When faced with the issue of homelessness in previous years, the United States has typically chosen to pursue a long and involved course of action to mitigate the growing epidemic, marked by chronic fiscal investment, the formation of strategic coalitions, and diverted attention to housing markets. However, homelessness is not relegated to the U.S. and has consistently been of international concern; and while its primary indicator of rough sleeping individuals perseveres as a global misfortune, the core differences behind the economies, culture, and societies of specific countries ultimately contributes to how the problem manifests differently in various ways around the world.
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In terms of root causes, the U.S. exhibits severe social discrepancies that contribute to the inability for people to attain housing; lack of sustainable healthcare, along with wage stratification, institutionalized racism, domestic violence, and the opioid crisis all present challenges to citizens seeking permanent housing. Despite the sundry of factors, the rate of homelessness has decreased roughly 9% since 2007, when the issue peaked at more than 610,000 individuals experiencing homelessness on a nationwide scale. The U.S. has addressed this issue by emphasizing the development of permanent housing as the most sustainable solution, marked by the gradual decline since the late 2000s. Perhaps more than others, U.S. methods of establishing individual solutions to each of the core factors (i.e. drug rehabilitation centers for opioid addicts, residential housing programs for people with low income, etc.) tailor to the specific reasons perpetuating homelessness.
Latin America differs from the U.S. with the prodigious number of street children facing homelessness in the country (40 million vs. 1.3 million, respectively). It was observed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2017 that while the 42% of U.S. street children face homelessness as a result of negligent parenting, the Latin American street children in countries like Honduras, Mexico, Colombia, and Cuba are predominantly homeless due to poverty. Spurred by the need to earn sufficient income, children venture out or are sent by their parents to pursue employment on the street in order to supplement their household’s basic income. Regarding income inequality, the Gini Coefficient is an index utilized to measure how eagletarian a society is in terms of wages; eight of the lowest Gini numbers belong to Latin American regions, indicating discrepancies in the countries’ wage policies. Latin America overall experiences more poverty and income-based causes for homelessness as opposed to the more eclectic factors the U.S. demonstrates.
In Europe, homeless citizens are more commonly referred to as “rough-sleepers;” and despite having fewer individuals in 2018 than the United States, the United Kingdom alone was noted to harbor 7.7% of the population as people who experienced life-long homelessness, in contrast to the U.S. 6.2%. 2017 marked the point where housing was a severe issue in all European countries except Finland and was consequently addressed by the United Nations in foreign legislature. Similarly to the U.S., drug addiction represents a significant portion of the circumstances behind rough sleepers in addition to what Europe labels “individual circumstances.” Rather than one overarching factor, their numerous cases of homelessness can more often be attributed to each person’s individual lifestyle and background. Housing, however, remains the most unequivocally detrimental factor that perpetuates Europe’s homeless population as costs rise above affordability.
The continent of Africa also fluctuates with considerable trouble on the housing crisis, having more than 13% of the population lacking formal dwellings; but the unseen effects on this portion of the population are some of the most macbre and often entail sexaul assault, police mistreatment, and exploitation. Due to the higher volume of undeveloped regions in Africa, international law enforcement bodies such as UN Peacekeeping are consistently deployed to intervene and “protect” citizens who are experiencing homelessness as a result of civil conflict. However, the system has been noted on several occasions to be severely flawed and only leads to an increase in sexual assault on the homeless women and children of African nations; despite the program’s good intentions, the larger amount of foreign intervention in Africa inexorably leads to the continued assault on homeless people who have little resources.
The fact most people don’t realize about homelessness is the same one that differentiates regions in terms of it – the issue is not always a result of poor housing markets, but instead manifests in various eclectic forms because of the different cultures, societies, and economies of regions. Each of these aspects contains individual problems and requires specifically tailored solutions to ultimately decrease homelessness over time.
Colleen is an avid journalist and sophomore at Langley High School in McLean, Virginia. Apart from playing viola and competing in Model United Nations, Colleen additionally pursues ways to intertwine her journalistic passions with mental health advocacy for more integrated awareness. Outside of school, she serves as a Mentor for Global Classrooms DC and advocates for the International OCD Foundation.