|Strategies to Combat Homelessness (HABITAT, 2000, 228 p.)|
Within the next few years, and for the first time in human history, more people will live in cities and towns than in rural areas. This process of urbanisation is linked to what has been called the 'urbanisation of poverty', the fact that a rapidly increasing proportion of the world's poor are now living in urban areas.
In developing countries, sprawling slums and squatter settlements and a multitude of street children roaming the streets looking for income-earning opportunities or a place to spend the night are the most striking manifestations of this. The inhabitants of even the most affluent countries are reminded that poverty is present even there every time they encounter a homeless person.
The objective of this report is to take stock of global homelessness. It does not attempt to provide comprehensive data on the number of homeless people. Instead, it focuses on the context and conditions that cause homelessness and examines strategies that have been or can be used to combat homelessness. The report acknowledges that, for a variety of reasons, it is not possible to agree on a definition of homelessness that can be universally applied. It calls instead for a more pragmatic approach. Two main categories of definitions are suggested, a narrow one for developing countries and a broader one for industrial countries, which includes the inadequately housed.
The plight of street children is a major concern in many developing countries. The problems facing homeless children living by themselves are quite different from those of other homeless people. Different types of interventions are thus required for street children and other persons who are homeless. Furthermore, only a minority of street children is homeless. Interventions for street children today should be regarded as elements of a preventative strategy to reduce the number of homeless people tomorrow.
Although this report is intended to have a global coverage, the examples cited are largely drawn from industrial countries. This is due to lack of data. Many Governments continue to maintain that homelessness does not exist (often despite compelling evidence to the contrary). Yet, even in countries that do recognise the existence of homelessness, lack of data is a major impediment to the development of coherent policies and strategies on homelessness. In line with the Habitat Agenda, this report calls upon Governments and other stakeholders to monitor and evaluate the extent of homelessness, and "in consultation with the affected population" formulate and adopt "appropriate housing policies and... effective strategies and plans to address" this problem (paragraph 61.d). Although the examples cited are specific to local conditions, they may provide useful guidance to developing countries as these countries start addressing the problems of homeless people.
There is little doubt that the best way to combat homelessness is to avoid people becoming homeless in the first place. As unemployment is one of the most important reasons why people become homeless, national policies towards the goal of full employment and on establishing/strengthening safety nets are major components in combating homelessness. Another major task for Governments in this respect is to facilitate an adequate supply of affordable housing to every household. This is a viable strategy in many industrial countries. In many developing countries, however, the sheer scale of housing shortages makes this kind of strategy a rather hypothetical option.
It is thus important that Governments in developing countries address the problems of homeless people with specific focus in their housing policies. This focus should be distinct from the general measures for supporting housing production, which can not effectively address the plight of homeless people. The Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000, chapter 7 of Agenda 21 and the Habitat Agenda all call for the introduction and strengthening of enabling shelter strategies. Enablement per se may, and will in most cases have rather limited direct value for people who are homeless. This fact is underscored by the Habitat Agenda, which calls for direct interventions in the promotion of activities favouring people who are homeless and street children "through specific targeted grants" (paragraph 204.y).
In order to be successful, strategies to combat homelessness need to be based on a public policy framework that incorporates employment policy and housing policy, as well as social safety nets and housing allowances.
This report is published as a part of the Global Campaign for Secure Tenure, which is one of the main thrusts of the new strategic vision of UNCHS (Habitat) to implement the Habitat Agenda. The Campaign's focus on eliminating forced evictions is a major effort towards reducing the number of homeless people globally.
I wish to express my appreciation and gratitude to all those who have contributed to the preparation of this report.
Acting Executive Director
United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat)