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European Platform on Combating Homelessness: The way forward on homelessness in the EU

While homelessness is certainly not a new phenomenon, the inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic in access to housing, in physical and mental health, and in the area of work can no longer be ignored.

On 21 Jun 2021

While homelessness is certainly not a new phenomenon, the inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic in access to housing, in physical and mental health, and in the area of work can no longer be ignored.

We welcome the political momentum at EU level to tackle homelessness and the launch of the European Platform on Combating Homelessness by the European Commission and the Portuguese Presidency on 21 June 2021. EU Member States will be invited to sign a declaration indicating their commitment to eradicate homelessness.

The Platform is an opportunity to tackle homelessness as a human rights violation, taking into account its gender dimension, and provide for effective monitoring and accountability. While States carry the main responsibility to respect, protect and fulfil social rights, the EU institutions have a vital role to play in closing protection gaps for people living in Europe, while leaving no one behind.

Anchoring in international human rights law

The international human rights treaties and recommendations, as well as the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can provide direction for the scope, content, and methodology of the Platform.

Under international human rights law, EU member States have undertaken to prevent and eliminate homelessness;[1] to eliminate forced evictions; and to ensure access to remedy in the case of violations.

The Platform should provide the space to ensure that these legal obligations can be effectively translated at all levels of Government: local, regional, and national.

Defining and measuring homelessness

Homelessness takes different forms, including living on the streets, living in temporary shelters, being forced to live with relatives and friends because of lack of housing, etc. Increasingly, even people with work are homeless, living in tents or cars, due to limited access to affordable housing.

The Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 1 (no poverty), 3 (health), 8 (decent work), 10 (reducing inequalities) and 11 (sustainable cities and communities), favour a broad definition of homelessness.

While frameworks to monitor and measure homelessness are proposed at international[2] and European[3] levels, limited data are available about the scale of this phenomenon. This impedes the development of coherent strategies and policies. Thus, States should be encouraged to collect data disaggregated “by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts” (SDG target 17.18). [4] Concretely, together with Eurostat and National Statistics Offices, the Platform could provide the space to survey, under a common methodology, homelessness in all its different forms.

The UN Human Rights Office has also worked on indicators to track implementation of international human rights[5], including in the field of housing that and can be a useful tool for the Platform, as can the Global SDGs indicators.

Homelessness should not be a crime

The Platform can be a catalyst in ending criminalization of homelessness and tackling discrimination against homeless persons. The Platform can also help to debunk a number of myths around the situation of homelessness people.

A worrying global trend is the criminalization of rough sleeping and its manifestations, whether through law, or the roundup of rough sleepers before mega events, or the installation of public space infrastructure preventing people from sleeping.[6] Human rights mechanisms have condemned these attempts to hide the reality of homelessness and the failure of the State to address its causes.

Homelessness is a result of many factors that are beyond a person’s control, such as family breakdown, abuse, disability, illness, job loss, evictions, unaffordable rents, etc.

Exchange of promising practice, including on access to justice

The Platform should promote access to justice for persons in situation of homelessness, and allow for the exchange of promising practices in this area. The right to housing should be enshrined in national law and justiciable.[7] In addition, the Platform should work with independent complaints mechanisms, such as ombudspersons or human rights institutions to prevent evictions and ensure access to housing.

Working together

Crucially, the Platform should meaningfully involve people with lived experience in homelessness and organizations representing them, national human rights institutions, local authorities, and international organizations. Formal consultation mechanisms to that end should be considered.

Furthermore, the Platform should recognize that homelessness results from the violation of multiple human rights in addition to housing, such as the rights to an adequate standard of living, to health, to privacy, to work, to social security and to education, and thus adopt an integrated approach.


The establishment of the Platform is a welcome signal by the EU to work towards eliminating homelessness in Europe. Integrating international human rights principles and standards will not only help EU member States meet their international obligations but will also lead to more effective and sustainable results in tackling homelessness.

UN Human Rights’ full submission to the European Commission is available here.


[1] In interpreting article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has in this context clarified that a “State party in which any significant number of individuals is deprived of essential foodstuffs, of essential primary healthcare, of basic shelter and housing, or of the most basic forms of education, is prima facie, failing to discharge its obligations under the Covenant”, see General Comment No. 3, paras. 10 and 12 [emphasis added].



[4] See OHCHR, International human rights standards and recommendations relevant to the disaggregation of SDG indicators,

[5] These indicators were developed with a contribution by the European Union.


[7] For a comprehensive analysis of how States can strengthen access to justice for the right to adequate housing, see the 10 Guiding Principles on Access to Justice for housing rights violations, contained in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing (A/HRC/40/61). See also Recommendation of the Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of the right to adequate housing CommDH(2009)5, available at: