An Overview of Global Homelessness and Strategies for Systemic Change

Homelessness is a problem that can be solved with the right mix of program interventions, well-coordinated local systems, and effective policy. We know homelessness can be ended because there are cities that have ended it. Others have seen meaningful reductions in homelessness among certain targeted populations, such as chronically homeless individuals or veterans.

In broad terms, the processes and interventions required to end homelessness are known, though there are adaptations required across cultural, political, and geographical contexts. Some challenges, such as those surrounding rural-urban migration, are more prevalent in developing contexts; others, like homelessness among veterans, are more visible in North America. Still, patterns emerge across countries related to who experiences homelessness and the obstacles to addressing it. These are complex problems that call for shared solutions tailored to local contexts.

This paper will discuss the definition, demographics, major themes, known solutions, and unanswered questions of unsheltered homelessness on a global scale. First, it will explore the necessity of shared vocabulary and suggest the use of the IGH Global Framework for Understanding Homelessness. This framework lays the foundation for comparable data to understand the scope of homelessness in a certain place. The paper will then lay out what is already known about global homelessness, including root causes and key demographics. From there, the paper will discuss the major debates and themes of global homelessness, such as criminalization, and questions of rights and enforcement. The final sections examine effective strategies for systemic change and identify gaps and opportunities for sustained success.

For the purposes of this paper, the term “homelessness” will be used to denote families and individuals that fall within categories 1A – 2C in the IGH Framework. We have decided to focus on this group because these types of “literal homelessness” are generally more prevalent across countries and continents than some of the other categories, which often apply to specific areas. Despite being at the most extreme end of the housing deprivation spectrum, these groups are often neglected in discussion at global and local levels. However, in narrowing the scope of this paper to these categories, we do not mean to suggest that other categories cannot or should not be considered homeless in local contexts.

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Institute of Global Homelessness