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UN Observer Calls For ‘Moratorium’ On Criminalizing Homelessness In San Diego

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For the past three days, Canadian attorney Leilani Farha, the United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, has been touring the streets of San Diego, talking to people dealing with the city's unprecedented housing crisis.

Speaker 1: 00:00 For the past three days. The United Nations special Rockport tour on adequate housing has been touring the streets of San Diego. Her charge is to investigate whether cities are living up to international human rights laws on housing. Canadian attorney Laelani Farhod has been talking with people dealing with San Diego's unprecedented housing crisis and with city and county officials. She sat down with KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Nadler to talk about what she's learned.

Speaker 2: 00:29 What have you seen during your visit to San Diego?

Speaker 3: 00:32 I've seen a lot of homelessness, but to be honest, I've seen some really heartbreaking situations. Um, people living in really extreme life-threatening circumstances. Uh, and we have to remember that of course the u s is the richest country in the world and California is a really wealthy state. And yet people I saw are living on the pavements on sidewalks intense. I saw people living in their cars. I met a single mom with three children, one of whom was three years old, living in her little white car. I, I met people, older people today in particular who were living in RVs, um, made worse by the fact that their attempts to just survive are being criminalized. So they're being constantly inter interacted with by the police and harassed by the police. They're ticketed, fined, they can, they face misdemeanors. They've gone to jail just for trying to live. So it's, it's pretty stark and really unacceptable from a human rights obligations point of view.

Speaker 2: 01:36 The city council recently passed a bill making it illegal for people to live in their cars in certain areas of the city. Does this help exacerbate the housing crisis?

Speaker 3: 01:45 There are a lot of people in San Diego who have no choice but to live in cars and RVs because they can't afford the cost of housing here. It's a really expensive place to live and if you're on low income or moderate income even, it's really tough to eek out an existence here. So, um, and criminalizing is obviously contrary to human rights. Um, and it also further stigmatizes those who are living in homelessness and allows more affluent segments of the population to look down on, on people living in homelessness to say, Oh look, they're, you know, involved with the police and you know, they must be dangerous or drug abusers or, and all those sorts of things.

Speaker 2: 02:29 How has the rental market in California and across the country fundamentally changed in a post 2008 world where you have actors like the Blackstone group, private equity groups, um, moving into the rental market and, uh, just trying to earn money for their investors as opposed to provide adequate housing?

Speaker 3: 02:46 Yeah, so we have seen the housing landscape shift and change entirely since 2008 and really since 2011 when those big financial actors, the private equity firms like, and others, big asset management firms, pension funds, insurance companies, started to invest unprecedented amounts of wealth and money in residential real estate. W one to, um, grow wealth to make it have a good return on investment for their investor clients. But also they use residential real estate as a way to leverage more capital to keep accumulate, accumulating wealth and buying more properties, et cetera. It's having a devastating effect on cities around the world. I haven't investigated that as much as I would like to in San Diego. Uh, but sure. It's a problem in northern California where I visited a year and a half ago. Uh, and, and in other places in the u s

Speaker 1: 03:44 today you met with officials from both the city and county of San Diego. How did that go?

Speaker 3: 03:49 No one with whom I spoke with at within the city or the county was proud of the homelessness crisis in the city. I'm hopeful that political will and that interest in the issue will translate in to human rights outcomes. One of the things that, um, I think the city needs to grapple with is like what is an appropriate response to the situation. And I would really encourage them to better acquaint themselves with what are international human rights obligations are and to start using that to determine policy programs, ordinances or lack of ordinances. I would love to see a moratorium on the criminalization of, of homelessness in this city.

Speaker 1: 04:31 That was Canadian attorney led Lonnie Farhod, the United Nations special Rapa tour on adequate housing, speaking with KPBS reporter Max Rivlin Nadler.

Speaker 4: 04:45 Uh.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.