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Homelessness during General Discussion of the Commission for Social Development

Statement by Monsignor David P. Charters, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i..
Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations,
at the General Discussion of the 58th  Session of the Commission for Social Development
New York, 10-19 February 2020

Mr. Chair,

The Holy See is pleased to participate in this 58th Session of the Commission for Social Development dedicated to the theme of “Affordable Housing and Social Protection Systems for All to Address Homelessness.” [1]

We are grateful for the attention being paid to this important social question and are hopeful that the practical issues discussed over the course of this Session will help us take concrete steps toward addressing global homelessness. 

As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development,[2] we recall with gratitude its emphasis on how “our societies must respond more effectively to the material and spiritual needs of individuals, their families and the communities in which they live throughout our diverse countries and regions.”[3] My own Delegation noted recently that to achieve meaningful social development such as that aspired to in the Copenhagen Declaration, “measures aimed at building societies that care for and allow all to participate actively in social, economic, cultural and political life need a clear vision based on the centrality of the human person, his or her human dignity and the inalienable rights that flow from that dignity.”[4]

A critical component of that dignity is to have access to secure housing. Over seventy years ago, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights boldly declared that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family … including housing.”[5]

Mr. Chair,

Despite the Universal Declaration and the Copenhagen Declaration, lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world.[6] It forces those who are homeless to live in conditions without security, requisite protection of family life and basic dignity. Yet homelessness is not merely a deprivation of a physical space in which to dwell. It also reflects a loss of family, friends and community. Furthermore, homelessness – either the lack of decent housing or the lack of housing that befits the dignity of the human person – is inextricably bound up with phenomena such as lack of employment, inadequate social protections, unjust eviction and rental policies, discrimination, poverty, violent conflict, war and natural disasters. It is also generated by family separations and those policies and economic circumstances that divide families and leave them without a critical safety net that is uniquely found in an adequately supported, strong family.

The consequences of homelessness fall preeminently on those who are in vulnerable situations. The unemployed, women, children, members of indigenous peoples, religious or ethnic minorities, the elderly, those living with disabilities, and those without families often bear the pain of homelessness in addition to the other burdens they are carrying. Yet “they are all too often treated with the same indifference, as if they did not exist – as if theirs were a ‘normal’ situation which fails to move the heart.”[7]

Mr. Chair,

The Holy See welcomes the specific panels and discussions set aside during the session of the Commission to consider concrete programmes and projects aimed at identifying and sharing solutions. To contribute to the discussion, the Holy See takes this opportunity to highlight three types of initiatives, many of which have long been operated by Catholic charitable institutions around the world to care for the homeless and move them into homes of their own:

  1. On the “street-level”: The homeless require food, clothing and a roof over their heads. Soup kitchens, shelters and day-centers operated by dioceses and parishes, religious orders and volunteer associations provide this immediate, “front-line" assistance. Recently, Pope Francis has created spaces even in St. Peter’s Square to distribute food and other daily necessities for the homeless, as well as offering sanitary facilities and showers. It is also clear, however, that the homeless need follow-up and care to deal with the psychological effects of living on – and often completely outside – the margins of society. In this regard, offering everything from spiritual care to job-training is vital, also to ensure their complete integration in society more broadly.     
  3. On the national level: The causes of homelessness are diverse and differ from State to State and region to region. Further studies of the complex and often interwoven causes of homelessness that take into account not only micro- and macro-data are needed. In particular, the role played by unjust practices in the housing market deserves attention and needs to be addressed through regulation and legislation.                                     
  5. On the international level: The universally recognized right to an adequate standard of living should be considered not only in this Commission. The various human rights fora of the United Nations should place greater emphasis on this social right.

In conclusion, the Holy See thanks all participants for their active engagement during these eight days of work on social development, human dignity and human rights.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.





1. E/CN.5/2020/3.

2. A/CONF.166/9.

3. Id. At 1.

4. H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Statement on Social Development in the Third Committee, October 1, 2019.

5. UDHR Art 25.

6. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, para. 152, May 24, 2015.

7. Pope Francis, “As If They Don’t Exist”:  Morning Meditation in the Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, March 16, 2017.