitment to just such rights, which currently do not currently apply in Canadian Law. PIVOT is an activist legal organization that supports the people who are homeless and poverty-stricken in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver, British Columbia. That neighbourhood is the very heart of that city’s chronic homelessness and inadequate income problems.

Aside from its person to person assistance for those in need, PIVOT is advocating to add some essential rights protections for those who have a right to housing that cannot be immediately fulfilled.

PIVOT would like to see Social Condition enshrined in local, provincial and national law.

What is Social Condition? The following article explains what it is. As well, based on actual events — some tragic — that occur regularly in downtown Vancouver, the article sets out why Social Condition is so essential to people who are homeless and poverty-stricken. Read more at PIVOT: Tent Cities and Anti-Poverty Stigma: The Case for Social Condition

For those with a further interest in the subject, as well as arguments for and against the enshrinement of Social Condition in law, try further reading from the Ontario Human Rights Commission: Social condition – an option for human rights commissions