This is more difficult to answer than it sounds. There is no globally agreed definition of homelessness, and even within countries the topic can be contentious. At the same time, we knew we couldn’t measure and solve a problem we couldn’t define, so we made developing shared language on homelessness a top priority.
We are excited to share the result: the IGH Framework, the product of collaboration from researchers, policy experts and on-the-ground leaders in six continents. The Framework includes a common definition of homelessness: “lacking access to minimally adequate housing.” The Framework also describes the many housing situations that could fall into that definition. A country or city can choose which of these types of housing need they include in their local definition of homelessness.
To download the full research paper on the IGH Framework, including the conceptual model and strategies for using the Framework toward measurement, click here. To read the full Framework online in Habitat International, click here.
By allowing us to meaningfully discuss homelessness in a global context and laying the foundation for measurement, this Framework will help us understand where efforts to address homelessness are succeeding. This is the first step toward informed, focused and measurable action to ending homelessness.
How did IGH develop the Framework?
To ensure the Framework resonated globally, IGH enlisted three international homelessness experts to guide the process. Professors Volker Busch-Geertsema, Dennis Culhane, and Suzanne Fitzpatrick agreed to draft the Framework and gather feedback.
Luckily, they had a head start. Excellent research has been done on this question, both on a regional level and a global scale. For example, FEANTSA in Europe and the European Observatory on Homelessness (EOH) developed the European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion (ETHOS) to capture the various shapes of homelessness in Europe.
Globally, researchers Graham Tipple and Suzanne Speak have written extensively on homelessness in the developing world, including the book The Hidden Millions: Homelessness in Developing Countries. At the country level, Professors Busch-Geertsema, Culhane and Fitzpatrick compiled articles and policy papers from across the world.
In June, 100 thought leaders came to Chicago to discuss homelessness in their home countries and to give input toward the draft version of the Framework. Presentations explored Thailand, the Philippines, Russia, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, China, Korea, India and the European Union. Additional feedback toward the Framework came from attendees from Belgium, Chile, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Puerto Rico, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, USA and Wales.
These presentations are available on our website. We are immensely grateful to the leaders who shared their time and expertise.
How will the Framework help end homelessness?
First, common vocabulary makes it possible to collaborate across countries instead of talking past one another. Before the Framework, the absence of a common definition led to time wasted at conferences debating what homelessness means instead of getting to work solving it.
“The reason why we are focused on a common understanding of homelessness is because it is central to having any kind of meaningful dialogue about homelessness—not just amongst researchers but also between policy-makers, practitioners, and others interested in homelessness,” said Fitzpatrick.
Second, the Framework lays the foundation for measuring and assessing the dimensions of global homelessness. Even where countries now measure homelessness, each measurement may include different information. The Framework allows countries to measure and meaningfully compare certain types of homelessness, even if overall definitions vary. In more countries, there is little or no measurement of homelessness, making the problem invisible to policymakers.
“A global estimate of homelessness… is important for a worldwide initiative to address the problem, and to have numbers. Numbers drive investment,” said Busch-Geertsema.
Finally and most importantly, having a common vocabulary and ability to assess the dimensions of homelessness will set the foundation for new action to reduce those numbers globally.
IGH focus on street homelessness and temporary shelter
IGH will focus our work with practitioners, policymakers and researchers whose efforts address the types of homelessness within categories one and two (a-c) of the Framework. This roughly covers those experiencing street homelessness or who are in temporary crisis shelter.
Our rationale is straightforward. First, we have found that “homelessness” is more commonly understood in these terms across the globe. Second, organizations and networks already exist to focus on slum dwellers, refugees, and internally displaced peoples. It would be neither sensible nor appropriate for IGH to try to usurp the work of these existing organizations.
In choosing this focus, IGH does not mean to diminish the importance of other forms of homelessness; rather, we seek to fill a gap. As an international community we are in the midst of a refugee crisis whose dimensions are heartbreaking, and which deserves our attention and resources. There are several organizations working on this issue, including those named below.
There is no parallel global organization focused on the specific needs of people experiencing street homelessness or living in temporary shelter. IGH seeks to fill that gap while working in concert with organizations like those above, recognizing that homelessness is complex and that someone experiencing street homelessness might once have been a refugee or experienced a natural disaster.
IGH will work to support policymakers and thought leaders to use the Framework as a guide for measuring and advancing action to reduce homelessness. We are developing toolkits to help measure homelessness locally which will include questions aligned with the Framework to more precisely assess the numbers and types of people who lack access to minimally adequate housing.
Of course, measurement and discussion based on the Framework are a means to an end. We intend to use the Framework to develop concrete goals to reduce homelessness, at the same time sharing effective practice, creating space for mutual learning across countries and mobilizing global, targeted action. We look forward to sharing our plans in all of these areas.
Please reach out with feedback on the Framework or questions on how to get involved at firstname.lastname@example.org.