Homelessness and the New Urban Agenda

Last month, IGH joined 30,000 participants from 167 countries in Quito, Ecuador for the third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III).

Homelessness and the New Urban Agenda

Following four days of workshops, high-level consultations and a village of interactive exhibits, United Nations member states formally adopted the New Urban Agenda.

The United Nations describes the New Urban Agenda as “an action-oriented document which will set global standards of achievement in sustainable urban development.” Practically, the New Urban Agenda lays out a vision for cities, a set of guiding principles, and a number of commitments meant to bring them to life.

Commitments in the New Urban Agenda cover varied ground, from transportation to renewable energy. Throughout the past year, the Institute urged our peers to work with their national delegations toward including a commitment to ending unsheltered homelessness – and to actively measuring and evaluating progress.

Though the New Urban Agenda falls short of including this specific, measurable goal, the following transformative commitments offer a clear call to action for governments around the world:

  • “We will take positive measures to improve the living conditions of homeless people with a view of facilitating their full participation in society and to prevent and eliminate homelessness, as well as to combat and eliminate its criminalization.”

  • “We commit to promote national, sub-national, and local housing policies that support the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing for all.”

The Institute is eager to support cities as they take on this daunting work.

We welcome this clear commitment to reducing, ending, and preventing homelessness everywhere in the world. Now comes the hard part – ensuring all of our neighbors have a place to call home will take courage, and we’ll need to hold each other accountable.

Measuring and ending unsheltered homelessness

The Institute partnered with the National Alliance to End Homelessness and FEANTSA to host a networking event on measuring and ending unsheltered homelessness. Speakers included Nan Roman of NAEH; Maria Aldanas of FEANTSA; Alexia Suarez of the University of Puerto Rico and the Latin American and Caribbean Homelessness Network; and David Ireland of the Building and Social Housing Foundation.

The event drew over fifty participants, who learned about the IGH Framework, measuring homelessness across Europe and Latin America, and garnering public engagement and political will to tackle complex social problems.

The Institute looks forward to continuing this conversation, and to working alongside leaders across the world to give the New Urban Agenda life on the ground.

Connecting Threads: The IGH Leadership Fall Convening

Nairobi, Bratislava, Chennai, Hamilton, Waterloo, Santiago, Budapest, Brno, Tshwane. These cities have different foods, different customs, different styles of dress. They believe, sometimes, in different religions. Their governments are bound by different constitutions.

But the IGH Leadership Program cohort from each of these cities agreed on one thing: the street is not a place to live.

The cohort met in Chennai, India for the second of three convenings. The first convening, in Chicago, featured a curriculum that focused on Agile Problem Solving and innovation facilitated by Community Solutions. At the meeting in Chennai, Community Solutions’ curriculum mixed technical know-how with opportunities to exchange ideas and discuss how to overcome specific programmatic hurdles they were encountering in pursuit of the long- and short-term goals they’d committed to in Chicago.

“Homelessness work doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” explained Mrinalini Ravi, who works for the Chennai-based nonprofit The Banyan. The Banyan works specifically with people experiencing homelessness who are also mentally ill, operating facilities throughout the region. One such facility, known as The Balm, provides permanent supportive housing for older women.

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At the IGH Leadership Program’s first convening in Chicago, Mrinalini and her IGH Leadership Program partner (and coworker at The Banyan), Preetha Krishnadas, committed to a short term goal of getting voter ID cards for all the patients in one of their facilities; they were happy to announce at the fall convening that they had achieved that goal, obtaining voter ID cards for 138 mentally ill clients.

This is a major milestone for both The Banyan and for persons living with mental health issues, as this is the first time in Indian Politics that a person living with a mental health issue in an inpatient setting has been given a right to vote. It also come at a time when the Indian government is debating a Destitution Bill which would decriminalize homelessness in the country, and according to key constituents whom Preetha and Mrinalini have interviewed, being recognized as an Indian citizen with a right to vote is one of the most critical elements to fostering their personhood and political identity.

“The law is for people experiencing homelessness,” Preetha pointed out. “We should hear their feedback.”

Common Problems

Those working in the homelessness sector hear the phrase “homelessness is a local problem,” a lot, and to a great extent, it’s true. The specific issues facing Mrinalini and Preetha in Tamil Nadu, India are not necessarily the exact same as those facing Marie Morrison and Amanda DiFalco in Ontario, Canada.

But each team in the IGH Leadership program has faced obstacles that are familiar to anyone working in the civil sector: lack of resources, conflicting public opinions, and a deficit of political will.

“Kenya is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, and one of the richest in Africa,” explained Rodgers Omurambi of the Centre for Empowerment and Life Transformation in Nairobi, Kenya. “But it’s not looked at as ‘homelessness.’ It’s looked at as ‘street life.’ People think of it as a choice. We have to find a way to adjust attitudes.”

The Bratislava and Budapest teams are also working on campaigns to change the tide of public opinion. Luca Koltai from Habitat for Humanity Hungary in Budapest is working under the peculiar conditions of having ten times the amount of vacant privately-owned homes as there are people living on the street–but the stigma around homelessness, and lack of housing benefits and social rentals, turns empty homes unaffordable for people experiencing homelessness.

In some places, the issue is a government that is often in flux; in others, government is too long-standing and set in its ways. Vit Lesak, from the Platform for Social Housing in Brno, Czech Republic, helped start a network of people who had previously experienced homelessness to find their strengths and figure out how to better serve those still on the street.

“We learned it may be better to organize our own networks than to rely on a stronger and more rigid partner like the government,” Vit explained. He shrugged. “Politics are messy.”

Isabel Lacalle and Karinna Soto from CalleLink in Santiago, Chile took a similar route. Between the last convening and this one, they teamed up with colleagues in Brazil and Puerto Rico to form the Latin American Homelessness Network, which had its first meeting in June. Their goal is to strengthen communications across borders and create an inclusive environment where NGOs and governments can work together.

Common Solutions

Local problems can have global roots–and global solutions.

For example, Wilna de Beer and Joel Mayephu, from the Tshwane Leadership Foundation in Tshwane, South Africa recently used the VI-SPDAT, a North American intervention by OrgCode Consulting and Community Solutions, to determine the most vulnerable population in an overcrowded shelter. In Ontario, Marie and Amanda–also working on prioritization and vulnerability–worked to develop a framework to improve language around “chronic homelessness,” and help determine vulnerability.

As soon as they mentioned it, hands in the room shot up. “Can we get a copy of that?”

On the issue of working with the government, the room quickly filled with voices, offering advice and lamenting many of the same obstacles.

Team Tshwane confronted the issue of lacking political strength by collaborating with universities, service workers, healthcare professionals, local officials, and people experiencing homelessness to draft a plan for government involvement.

“We’re excited to be collaborating with the new government,” Wilna said, “because there is no party majority, which allows for more diverse voices.”

That approach was helpful for Mariana Ištoňová and Jozef Kákoš, from DePaul Slovensko in Bratislava, Slovakia who are drafting an action plan for 2017 to help raise resources, increase city involvement, and advocate to the public. They’ve managed to garner political support for a national homelessness strategy and improved cooperation between NGOs.

Connecting Threads

There is no silver bullet solution for homelessness. But there are interventions that have been successful and can be adapted to suit unique contexts. During their three days in Chennai, the IGH Leadership Program cohort exchanged ideas, advice, commiserations, and resources.

Progress has been made in each city, and will continue to be made between now and December. To quote Nairobi’s Susan Kiogora, “We have many challenges … but this is a global problem which needs people to come together to be a strong force.”

Or, to put it more simply: “I value our strength.”

Greater Manchester Becomes Third Vanguard City with A Place to Call Home

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Greater Manchester Combined Authority released the following announcement this morning of their participation as a vanguard city in the Institute of Global Homelessness A Place to Call Home campaign:

Greater Manchester became one of a select few Vanguard Cities charged with leading the global effort to tackle rough sleeping and homelessness at an event yesterday (6 March) at Bishop’s Rooms in the city centre.

In January the city-region pledged new funding of at least £7 million covering the next three years as it intensifies efforts to tackle homelessness with the Mayor, Andy Burnham, pledging to eradicate rough sleeping in Manchester by 2020.

And now political leaders, representatives from the charitable sector and other key strategic partners have backed the Mayor as he signed up to The Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH)’s international drive to tackle homelessness across the world.

Greater Manchester joins Edmonton in Canada and Adelaide in Australia as Vanguard Cities that have committed to achieving a goal by the end of 2020: either an end to, or a reduction in, street homelessness.

Some 10 additional cities across six continents are expected announce their participation in the coming months.

The city-region will benefit from the IGH’s guidance and support, while working alongside the other Vanguard Cities to work together to tackle common challenges.

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Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “It’s tremendous to be named by the Institute of Global Homelessness as one of the world’s leading cities when it comes to taking innovative and ambitious steps to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.

“Make no mistake, the effort to tackle the humanitarian crisis that is our homelessness and rough sleeping epidemic is a key priority for me as Mayor.”

Dame Louise Casey, formerly Deputy Director of Shelter and Advisory Committee Chair at IGH, added: “I am really pleased that Mayor Andy Burnham and all the leaders across Greater Manchester, together with Manchester City Council, have committed to ending rough sleeping. Being part of the Vanguard Cities global campaign will show the rest of the country that we can and should take action to alleviate homelessness in the UK.”

Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, chairs the Manchester Homelessness Partnership Board and said: “Homelessness is a huge scourge on our society, something that we cannot simply tolerate or ignore. I’m grateful to be part of the work we are doing together to eradicate it.”

Councillor Bernard Priest, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Manchester is striving to be in the forefront of best practice in responding to this challenging issue. The council is working together with a wide range of public and voluntary sector partners to address homelessness, with a strong emphasis on prevention as well as providing wraparound support for anyone who does become homeless to help them move forwards.

“The insight of people who have themselves been homeless, and who are sharing their knowledge and experience with us, is key to this approach. That said, we recognize that this is a national and global issue and we are very much open to learning from the experiences of other cities as well as sharing our own.”

IGH will support Vanguard Cities with experts and leaders who have past success reducing and ending homelessness both in the UK and internationally – they will work intensively with the cities on an individual basis, including personal support visits.

In December the Mayor’s Homelessness Fund, an important part of Greater Manchester’s efforts to end rough sleeping, announced a running total of £135,000.

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To make a donation or find out more about the Mayor’s Homelessness Fund, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/GM-Mayoral-Fund

The Institute of Global Homelessness is a collaboration led by DePaul University in Chicago and Depaul International, which is based in the United Kingdom. The institute serves as a central hub where practitioners, policymakers and researchers can find the tools they need to end homelessness on a global scale. For more information, visit http://www.ighomelessness.org.

Mark McGreevy: “A commitment to ending unsheltered homelessness should take center stage”

This is the transcript of a speech delivered to the UN by IGH co-founder Mark McGreevy. To watch the video, click here.

Thank you to the organizers for the invitation to speak at this event. Thanks also to the Vincentian Family of NGOs at the UN – representing a membership of two million people globally working to end poverty in 151 countries – for creating this opportunity.

In consideration of our shared commitment through the 2030 Agenda to leave no
one behind, I would like to make a case for street homeless people across the
world as a population that is indeed at risk of being neglected. I realize that the
word “homelessness” itself has a much broader application than those just living
on the streets – we might include refugees, internally displaced people, slum
dwellers for example – and I also realize that these populations sometimes
overlap. However, with those caveats in place, I can think of no more powerful
image of global poverty than homeless people living and sleeping on the streets
of our major towns and cities.

This is not a new problem. However, our work at the Institute of Global
Homelessness based at DePaul University in Chicago, points to the fact that
unsheltered homelessness is growing in many parts of the world for a multitude
of reasons and that this group is in danger of being overlooked in the battle to
eradicate poverty. Unsheltered homelessness affects all groupings – men and
women, families with children, youth, the elderly, people with disabilities. It
occurs in most nations – wealthy and poor – across the globe. It has severe
negative impacts on both individuals and on cities.

I would like to say we have a firm understanding of the size and scale of this issue
globally but definitions of homelessness vary from country to country and data
collection is either poor or non existent in many parts of the world. The last global
guestimate of street homelessness came in 2001 in a report from the UN Human
Settlements Program and it suggested that 100 million people have no access to
housing or shelter in any shape or form. In truth, we just don’t know, we don’t
measure it – it’s very likely the figure is much higher.

What we do know is that shelter and housing are the foundation stones for
dignified, decent and rewarding lives. Shelter and housing are crucial if people are
to reach their full potential and to address other causes and effects of extreme
poverty. There’s evidence from across the world that street homelessness
dramatically affects people’s health and mental health, and makes it more
difficult to access employment or receive services that might help lift you out of
poverty. All in-country research available points to the fact that street homeless
people have a shorter life expectancy than those who are sheltered. One of our
partners calls street homelessness a “death inducing poverty”.
Street homeless populations vary from country to country, and even from city to
city. However, it is always the case that they are people who are in vulnerable
situations or who face discrimination. For example:

In the US, homelessness is particularly high among LGBTQ youth and people of color.

In Australia and Canada, disproportionate numbers of people who identify as indigenous or Aboriginal experience homelessness.

In India, people of lower castes are more likely to live on the street.

If the 2030 Agenda’s focus is on solutions to poverty for people in vulnerable
situations who face additional discrimination, then we almost certainly need to
include solutions for people experiencing street homelessness.

Further, street homelessness intersects directly with several of the indicators for
SDG 1. For example, people who are street homeless are often unable to access
basic services (indicator 1.4.1), and are especially vulnerable to climate-related
events (indicator 1.5.1). However, any measurement of street homelessness as an
indicator of poverty in itself is missing from the SDGs – as is the the concrete
suggestion that countries tackle street homelessness as part of their national
poverty reduction strategies. If we are serious that we want to make sure that no
one is left behind, we must address these issues.

Is it possible to reduce or even end street homelessness? The simple answer is
yes! At the Institute of Global Homelessness, we are busy gathering stories of how that has worked in practice and we have just begun working with 150 cities who
have pledged to end street homelessness by 2030.

– The city of Medicine Hat in Canada recently achieved functional zero with
regard to street homelessness
– In the UK the Government backed Rough Sleepers Initiative reduced street
homelessness by two thirds between 1999 and 2002
– Finland’s National Program to Reduce Long –Term Street Homelessness
(PAAVO) is close to eliminating street homelessness completely in that country.

In addition to these clear examples of reductions, or even ending street
homelessness, there are other promising examples where government and civil
society have come together to gather better data and drive down street
homelessness in countries as diverse as Chile, Vietnam and Uruguay. What all of
these stories have in common are:

  • A clear goal or target agreed across a city or country.

  • A well-coordinated system that plans for outcomes and gathers reliable

    data.

  • A citywide or national strategy that weaves together prevention,\emergency response, and housing and support.

  • Resources to support this work and to provide an adequate supply of safe,affordable accommodation or shelter.

I believe we can take these lessons and apply them in a global context.

There are two things which could happen here at the UN which would help to
make a difference.

Firstly, and very simply, could we suggest that existing national poverty reduction
strategies also focus on reducing or eliminating street homelessness.

The second is more complicated – could we consider a measurable indicator of street homelessness within the current SDGs, using a shared vocabulary. In 2015, the Institute of Global Homelessness developed a Global Framework on Homelessness involving academics, policy makers and practitioners from over 30 countries. It is the first globally shared typology on homelessness, and would allow comparative data to be gathered.

A specific indicator in this area would be a catalyst to improve measurement of street homelessness by country-level agencies. Data that can be compared across regions would facilitate a collaborative global movement of leaders learning from each other. Within a country or city, data reviewed on a regular basis can offer rapid feedback to inform the effectiveness of local strategies. Finally, accurate measurement would help leaders working to end homelessness to advocate for the issue by demonstrating its magnitude and impact.

A measurable indicator on street homelessness within the SDGs would be aligned with existing UN agreements and declarations. The SDGs and the Habitat II and Habitat III agendas each include some version of a goal to provide adequate shelter for all, to provide adequate housing for all, or to improve the lives of people who are homeless. However, these goals and declarations either do not mention unsheltered homelessness as indicators of progress or do not have clear goals or measurement to prompt action or allow for accountability.

A straightforward correction would be to include an indicator for Goal 1 or Goal 11 of the SDGs related to the proportion of the urban population without shelter. In whatever follows the SDGs, we recommend going further, by including an end to unsheltered homelessness as a target in itself. In summary, despite known solutions, on every continent people live with no housing or permanent shelter, which negatively impacts both individuals and cities. My hope is that in 2030, if not sooner, we see a concrete commitment to ending unsheltered homelessness take center stage – with a clear plan to measure and track progress. Lets not leave anyone behind.

Thank You.

To watch the video, click here.