SUN 24 - 3 - 2019
Date: Mar 14, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Homelessness today: Cause for global shame
Dima El-Hassan

Homelessness is a sign of failure for governments intended to provide basic needs and security for their people. Based on national reports, the Global Homeless Statistics estimates around 2 percent of the world population – 150 million people – to be homeless. Furthermore, about 1.6 billion people, or 20 percent of world’s population, lack adequate housing, according to U.N.-Habitat. In fact, there is no accuracy on the exact number of homeless people, mainly because there is no single internationally agreed definition on homelessness. Use of the term may vary, referring to the absence of an adequate dwelling, “rough sleeping” or a lack of permanent housing that ensures safety, security, identity, dignity and well-being. It may also include those who sleep in homeless shelters, tents or any public or private space not designed as a place to sleep in.

Reasons for homelessness also vary, from the inability to afford housing to poverty, unemployment, prison release, drug or alcohol addiction, family breakdown, social exclusion or rapid urbanization, and displacement caused by conflicts, wars or natural disasters.

All in all, homeless people are among the most vulnerable groups in the world and constitute quite a portion of the world’s population, proving further the cruelty of the 21st-century world and putting our humanity to shame.

Every human being has the right to have a home. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

In this sense, many countries provide various services to help homeless people through programs supported by either the government itself or NGOs, charities, religious institutions or even individual donors. Some countries have homeless ministries, while others, like Scandinavian countries, adopt nationwide policies for housing.

Europe has the right to a home in its constitution, indicating that the state should provide some kind of shelter to all.

In the United States, where the number of homeless people has reached 553,742 according to the 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report, the issue is in the hands of cities or states. A notable recent success story in ending homelessness is that of the city of Fort Worth. It is giving homeless people jobs, especially in cleaning up the streets. By doing this, even at low pay, the individuals feel more responsible than any other paid employee does, mainly because they feel the need to prove to their community they are worthy. Another step is to provide them with training to move into the workforce. This especially helps those with criminal records prohibiting them from reintegration into formal work. They thus develop an employment record that enables them to apply for jobs. Fort Worth found a way to fix one of its homelessness issues, which calls other cities and government institutions in the world to follow their lead.

But when the issue surpasses internal homelessness, it becomes more complex. Although access to safe and adequate housing is a basic human right, homelessness is not just about lacking a house but lacking home. Home means identity, belonging, roots, security, self-control over one’s choices and environment and connectedness with family, friends and society.

That is brutally experienced by refugees and displaced people whose risk of becoming homeless is very high. Their lack of belonging and loss of identity lead them to feel “out of place” when they can no longer consider any place their home.

According to UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from their homes by conflict and persecution by the end of 2016. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, health care, work and freedom of movement. The 7-year-old Syrian conflict alone has created the biggest number of refugees today, reaching 5.5 million. From Palestine to Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria and South Sudan, refugees today are produced in masses. This alarming situation needs a global settlement.

In addition to the loss of their home and sometimes their loved ones, many refugees have to face unbearable challenges from discrimination to enforcement into low-skilled and low-paying jobs, making them live in permanent instability and insecurity.

They are living in a place that is not their home and fight forever to get accepted in their new environment. They are doomed to live insecurely in shame and fear, permanently in an impermanent state, hoping to find a house they can call home.

Dima El-Hassan is director of programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 14, 2018, on page 3.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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