Homelessness as a Global Social Problem

by Vins
Published: Updated:

“The continuation of homelessness,” Joseph Chamie wrote in a July 2017 report for YaleGlobal Online, “reflects denial and the lack of political will to address poverty and many other issues.” Describing homelessness as “a mark of failure for communities in providing basic security,” Chamie’s study detailed difficulties in determining how much of the world’s population is homeless, analyzed fundamental reasons for homeless, and assessed how cities around the world have responded to homelessness as an increasingly visible phenomenon.

As Chamie reported, the United Nations estimates that no fewer than 150 million people—or about two percent of the world’s population are homeless; but about 1.6 billion people, more than twenty percent of the world’s population, may lack adequate housing.

However, Chamie noted, “obtaining accurate figures is difficult.”  Homelessness is culturally defined, which has led the United Nations to acknowledge that definitions of homelessness vary from country to country. Furthermore, many governments lack resources and the commitment to measure their homeless populations accurately. Due to stigma associated with homelessness, many governments “understate the problem,” Chamie wrote. For example, in Moscow, officials report around 10,000 homeless people, whereas non-governmental organizations claim as many as 100,000.

The YaleGlobal Online report acknowledged that the causes of homeless are “multifaceted, though some factors stand out.” These include lack of affordable housing, privatization of civil services, investment speculation in housing, rapid and unplanned urbanization, unemployment, lack of services for those suffering from mental illness or substance abuse, as well as people displaced by conflicts and natural disasters. Chamie notes that “even people with jobs sometimes cannot afford housing.”  One recent study found that nowhere in the United States can someone who works 40 hours per week for the federal minimum wage ($7.25/hour) afford a one-bedroom apartment at fair market rent.

Some governments around the world have responded to the increasing visibility of homelessness by offering enhanced support programs, but many cities “do what they can to chase the homeless off to other locales,” by passing and enforcing laws that ban loitering, pan handling, and camping or sleeping in vehicle, for example. Law enforcement and private security personnel “generally lack mandates or specialized training” to address homelessness, Chamie wrote.

Corporate news outlets cover homelessness, but rarely on a global scale. Instead, corporate coverage tends to treat homelessness in local rather than systemic terms. For example, during the months around the publication of Joseph Chamie’s report, national publications including the Huffington Post and the Los Angeles Times addressed homelessness, but these articles focused on San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. The scarcity of corporate news reports on homelessness as a global social problem contributes to what the YaleGlobal Online report described as the “denial and lack of political will” that make homelessness “an accepted feature of modern urban life” into the foreseeable future.

Source: Joseph Chamie, “As Cities Grow Worldwide, So Do the Numbers of Homeless,” YaleGlobal Online, July 13, 2017, http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/cities-grow-worldwide-so-do-numbers-homeless.

Student Researcher: Christopher Quintana (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)