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  • Denis Pepin

Ending Homelessness and Poverty: A Global Challenge and a Global Responsibility

Updated: Mar 31

A person in a black hoodie lying down on the ground among trash and debris with a gray city skyline behind them.
A homeless person seeking shelter and warmth with no hope for the future.

Homelessness and poverty are two of the most pressing and pervasive challenges facing the world today. According to the United Nations, more than 700 million people live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.90 a day, and more than 100 million people are homeless, lacking a safe and secure place to live. These conditions have devastating effects on the human rights, dignity, and well-being of the affected people, as well as on the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of the planet. Therefore, it is imperative to find effective and lasting solutions to reduce homelessness and poverty, and to ensure that no one is left behind.

There is no single or simple solution to homelessness and poverty, as they are complex and multi-dimensional problems that require integrated and multi-sectoral approaches. However, there are some common strategies and policies that have been proven to work in different contexts and countries, and that can be adapted and scaled up to address these issues globally. Some of these strategies are:

  • Investing in affordable and supportive housing: One of the main causes of homelessness is the lack of affordable and adequate housing for low-income people. By increasing the supply and accessibility of social and affordable housing, as well as providing supportive housing programs for people with complex needs, such as mental health issues or addictions, the government can prevent and reduce homelessness in the long term. This approach not only provides a roof over the heads of the homeless, but also a stable and secure base from which they can access other services and opportunities, such as health care, education, and employment. For example, Finland is the only European country where homelessness has decreased in recent years, thanks to its Housing First approach, which provides permanent housing for homeless people as a basic human right, without any preconditions or requirements. This strategy is not only beneficial for the homeless people, but also for the society and the economy, as it reduces the costs of emergency services, shelters, and prisons, and increases the productivity and tax revenues of the formerly homeless people. According to a study by the Finnish Ministry of the Environment, the Housing First approach saves about 15,000 euros per person per year for the public sector.

  • Enhancing income security and social protection: Another major cause of poverty and homelessness is the insufficient and unstable income of many people, especially those who are unemployed, underemployed, or working in precarious jobs. By improving the income security and social protection of low-income people, such as raising the minimum wage, expanding the social safety net, and providing cash transfers and tax credits, the government can help them meet their basic needs and cope with unexpected shocks. This approach not only alleviates the immediate suffering and hardship of the poor, but also enables them to invest in their human capital and assets, and to participate in the economic and social life of their communities. For example, Brazil has made significant progress in reducing poverty and inequality in the past two decades, thanks to its Bolsa Familia program, which is a conditional cash transfer scheme that provides monthly payments to poor families, as long as they comply with certain conditions, such as sending their children to school, vaccinating them, and attending health check-ups. This strategy is not only beneficial for the poor families, but also for the society and the economy, as it improves the health, education, and nutrition outcomes of the beneficiaries, as well as their empowerment and participation. According to a study by the World Bank, the Bolsa Familia program has reduced the poverty rate by 28% and the inequality index by 21% in Brazil.

  • Promoting social inclusion and community development: A third cause of poverty and homelessness is the social exclusion and marginalization of many people, especially those who belong to vulnerable groups, such as racial and ethnic minorities, women, youth, seniors, LGBTQ+ people, and immigrants. By promoting social inclusion and community development, the government can help them access the opportunities and resources they need to participate in society and improve their well-being. This approach not only recognizes and respects the diversity and dignity of the people, but also fosters their empowerment and leadership, and strengthens their social capital and networks. For example, Rwanda has achieved remarkable economic growth and poverty reduction since the 1994 genocide, thanks to its Vision 2020 Umurenge Program, which is a social protection system that targets the poorest households in the country, and provides them with three types of interventions: public works, direct support, and financial services. This strategy is not only beneficial for the poor households, but also for the society and the economy, as it reduces poverty, increases consumption, and enhances livelihoods. According to a study by the International Growth Centre, the Vision 2020 Umurenge Program has reduced the poverty rate by 14% and the inequality index by 9% in Rwanda.

These strategies, among various approaches to alleviate homelessness and poverty globally, necessitate collaboration and coordination across governments, civil society, the private sector, and international organizations. Active involvement and voices from those affected by homelessness and poverty are crucial in this collective effort. Adopting a human rights-based approach, a prevention-oriented framework, and maintaining a long-term vision are essential steps towards achieving the global goal of ending homelessness and poverty by 2030, aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Furthermore, these strategies not only aim to address the common challenge of homelessness and poverty but also serve as a unifying force on a global scale. They illustrate the potential of social innovation and cooperation, underscore the significance of social justice and inclusion, and showcase the universal value of human dignity and solidarity. This collective demonstration motivates and inspires other countries to embrace similar policies and initiatives, fostering a shared commitment to tackling these pressing issues worldwide.


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