Do We Have a Right to Shelter?

Tent of homeless person on 6th Street Bridge with Los Angeles skyline in the background. California, USA. (Photo By: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

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Does everyone by virtue of their existence have a right to shelter? It’s a question the California legislature will consider in 2019.

Earlier this month, Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced Senate Bill 48. This Right to Shelter Bill “aims to ensure that homeless individuals and families throughout California have reasonable access to shelter, including navigation centers,” according to Wiener’s office. This “right” includes:

  • “A safe place to sleep and keep one’s belongings.
  • “An ability to access shelter without having to sign up on a daily basis.
  • “An ability to remain with one’s partner.
  • “An ability to access services necessary to stabilize one’s life and transition into supportive housing or permanent housing, including mental health, addiction treatment, and other services.”

When Wiener declares that “California’s housing crisis, along with our mental health and addiction challenges, are driving people into homelessness, and we must act,” we can’t disagree. But shelter is a right? On that we cannot agree.

In the case of SB 48, the “right to shelter” is fabricated out of the loss of others’ rights. Funding for shelter is provided only when others’ right to their property — their money — is violated. Obligating some to pay for others’ “rights” corrupts the proper understanding of what a right truly is. It assigns a burden to society that it did not ask for.

Rather than establishing a heretofore hidden right, the bill actually introduces a mandate, which is defined as “an official instruction or command.” Rights cannot be commanded into existence, nor can commands be interpreted as rights. A more fitting name for Wiener’s legislation would be the “Demand to Provide Shelter” Bill.

None of this means we’re indifferent to the homeless. Humans need housing. But issuing mandates isn’t going to solve the homeless problem, particularly in California, where the housing crisis has forced thousands to go without suitable shelter.

The best policymakers can do is get out of the way. That, however, requires them to take an active role. Government has been the primary author of the housing crisis, and its network of hurdles must be undone. Replace the California Environmental Quality Act with law that reasonably protects the environment but doesn’t create conditions that discourage home building. Forbid rent control laws in every corner of the state. Streamline and shorten the building permit process, and reduce, and waive when possible, permit fees. Lift local regulations that inhibit construction. Overhaul local zoning laws that block housing expansion.

In the best of all cases, policymakers would tear down every barrier they have erected. Eliminating even one of the hurdles mentioned above will do far more for the homeless than passing laws intended to create rights for them.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.


  1. So I guess that , Once again the hard working citizens of California are being forced to pay for other people who don’t or won’t works complete lifestyle.
    Now the Communist government of California demands that we the people supply the homeless with a place to have sex and create more homeless and of course to do their drugs . Don’t forget that after a long day of doing drugs , stealing from cars , burglarizing homes and stabbing innocent citizens that they need shelter to rest before doing it all over again the next day.
    What a state.

  2. The one thing all politicians and citizens need to ask is what investment they made to and for America that makes them think that they deserve even one of America’s blessings!
    Most have done absolutely NOTHING!
    That being said, housing and healthcare are NOT A RIGHT! Got that? There is nothing in our Constitution, or other Founding Documents that give that right, not even the Christian Bible gives the right to free housing, healthcare, education, any government handout!
    To quote a short paragraph from an article I recently read, sorry but I cannot remember who wrote it, but it is very telling. Telling the truth, I might add.
    “We have become a depraved, self-centered, self-indulgent, and cowardly people.”
    And it starts at the top with every political leader, they demonstrate to the Citizens how they should act. Now please re-read that quote!
    “We have become a depraved, self-centered, self-indulgent, and cowardly people.”

  3. As the author says all these new “rights” that the left make up can only be realized by taking other people’s rights to property ie their money, away. All these so called rights to housing, medical, and college cost money and since the govt is the one saying it is a right the govt has to pay for it. Since the only way the govt has to get money is to steal it from the taxpayer that means the taxpayer is the one paying for all these rights. TANSTAAFL

  4. The Captive says

    Not one word about cleaning up after yourself! If you are so hooked on drugs that you won’t do even that then you are costing the TAXPAYERS A lot more money! No do not come here for the free stuff!

  5. Bogiewheel says

    I believe the Military may still have the old blueprints for the construction
    of Army barracks, there is amble room in our various parks. I would have
    suggested the Presidio, however, the liberal cabal has already scooped
    up that choice bit of real estate.
    The democrats could send the “homeless” to Mexico and then declare this rag-tag-group eligible for refugee status and Pelosi could manipulate
    Federal funds to cover the costs. That would allow Pelosi to state that she
    would have saved money so as not to introduce a new State tax.
    This foolishness could have been be stopped in it’s tracks if the tax payers (or voters) received their education elsewhere than California.

  6. I’m waiting for the Zhivago-esque day when the CA Gubmint orders me to share my house with the homeless.

  7. Bogiewheel, I’ve been yelling it from the roof tops. Moonbeam has a 2300+ acre ranch in NorCal. A perfect spot for barracks and the homeless since he caused a lot of them.

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