2020 will be a crucial year to make homeless people count. In February, for the first time in its entire history, the UN will release a report on homelessness written by the Secretary General.
This is an opportunity to begin a global strategy to end homelessness – an opportunity we must seize. Currently, there is no strategy at all. Every other major social issue is tackled globally to some degree. Not homelessness. In fact, countries don’t even agree on a definition. And there is no global measurement either. At the UN right now, homeless people aren’t just ignored – they aren’t even numbers.
You might think, so what? But this matters. Put bluntly, it is preventing us from ending homelessness. How can you solve a problem if you don’t know its size? Any credible strategy must have good data and information. This means we can design programmes that respond to need systematically. We can identify gaps and help those people too. We can hold governments to account and keep track of progress. Measurement is key.
But how can you measure a problem if you don’t agree on what the problem is? That’s why we need a definition. When countries agree broadly on what ‘homelessness’ means, then we can begin to measure it.
The UN has the power to both agree a definition of homelessness and to measure it too. The UN claims to measure global poverty – but how can you measure poverty if you don’t measure its most visible manifestation, homelessness?
So the FHA, alongside the IGH and the NGO Working Group to End Homelessness, is launching the campaign “Make Us Count”. We are taking the voices and expertise of homeless people themselves to those grand chambers at the UN. And we have an open letter, signed by leading homelessness charities and experts telling the UN that, yes, definition plus measurement is the start of a global strategy. A strategy the UN must lead. During the campaign there will also be the presentation a new book co-edited by our coordinator Mark McGreevy on homelessness and Catholic Social Teaching.
It is easy to turn a blind eye to something we can’t see. But homelessness – in its most extreme form, on the open street – is different. It is conspicuous and jarring. It’s right in front of us, on a street corner, outside a train station, on the steps of a church. Homelessness is personal: it is manifest not in a statistic or a concept or a film, but in a real person – a person who often asks you directly for help.
And yet, these people have been ignored at the UN – until now. This is our chance to begin a global strategy. This is our chance to make homeless people count. Visit makeuscount.com for more information and to find out how you can get involved.