The grassroots documentary film chronicling the first official mission to the United States by the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, traveled with NESRI staff to Moscow, Idaho and Irvine, California, catalyzing audience discussions about a human right to housing in the United States.
NESRI Human Right to Housing program staff member Rob Robinson attended the More Than A Roof [MTAR] showing in Moscow, where it was screened in a local theatre before an audience that included the city’s Human Rights Commission and Mayor, University of Idaho’s Dean of Students, members of the Nez Perce indigenous tribe, and local residents. A facilitated discussion about human rights and housing with the 75 attendees occurred subsequently. The visit was facilitated by Rula Awwad-Rafferty, a member of Moscow’s Human Rights Commission, which is charged with implementing goals and objectives concerning the civil and human rights of persons and groups in the community. Awwad-Rafferty called the film an “amazing gift,” the discussion inspirational, and believes that the screening “instigated something that will only keep on growing.”
Robinson said the group discussion ranged from foreclosures to the city’s growing homeless population, and that Moscow had housing challenges similar to many major urban communities in the United State despite its “small town America” appearance. Moscow’s housing costs have increased significantly in the University-dominated city. As the main campus of the student University of Idaho, where roughly 92% of its 12,132 students reside, the city attracts significant real estate investment. Robinson shared his own homeless experience with a high school sociology class, which encouraged a student to reveal her own experience, including her mother’s battle with substance abuse. (The student is now with her father in subsidized housing.) Robinson also visited the Nez Perce Tribal Council and got to speak with tribal commissioners who are involved in land-use planning. A return visit to Moscow is in the works.
Program Director Peter Sabonis traveled with MTAR to the University of California-Irvine School of Law. On March 29th, he facilitated a group discussion with law students and faculty after an MTAR screening. The discussion centered around housing, homelessness, and the role of the human rights within the U.S. system of jurisprudence. Roughly thirty students engaged in the discussion. The law students have regular meetings on human rights issues.
The MTAR screenings are designed to raise consciousness around housing as human need with human rights obligations. The group discussions, which can be facilitated by the MTAR discussion guide, NESRI staff, local organizer, activist, or volunteer, provide the opportunity for participants to view local housing challenges in a larger context, develop a structural analysis of the housing market and, hopefully, see themselves as agents of change.