Advocacy is about defending a noble cause and denouncing oppression and injustice. However, it should be also a source of inspiration for alternative solutions to social, political and economic threats. Solutions advocating for inclusion and equality instead of exclusion or, worse, only of private financial interests.
First, what is Global Homelessness? Its current statistic are inaccurate and outdated. However, an estimated 100 million people or more are the world’s homeless (UN, ECOSOC, Commission on Human Rights). While this is roughly 2% of the world population, 20%, 1.6 billion people, lack adequate housing (See Habitat 2005). The UN Statistic Division groups homeless in two categories: those who live in streets having no shelter, and those who move frequently between accommodations shelters, dwellings, others’ home.
Homelessness is both a cause and effect of complex and multifaceted social and economic poverty due to lack of housing affordability, increased housing costs, privatization of civic services, conflicts, and rapid urbanization. With inadequate or no housing comes inadequate or no access to necessary services such as electricity, public programs, transportation, education, internet, water.
While some may argue that solving homelessness would be very costly, a more profound analysis shows that it would be in the countries’ economic interest to address the issue. In the United States of America, for example, each chronically homeless person costs the taxpayer some $35,578 per year. This is reduced by 49.5% when they are placed in supportive housing.
A case study in Tshwane, a South Africa city, states that the homeless population have great economic potential. Employing the homeless will reduce homelessness and benefit the country economy.
Accessing education is obviously difficult to impossible to those who are homeless. By investing in inclusive education system, the countries can lower the rates of homelessness. Moreover, ending homelessness can increase the number of educated citizens, and more education means economic, social, and political opportunities for all citizens, which in turn rebounds in all countries even economic advantages.
Homeless persons are at risk for many health issues, especially to meet infectious diseases, putting safety of the entire public at risk. Some research even suggests that homelessness can lead to developing mental illnesses. Health concerns can have negative effects for both individuals and societies. It is in the interest of public health to address homelessness saving social security money.
Society should feel concerned for all human rights that homeless people lack. Hunger, often characterized by malnutrition, can have deeply negative effects on one’s health especially among children. Maternal and childhood chronic hunger results in risk for poorer general health, increasing anxiety, irritability, and aggressiveness. Among children, it can increase developmental, physical, and emotional disorder, all weighing down on social health cost. This can perpetuate a cycle of poverty and homelessness, than in turn increase structural, sexual and domestic violence. Increased rates of violence, in other hand, have shown to be a predictor of repeated homelessness.
An humanitarian problem
Homelessness is a social and humanitarian problem. Winters bring to the news the endless list of old and poor people dying while sleeping on the street, for lack of food and health treatment, while life, food, housing are the basically human rights. Instead of looking at homeless people as a social sore and nuisance, why do not society’s leaders see them as an opportunity? Such a suggestion, can be argued, borders an old sophism, “salty anchovies make thirsty, being thirsty pushes to drink what in turn quenches thirst, and therefore anchovies quench thirst”.
However, homelessness is not about a theoretical discussion. Homelessness endangers the lives of vulnerable people, particularly women and children. In Toronto, Canada, homeless women 18-44 years of age were 10 times more likely to die than the general female population as a 2004 report says. Research in South Africa suggests that homeless pregnant women lacking health security, education, and awareness are more inclined to experience health complications leading to a low birth weight, longer hospital stays, and a higher need of neonatal intensive care. Why societies, for their own economic, social, and political interest, do not prevent such problems that can be foreseen, instead of reacting with violence and repression when they unexpectedly happen?
John Paul Pezzi, mccj
VIVAT International NGO
with consultative special status at UN