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Ireland: UN experts raise alarm over growing number of homeless people in Cork with no access to water 

GENEVA (6 June 2016) – Two United Nations experts on the human rights to water and sanitation and adequate housing today expressed concern over the increasing number of homeless people in the city of Cork, Ireland, and their lack of access to water and sanitation. Over 700 people are homeless in the city of approximately 120,000 inhabitants.

“Widespread homelessness is evidence of the failure of the State to protect and ensure the human rights of the most disadvantaged populations,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Leilani Farha, noting that the number of homeless people has risen in the last few years due to the lack of affordable housing and the impact of austerity measures.

The expert stressed that –according to international human rights law–all levels of government are under an obligation, to provide urgent measures, including financial assistance, to ensure access to affordable housing and essential levels of drinking water and sanitation services.

“The State must take immediate steps to provide these services to homeless people, and at the same time, it must plan and implement a strategy to eliminate homelessness and provide long-term housing solutions,” Ms. Farha said.

Rent allowance allocations available to individuals and families by the city of Cork are reportedly grossly inadequate in relation to the cost of housing in the private market. Tenants with low or irregular income have no protection from sudden increases in rent, forcing them to either move out or face eviction, often resulting in homelessness.

“It is deeply worrying that there have been no free and adequate public installations for water or public toilets in Cork for the last ten years. This effectively means the denial of access to water and sanitation for the homeless,” added the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitation, Léo Heller.

While the Government provides some public emergency shelters, these establishments’ services related to water and sanitation are inadequate, the expert noted. Some shelters do not open until the evening, and existing shelters are not sufficient to accommodate the growing numbers of homeless people in the city.

“During the day, the only alternative for many homeless people in Cork is to request access to water and sanitation services from private residents or establishments such as bars, restaurants or public institutions,” Mr. Heller said. “This extreme lack of autonomy experienced is a denial of their privacy and dignity, as well as a health concern, as the situation results in access to very low quantities of water and limited access to sanitation facilities.”

The two Special Rapporteurs raised concern over this situation in September 2015 to the Government of Ireland through a confidential letter, requesting a response within 60 days. The Rapporteurs received a reply from the Government of Ireland on 6 June 2016 and will examine the response.

Ms. Leilani Farha (Canada) is the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. She took her function in June 2014. Ms. Farha is the Executive Director of the NGO Canada without Poverty, based in Ottawa, Canada. A lawyer by training, for the past 20 years Ms. Farha has worked both internationally and domestically on the implementation of the right to adequate housing for the most marginalized groups and on the situation of people living in poverty. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Housing/Pages/HousingIndex.aspx

Mr. Léo Heller (Brazil) is the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation. He was appointed by the Human Rights Council in November 2014. Mr. Heller is currently a researcher in the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/WaterAndSanitation/SRWater/Pages/SRWaterIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Ireland: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/IEIndex.aspx

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