Homeless people and other priority attention groups. Who are they and why is it necessary to attend to them?

Homeless people and other priority attention groups. Who are they and why is it necessary to attend to them?

By Arturo Soto y Victoria Villalobos

Talking about homeless people is also talking about institutional invisibility, structural violence and a deficient exercise of human rights. As people with insufficient support networks, they are subjected to violence and mistreatment without others interceding to stop them. What obligations do institutions have to guarantee the exercise of their rights? Let’s go by steps:

First, what are human rights?

They are the basic conditions people need to live with dignity and in a peace environment. This set of prerogatives is established within the national legal order, in our Political Constitution, international treaties and laws. And it is essential that their dignified exercise be guaranteed, especially in vulnerable populations also known as priority attention groups.

Who are the priority attention groups?

The Political Constitution of Mexico City recognizes as groups of priority attention those who are in some situation of structural inequality, who for many years have been discriminated against, excluded, and mistreated, and who even today face great obstacles to enjoying their rights and freedoms.

And what are these priority attention groups?

Since its publication in 2018, the Political Constitution of Mexico City recognizes the following as priority attention groups:

  • women
  • girls, boys and adolescents
  • young people
  • old people
  • people living with a disability
  • LGBTTTI+ people
  • migrants and subjects of international protection
  • victimized people
  • homeless people
  • persons deprived of liberty
  • people residing in social assistance institutions
  • people of African descent
  • people of indigenous identity
  • people belonging to religious minorities


What should the authority be doing in favor of these groups?

Recognize them, listen to them, care for them and protect them.

  • Ensure that its members participate in decision-making spaces.
  • Operate actions according to tehir specific needs.
  • With a broad and sufficient social system
  • Prohibit any exercise of violence or discrimination towards them
  • Prevent, investigate, punish and repair violations of their human rights.
  • Make them known and make the population aware of the rights they have
  • Encourage and strengthen Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) that work to defend these groups
  • Recognize the right of people to identify with a certain group and respect their decision-making capacity

Now, who is considered a homeless person and what are their characteristics like?

The street population is a diverse social group, made up of girls, boys, young people, women, men, families, older adults, people with disabilities and others with various health problems and addictions. (COPRED, 2017).

  • Homeless people are a diverse group with individual and different life stories
  • People who live and transit in the public space, where they generate and develop their own forms of subsistence and do not have a regular home (own, rented or borrowed) or a place with services to get their housing needs.
  • Homeless people often live in extreme poverty and have broken or fragile family ties.
  • Their problems are complex and multifactorial, and are aggravated by the invisibility and systematic discrimination of which they are victims.


The street situation is multi-causal and intersectional, not just a decision

The reasons that have gotten these people to the streets are diverse. Family violence, broken family nuclei, unemployment, addictions, lack of opportunities, discrimination, among many others. We talk about social causes but also structural ones.

The Inter-institutional Protocol for Comprehensive Care for People Living on the Street in Mexico City (2020) classifies the causes of homelessness as follows:

  • Macrostructural factors or factors associated with the community: from problems derived from economic, political and cultural movements (eg policies that cause massive unemployment, devaluations, migration or little regulation of a real estate market).
  • Medium-structural factors or factors associated with the family: those elements that are at a level of greater proximity. They are all those institutions or networks of relationships that have a direct impact on people, such as family, school or work (e.g. “The reasons why people live on the street are very diverse, from homosexual children and pregnant girls who run from their homes, abused minors, people with drug addiction and others who cannot pay the rent,” said Ali Ruiz Coronel, a researcher at the UNAM Social Research Institute (IIS).” (DGCS UNAM, 2020)). “There are also older adults who, after working, are thrown out onto the street by their families, and they are there because they have no other place; or people who were in prison and are unable to rejoin society. The diversity in the causes and in the ways in which people live on the street are the fundamental characteristic”, he pointed out.
  • Microstructural factors or factors associated with the individual: They have to do with the subjective aspect of individuals (eg the need to migrate, mental health problems, loss of support networks, death of family members, job insecurity, etc.).

We speak then of a complex problem that needs to be addressed from its causes, through prevention, regulation and support programs. Guaranteeing the full exercise of their rights is a joint task. Government, institutions and civil society must work so that people living on the streets have a dignified life free of violence. When one of the parties is not doing its job, it is up to Civil Society Organizations to intercede to stop the violence and discrimination of which street populations are victims.

Integrating street populations and addressing their problems is not an easy task, but we can all contribute with actions that start from a reality that is sometimes forgotten: homeless people are subjects of rights.

Arturo Soto y Victoria Villalobos

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