SKEWED SOCIETY by Arun Prakash

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HOMELESSNESS AROUND THE WORLD

Nowadays not only has the number of homeless increased, the people that are becoming homeless are also changing. They are likely to be young men and women, and those unable to afford housing.

Homeless are those without a permanent home or address. They might live in abandoned buildings, areas under bridges, bus stations, cheap hotels, emergency shelters, streets, and the subways. These people are most often unable to acquire and maintain regular, safe, secure, and adequate housing, or lack fixed, regular, and adequate night-time residence. In 2004, the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, defined a homeless household as those without a shelter that would fall within the scope of living quarters. They carry their few possessions with them, sleeping in the streets, in doorways or on piers, or in another space, on a more or less random basis. That is people without a regular dwelling. It is a problem in developed as well as developing countries.

October 10 is ‘World Homeless Day’ an event observed on the 10th day of the 10th month every year. Its purpose is to draw attention to homeless people’s needs locally and provide opportunities for the community to get involved in responding to homelessness, while taking advantage of the stage an ‘international day’ provides.

 Homeless in Barcelona, Spain 

Homeless in Barcelona, Spain

 Boston USA

Boston USA

Railway Bridge Rawalpindi, Pakistan 

Railway Bridge Rawalpindi, Pakistan

 Near Jumma Masjid Delhi India

Near Jumma Masjid Delhi India

 Municipal Shelter, Guatemala City 

Municipal Shelter, Guatemala City

Outside a Bank in Paris, France

Outside a Bank in Paris, France

 

100 Million Homeless

Shockingly there are 100 million such homeless people around the world. The Action Aid in 2003 had found out that there were 78 million homeless people in India alone. With a population of well over 1 billion people, India is the second most populous nation in the world. According to UN-HABITAT, India is home to 63% of all slum dwellers in South Asia. This amounts to 170 million people, 17% of the world’s slum dwellers. The statistics are grim. What is worse is that very little is known of what it means to be part of such horrific numbers. These statistics are a reflection of various governments’ withdrawal of benefits and the economic decline within the countries.

In a 1993 report, World Health Organisation listed causes for homelessness viz. Family breakdown; Armed conflict; Poverty; Natural and man-made disasters; Famine; Physical and sexual abuse; Exploitation by adults; Dislocation through migration; Urbanization and overcrowding; Acculturation and HIV/AIDS. Others are unemployment, low income, housing, untreated mental illness, drug problems, and family difficulties. In the 1950s, people that were affected by homelessness were elderly, poor men. But nowadays not only has the number of homeless increased, the people that are becoming homeless are also changing. They are likely to be young men and women, and those unable to afford housing. Also, people with psychiatric illnesses are sent out into the community with no support, and so are unable to cope for themselves. In western countries 75 – 80 % of homeless are men particularly single males.

Rendered homeless after a fire in Manila

Rendered homeless after a fire in Manila

 

40 Million Refugees

There is yet another major reason, the phenomena of refugees worldwide, people who have fled from their country because of wars, political or religious conflicts, or because they fear persecution from governments. Displaced people lose their homes but remain in their own country. During the Balkan conflict of the 1990s almost 18 million people became refugees. About 70 % of the world’s refugee population is in Africa and the Middle East. Over 800,000 people flee from their homes and become refugees every year.  Most of them escape wars and conflicts in Africa and the Middle East.  During 2011 thousands fled from North African dictatorships during what was called the Arab Spring.

An exodus of Rwandan refugees

An exodus of Rwandan refugees

During 1994 hundreds of thousands of Rwandans escaped the genocide and terror in their country. Afghanistan is the country with the most refugees, almost 3 million. Most Afghani refugees go to Pakistan. Germany is home to over 500, 000 Afghan citizens and over a quarter of a million have come to the United States. Over one million people have left Iraq and Somalia. Sudan and Congo have about half a million refugees each. The United Nations also states there are over 10 million stateless people around the world, Kurds or Palestinians who do not belong to a certain country. People do not become refugees only because of war or other political conflicts. Drought in Africa caused over 12 million people to become homeless or settled in refugee camps. According to the United Nations over 40 million people are considered to be homeless worldwide mostly because of new conflicts. They are likely to stay refugees and not be able to go back to their homelands any time soon.

150 Million Street Children

According to a report published by the United Nations, there are 150 million children aged 3 to 18 years on our streets today—and their numbers are growing fast. 40% of the world’s street children are homeless, the other 60% work on the street to support their families. According to CRY (Child Relief and You) about 60 million Indian children under the age of 6 live below the poverty line.

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The problem is particularly acute for homeless children, one-fifth of whom receive no education. Homelessness influences every facet of a child’s life — from conception to young adulthood. The experience of homelessness inhibits the physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioral development of children. Difficulties faced by homeless children include depression, low self-esteem, lack of sleep and nutrition and feelings of shame and embarrassment. These children are exposed to the harsher realities of life.

Reasons for Homelessness of Children

UNICEF defines street children as “children who work on the streets of urban areas, without reference to the time there or to the reasons for being there”. In 2006 CRY estimated that there were 11 million homeless children living on the streets in India. Children are abandoned, orphaned, or thrown out of their homes. They have no choice and finally end up on streets. It may be because of the mistreatment, neglect or that their homes do not or cannot provide them with even the basic necessities. Many children also work in the streets because their earnings are needed by their families. The reason for these children’s homelessness is perhaps interlinked with social, economic, political, environmental causes or a combination of any of these.

Homeless children in Giza, Egypt 

Homeless children in Giza, Egypt

Homeless mother and her three month old baby, Dallas, USA

Homeless mother and her three month old baby, Dallas, USA

 

Impact of Homelessness on Children

Many of the street children who have run away from home because they were beaten or sexually abused. Tragically, their homelessness can lead to further abuse through exploitative child labor and prostitution. Street children are routinely detained illegally, beaten, tortured and sometimes killed by police in some countries. A common job usually street children do is rag-picking, in which boys and girls as young as 6 years old sift through garbage in order to collect recyclable material. Rag-pickers can be seen alongside pigs and dogs searching through trash heaps on their hands and knees. Other common jobs are the collecting of firewood, tending to animals, street vending, dyeing, begging, prostitution and domestic labour. Children that work are not only subject to the strains and hazards of their labour but are also denied the education or training that could enable them to escape the poverty trap.

Child labourers suffer from exhaustion, injury, exposure to dangerous chemicals in addition muscle and bone afflictions. Poor health is a chronic problem for street children. Half of all children in India are malnourished, but for street children the proportion is much higher. These children are not only underweight, but their growth has often been stunted; for example, it is very common to mistake a 12 year old for an 8 year old. Street children live and work amidst trash, animals and open sewers. Not only are they exposed and susceptible to disease, they are also unlikely to be vaccinated or receive medical treatment. Only two in three Indian children have been vaccinated against TB, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio and Measles; only one in ten against Hepatitis B. Most street children have not been vaccinated at all. They usually cannot afford and do not trust, doctors or medicines.

A girl child rag picker foraging for recyclables at a Delhi landfill site

A girl child rag picker foraging for recyclables at a Delhi landfill site

Global Housing Shortage

A poor urban housing condition is a global problem, but conditions are worst in developing countries. As per UN Habitat today 600 million people live in life- and health-threatening homes in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The threat of mass homelessness is greatest in those regions because that is where population is growing fastest. By 2015, the 10 largest cities in the world will be in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Nine of them will be in developing countries: Mumbai, India – 27.4 million; Lagos, Nigeria – 24.4; Shanghai, China – 23.4; Jakarta, Indonesia – 21.2; São Paulo, Brazil – 20.8; Karachi, Pakistan – 20.6; Beijing, China – 19.4; Dhaka, Bangladesh – 19; Mexico City, Mexico – 18.8. The only city in a developed country that will be in the top ten is Tokyo, Japan – 28.7 million. Housing is a basic human need, yet the statistics of United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 2005 notes that, one-quarter of the world’s population- live without shelter or in unhealthy and unacceptable conditions. The health consequences of this level of homelessness are profound.

A homeless man warms his feet over a fire in Kabul, Afghanistan

A homeless man warms his feet over a fire in Kabul, Afghanistan

Problems of Homelessness

The basic problem of homelessness is the need for personal shelter, warmth in cold countries and safety. Other difficulties include medical problems, personal security, quiet, and privacy, especially for sleeping, safekeeping of bedding, clothing and possessions, which may have to be carried at all times, hygiene and sanitary facilities, cleaning and drying of clothes, obtaining, preparing and storing food in quantities keeping contacts without a permanent location or mailing address and hostility and legal powers against urban vagrancy. They are often faced with many social disadvantages also, reduced access to private and public services, and reduced access to vital necessities viz. reduced access to health care and dental services; limited access to education; increased risk of suffering from violence and abuse; general rejection or discrimination from other people; loss of usual relationships with the mainstream; not being seen as suitable for employment; reduced access to banking services and reduced access to communications technology. They also face prejudice that causes depression and many homeless people have been the victims of violent crimes, and the rate of crime appears to be increasing.

A homeless man begs during the start of Christmas celebrations Athens, Greece

A homeless man begs during the start of Christmas celebrations Athens, Greece

 

So what are the solutions? There are many ideas; in western countries one among them is providing transitional housing for certain segments of the homeless population, including working homeless, it’s not in an emergency homeless shelter but usually a room or apartment in a residence with support services. The ultimate aim is to set up the residents into permanent, affordable housing. The transitional time can be short, for example one or two years, and in that time the person must file for and get permanent housing and usually some gainful employment or income, even if Social Security or assistance. Sometimes, the transitional housing residence program charges a room and board fee, maybe 30% of an individual’s income, which is sometimes partially or fully refunded after the person procures a permanent place to live in. Another is Supportive Housing which is a combination of housing and services intended as a cost-effective way to help people live more stable, productive lives. This works well for those who face the most complex challenges—individuals and families confronted with homelessness and who also have very low incomes and/or serious, persistent issues that may include substance abuse, addiction or alcoholism, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, or other serious challenges to  lead normal lives.

A homeless man in Sydney, Australia

A homeless man in Sydney, Australia

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, part 1 “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.” Homelessness is the condition and social category of people who lack housing, because they cannot afford, or are otherwise unable to maintain, a regular, safe, and adequate shelter. And street children lose their rights to emotional, physical and social development, to survival, health and education, to play, cultural activities and recreation, to protection from cruelty and exploitation, to participation, freedom of expression, access to information, and to a role in public life and personal decisions. Returning these rights, through providing shelter, health, education and training for these children, should be focused rightly. While many schemes have been put forward to alleviate the sufferings of the homeless people it is felt governments over the world should be doing a great deal more to help them.

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But PROUT does not believe in such welfare measures that seem like handouts from the state to people which gives relief no doubt but also lowers a sense of human self esteem. As PROUT’s founder Shrii PR Sarkar said that when PROUT is established, people will not chase jobs, jobs will chase people. In that minimum human needs would be guaranteed, not as dole from the state but by providing jobs and thereby ensuring adequate purchasing for all the people of the world so that every single woman and man can with honour and head held high look after their needs as enshrined in the UN declaration of Human Rights.