Key Documents

An Overview of Global Homelessness and Strategies for Systemic Change

Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH)
Katherine Johnson, Mark McGreevy, Molly Seeley

Homelessness is a problem that can be solved with the right mix of program interventions, well-coordinated local systems, and effective policy. We know homelessness can be ended because there are cities that have ended it. Others have seen meaningful reductions in homelessness among certain targeted populations, such as chronically homeless individuals or veterans.

In broad terms, the processes and interventions required to end homelessness are known, though there are adaptations required across cultural, political, and geographical contexts. Some challenges, such as those surrounding rural-urban migration, are more prevalent in developing contexts; others, like homelessness among veterans, are more visible in North America. Still, patterns emerge across countries related to who experiences homelessness and the obstacles to addressing it. These are complex problems that call for shared solutions tailored to local contexts.

This paper will discuss the definition, demographics, major themes, known solutions, and unanswered questions of unsheltered homelessness on a global scale. First, it will explore the necessity of shared vocabulary and suggest the use of the IGH Global Framework for Understanding Homelessness. This framework lays the foundation for comparable data to understand the scope of homelessness in a certain place. The paper will then lay out what is already known about global homelessness, including root causes and key demographics. From there, the paper will discuss the major debates and themes of global homelessness, such as criminalization, and questions of rights and enforcement. The final sections examine effective strategies for systemic change and identify gaps and opportunities for sustained success.

For the purposes of this paper, the term “homelessness” will be used to denote families and individuals that fall within categories 1A – 2C in the IGH Framework. We have decided to focus on this group because these types of “literal homelessness” are generally more prevalent across countries and continents than some of the other categories, which often apply to specific areas. Despite being at the most extreme end of the housing deprivation spectrum, these groups are often neglected in discussion at global and local levels. However, in narrowing the scope of this paper to these categories, we do not mean to suggest that other categories cannot or should not be considered homeless in local contexts.


PUBLISHER(S): Institute of Global Homelessness

Read more : Briefing IGH Overview of Global Homelessness (ENG)

Forced Displacement – Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons

The briefing paper “Forced Displacement – Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons” sets out to provide a snapshot of forced displacement, its impact and current approaches to finding durable solutions for those that have had no choice but to leave their homes behind. It tries to illustrate the complexity of the issue by touching on a wide range of aspects, including the legal landscape as well as the causes and human costs of displacement. However, due to the multifaceted nature of the subject area, this paper should only be considered as a starting point for further, more in-depth considerations and discussions.

Read more: Briefing on Forced Displacement FHA (ENG)

Global Slum Dwellers

A Slum is a form of urban poverty in a developing region. The UN classifies a house as a slum if the household possesses any of the following deprivations; lack of access to a clean water source, sanitation facilities, sufficient living area, housing durability and secure tenure (protection against unlawful eviction). There are an estimated 881 million slum dwellers in the world.

There are three primary sources which cause the formation of slums; population growth, rapid urbanisation and poor planning.                                                          Populations continue to surge across the developing world and urban housing cannot keep up with demand. Rapid rural- urban migration in the global south puts intense stress on housing stock and often countries lack the foresight and planning for this. House building has too often been focused on provision for the middle class rather than the poor and as a result housing projects have proven unaffordable to most of the urban population. Mass- housing construction is often preferred to upgrading slums as it is cheaper and quicker to carry out, however this leaves those in slums to continue to live in substandard accommodation.

The human cost of living in slums is considerable. Poor sanitation and unclean water results in disease and ill-health. Crime and violence tends to be higher in slums and slum dwellers have fewer education and employment opportunities than those in formal accommodation.

Solutions have focused on upgrading slums but McKinsey estimates that it will cost around $16 trillion to replace all substandard housing. Some argue that construction of housing is a more effective approach than slum upgrading. The large scale of the housing deficit requires more than incremental upgrading of slums. Furthermore, improving informal settlements is disproportionately expensive and an inefficient use of prime land which could be used to build large capacity buildings to house many more people.

However, there is still reason for optimism. Improvement in the lives of slum dwellers can occur and has occurred for more than 320 million since 2000. Furthermore, new technology allows components of a house to be built off site which allows good quality housing to be built quicker and cheaper than before. With the international community united and committed to ending slum dwelling and to the universal provision of safe and sustainable housing, slums will hopefully be confined to the past.

Read more:  Briefing Slum Dwellers FHA (ENG)

Saint Vincent and the Homeless

Homelessness was a major focus of St Vincent’s charitable work. Father Robert Maloney, in his article “Welcoming the Stranger: Saint Vincent de Paul and the Homeless” explores how his example, four hundred years later, has inspired the creation of a Vincentian Family ‘megaproject’ for homeless people: the Famvin Homeless Alliance (FHA).

Homelessness, says Father Maloney, “ranked high on Vincent’s agenda” and his initiatives were foundational in establishing the principles of structured and well-administered charity we see today. 

He, in fact, dedicated time and effort to accommodate foundling children. Using the money donated by the Queen of Austria, he build 13 small houses which he rented to the Ladies of Charity where children were accommodated. The regular rent money became the stable endowment to support the missions in Sedan. 

He also worked hard to find lodging and assistance for thousands of men, women and children displaced by the conflict in Lorraine. He organized campaigns to raise funds and to obtain contributions for their relief.  He’s led efforts to shelter, clothe and feed people living on the streets of Paris, coordinating massive relief programs, including providing soup twice a day for thousands at a time. He organized collections of food, provisions of clothing and utensils and more. St Vincent founded a hospice called “The Name of Jesus”, purchasing a house and sourcing the substantial annual income required to operate the hostel.

Vincent also organized educational programs for to equip teachers for catechizing those living in desperate circumstances. For him, education and job training were extremely important in transforming the lives of the homeless and the poor. Central too were the values which underpinned his work: Saint Vincent demanded diligence and accountability from those who served the poor under his watch.

Fr Maloney argues an emphasis on collaboration and systemic change are essential to an effective and fruitful project and articulates how this can be achieved, especially through listening to and actively involving our homeless brothers and sisters.

Read the article: St. Vincent and the Homeless_ENG


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