Homelessness in SwedenHomelessness is an issue that plagued Sweden for a long time. Well known for its national welfare system, the Swedish government provides a large safety net for its citizens to fall back on if they ever fall ill or lose their job. The Swedish government provides universal healthcare, family support and financial support for the elderly and retired. All Swedes, regardless of need, could call upon the government to receive the benefits provided by the Swedish welfare system. However, this doesn’t mean that the Swedish welfare completely shelters its residents from homelessness. What is causing homelessness in Sweden? Who are the homeless people in the famous welfare state? What is being done to alleviate this issue?

Defining Homelessness

Because numerous factors can cause homelessness, every country has a different definition of homelessness. In Sweden, a person is homeless if they are in:

  1. acute homelessness.
  2. an institution and not having any housing prior to release, or in an institution even though they should have been released because they lack their own housing.
  3. long-term living arrangements organized by Social Services.
  4. in private short-term living arrangements.

This certainly is a broad definition to determine if someone is homeless. However, even with this broad definition, counting the exact number of homeless people in Sweden is a challenge. In Sweden’s 2011 survey, for example, there were 34,000 homeless people. Around 4,500 people were classed as being in an acute situation, which means that they were on the streets or in homeless shelters. However, some homeless organizations estimate that the total number could be higher. Stockholms Stadsmission, a Swedish homeless charity, pointed out that the data only presented 370 E.U. migrants. The organization claims that the survey’s estimate of these E.U. migrants is too low.

Causes of Homelessness

People fall into homelessness in Sweden for multiple reasons such as breaking up with a significant other, escaping domestic abuse or suffering from mental illness. However, the lack of affordable housing seems to be one of the main causes of homelessness in Sweden. The housing prices in Sweden, especially in Stockholm, have increased homelessness significantly. Sweden’s steadily growing population, which reached 10,183,175 people in 2018, is definitely affecting the ever-rising housing price. While an industry expert suggests that Sweden is building more homes to meet the rising demand for housing, these housings are often not affordable due to the cost of materials, land and labor.

The ones who are most affected by this rising housing prices are the marginalized and vulnerable members of society. Furthermore, Sweden’s welfare system is attracting an increasing number of immigrants into the country, which puts a strain on the system.  While many migrants to Sweden are financially stable, there are groups of migrants who are not as fortunate. There are marginalized groups of E.U. migrants who fall into homelessness in Sweden.

Amnesty International’s 2018 report on the Romani population in Sweden found that there is a sizable population of Romani and other E.U migrants who are suffering from homelessness in Sweden. Romani, in particular, are marginalized more than other races in the entirety of Europe. In Sweden, the report suggests that many Romani people suffer from prejudice and lack of access to basic amenities such as water, shelter and healthcare. Lacking heated shelter, for example, is dangerous for the homeless since night temperature in Sweden usually falls below freezing. One homeless man described in an interview for the report that he had to wander around the streets to keep himself from freezing to death after being kicked out of a bus station at 2 am.

Measures Being Taken to Help

Some people aim to alleviate homelessness in Sweden. The Swedish government, for its part, is taking measures to alleviate the current issue. Stockholms Stadmission, for example, opened the first food bank in Stockholm. Human rights activists in Sweden are also calling for multiple reforms to alleviate the homelessness in Sweden. Since the highest cost of land, workers and materials to build new housing is negatively affecting the lives of the homeless in Sweden, human rights activists are calling for rental, tax and land reforms. Swedish politicians are responding to this call. Recently, the Swedish government introduced measures to encourage housing turnovers and subsidies to encourage the construction of more affordable housing.

Homelessness in Sweden is a complicated issue. The rising demand and price of housing are putting pressure on Sweden’s steadily increasing population. While Sweden’s broad definition of a person’s homelessness might broaden the number of people who can receive assistance, the task of counting the exact number of homeless people in Sweden is still challenging. Many EU migrants, the Romani people in particular, still face the danger that homelessness in Sweden brings. The Swedish government and charity organizations are taking measures to address this issue both on the local and governmental levels. While a long road still lies ahead for the homeless of Sweden, many hope that a better life is coming for them.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Mexico
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) is an elusive term that describes homelessness in Mexico. Although the term seems straightforward, there is not an international standard definition for homelessness, and the concept and qualifications for homelessness vary from state to state. In general, those who are homeless (or internally displaced) are rough sleepers or those who live in the accommodations often available for street dwellers such as emergency temporary accommodations or homeless shelters.

Impoverishment, drug wars, corruption and violence are the norms for nearly 127 million Mexican civilians. Although only 12 percent of Mexico’s entire population lives in what some consider “adequate housing” (dirt floors with tin roofs and mud walls), an overwhelming 53.3 million internally displaced persons cannot afford to live in decent housing and experience homelessness in Mexico. Many of these families must leave their homes due to criminal violence.

Criminal Violence and Displacement

Sebastián Albuja, head of the Africa and the Americas Department of the Norweigan Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, stated that “Displacement of civilians has been a significant effort of the drug war in Mexico.”

As drug trafficking organizations fight for territory and drug routes, thousands of civilians have to leave because of criminal violence. Criminal violence, including sex trafficking and systemic, large-scale kidnapping, poses a serious threat to the lives and sustainability of those in cartel territories.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement identifies IDPs as any persons who flee “situations of general violence.” In other words, IDPs are groups of people who must flee their homes or places of habitual residence to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of violence or violations of human rights. The guide also states that those displaced due to natural or man-made disasters qualify as internally displaced.

Sources reveal that the proportion of individuals leaving violent municipalities, like Tijuana, are four to five times higher than those leaving non-violent municipalities. Many of these IDPs seek government protection and provision, namely housing accommodations, land and property rights, opportunities for a decent livelihood and access to basic necessities (i.e. food, shelter and health care services).

Many largely undermine the reality of homelessness in Mexico. The Mexican government historically neglects and ignores the circumstance of homelessness and internal displacement, leaving IDPs to their own devices for sustenance and security.

Indigenous Mexicans Are the Most Vulnerable

In 2017, Guerrero’s indigenous communities made up less than 6 percent of the total population, yet accounted for more than 60 percent of all forcibly expelled persons during a large displacement event. That same year reports determined that Guerrero’s highest rate for internally displaced persons was 168.3 per every 100,000 people.

Indigenous Mexicans are most susceptible to falling victim to forced displacement. They often live in isolated communities with inconsistent phone services and poor road conditions, making it difficult for authorities to reach them with assistance or protection. In addition, many speak little to no Spanish.

Entire communities will vacate and abandon homes in response to drug-related crimes and violence. Sources describe small towns in known DTO territories as ghost towns.

According to the Mexican Commission in Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, it considers displacement events, like the Guerro episodes that the press covered, as significant if displacement affects no less than 10 families or 50 people

The media and press are the primary entities that track displacement events because the government overlooks the issue of internal displacement. Press coverage does not track individual families or persons when reporting displacement numbers. Therefore, the number of internally displaced Mexicans is much higher than many perceive.

In fact, the only IDP cases the government accounts for are the ones that people file directly with it. The Congressional Research Service reported that civilians who experienced clashes between armed DTOs abandoned their homes because of intergang violence, direct threats and Mexican security forces. However, many IDPs do not file a case describing the circumstance of the evacuation because many municipalities do not consider criminal violence to be a political or national crisis.

As aforementioned, new interpretations of legal norms concerning internally displaced persons vary from country to country and municipality to municipality. To qualify as an IDP under the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, there must be evidence of coercion. Many consider that the violence in certain localities is only generalized violence and falls outside government mandates or mission statements of humanitarian agencies.

Displacement in Mexico is largely a consequence of criminal violence. Getting the necessary aid is difficult if evidence does not legally qualify an IDP as coerced into displacement. Internal displacement in Mexico is the essence of a “Catch 22.”

Marissa Taylor
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in AustraliaHomelessness is one of the biggest problems that the Australian government is trying to solve. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), there were approximately 116,427 homeless Australians in 2016. What was even more worrying about this data was that homelessness in Australia seemed to be on the rise. Compared to the ABS’s census in 2011, in which there were 102,439 homeless, there was a 13.7 percent rise in homelessness in 2016. What is the cause of homelessness in Australia? What is being done to alleviate this issue? Here is the current reality of homelessness in Australia.

Defining Homelessness

The ABS’s, criteria for defining homelessness doesn’t simply end at someone sleeping out on the streets. Instead, the ABS states that a person is homeless if they are living in accommodations that are inadequate or in housing that has no long-term tenure. This broad definition of homelessness means that if a person is couch surfing with friends to relatives, they are considered homeless.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2016 report found that “58 percent of homeless people were male, 21 percent were between the ages of 25 and 34 years-old and 20 percent of homeless people were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.” The last finding is especially troubling since Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders only made up about 3 percent of the population. For women who are homeless, domestic violence was one of the main causes of their homelessness.

Causes of Homelessness

The main causes of homelessness in Australia seem to be unaffordable housing, poverty and domestic violence. All of these three causes seem to be linked to high housing prices in Australia. More specifically, the lack of affordable rental housing that is plaguing the country seems to be at the core of the problem.

In 2018, a property survey discovered that only 485 rental homes out of 67,365 homes “were affordable for a single person on the Disability Support Pension.” This meant that only 0.72 percent of rental homes were affordable for someone with disabilities. Many people in Australia believe that the current state of housing was caused by the Australian government’s mismanagement of the housing market.

Homeless Youth

What distinguishes homelessness in Australia from those of other countries is how young the homeless population is. Youth between the ages of 12 and 24 made up 27,680 of the 116,427 homeless people in Australia in 2016. However, these estimates may not fully reflect the state of youth homeless in Australia since the youth who are couch surfing will put down their host’s address as their place of residence.

A 2016 research study found that there is an average cost of $15,000 to the country’s economy for every young homeless person. The study also found that an additional $15,000 per person must be spent on “health and justice costs.” The young homeless are especially vulnerable to the current housing crisis in Australia. Reports show that about 54 percent of all single people who look for aid from homelessness services and shelters were young people.

Assistance for the Homeless

The Australian government and many other Australian organizations are taking active measures to combat homeless in the country. In 2018, the Australian government created the National Housing and Homelessness Agreement. This agreement aims to alleviate homelessness in Australia by providing affordable housing and homeless shelters for the homeless. In this pursuit, the Australian government invested more than “$6 billion in housing support and homelessness services.” At least $78 million is supposed to go to women and minors who are victims of domestic violence.

Other Australian organizations such as the Melbourne City MissionSydney Homeless Connect and Home for Good provides numerous services and programs for the homeless. These organizations not only provide immediate needs of the homeless, such as food and shelter, but many of them also provide programs that are aimed to provide the homeless with job opportunities and long-term physical, social and emotional needs of the homeless.

The effect of Australia’s undermanaged housing market created an environment where the low-income earners couldn’t afford a home. Since many of the homeless in Australia suffer from mental illnesses, alcoholism or other physical disabilities, these homeless are further marginalized from the Australian housing market. The number of Australian youth without a stable home and shelter also paints a grim picture. However, the Australian government and the people of Australia are taking active measures to alleviate the issue. With this continuous support, many hope that homelessness in Australia will be a story of the past.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Armenia

The Armenian Relief and Development Association (ARDA) focuses on one mission: to help impoverished Armenians. ARDA has helped Armenians in many aspects, including the building and restoration of medical clinics and schools. The organization has also created and provided resources for educational programs, widow and orphan programs and feeding programs.

However, its biggest project revolves around reducing homelessness in Armenia. Many apartment buildings were damaged during the 1988 earthquake, and there were not enough resources for rebuilding and restoration, which left thousands of Armenians without a home.

“According to the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, of the approximately 800,000 families living in Armenia, about 40,000 are without permanent shelter.” Their solution was to use metal shipping containers as what was supposed to be a temporary shelter. However, this “temporary shelter” has been their home for over three decades. These “homes” are basically just protection against the elements, as they do not have a bathroom or a kitchen. Also, temperatures within the containers reach below the freezing point during the winter and are extremely hot during the summer. Thousands have died within the confines of these “homes.”

ARDA knew it had to find a solution to this on-going problem. The solution came in four phases and utilized a simple building material: polystyrene foam (more popularly known as Styrofoam).

The Four-Phase Project

In 2007, ARDA, together with the Armenian Center for International Development, sent faculty and students from Point Loma Nazarene University to northern Armenia to execute their four-phase plan.

The first phase involves the building of homes using inexpensive yet sturdy materials including polystyrene molds. The molds, which are hollow, “interconnect like Legos to make the exterior walls of the home.” Once the foundation is put into place, rebar for stability and wiring for electrical outlets are put into the molds, after which the cement is poured in. Each mold is 16 inches tall and eight inches wide. These molds result in much more energy-efficient homes, as they require 44 percent less energy for heating and 32 percent less for cooling.

After phase one is complete, the next step involves some research: trying to find a local manufacturer that can create these molds cheaply. “Each of the structures built during the trip cost an estimated $20,000. That doesn’t include labor, land, and extra materials, which were mostly donated.” Being able to acquire these materials at a reasonable rate is an important step in the continued building of these houses and reduction in homelessness in Armenia.

Once a manufacturer is procured, ARDA moves onto phase three, which results in more long-term benefits. This phase focuses on the creation of a business model that sustains production and creates jobs in the area. This is accomplished by building a Trade and Technology Center on the same site as the homes. Steve Lazarian, director of ARDA at the time said: “the center would provide education and training for the local community in various trades, including home construction.” These skills, which are essential to becoming self-sufficient, will assist Armenians in the transition out of temporary shelters and into permanent homes.

The success of the first three phases of the project will gauge whether the fourth phase is necessary. If they are successful, phase four will be the implementation of the project in other poverty-stricken countries worldwide.

Benefits of Polystyrene Foam

Using this technique, a new home could be built in about one month. This is much shorter than the six to 12 months it takes when using traditional building methods. Also, the polystyrene blocks are mold and earthquake resistant. This is an important factor in a country that is still reeling from the aftermath of a devastating earthquake.

Other Important Projects

ARDA’s Angel Home Health program provides social services to fifty families. Of those fifty families, sixty-five percent graduate out of the program, acquiring the skills they need in order to take care of themselves.

Patrick Hovsepian, Operations Manager of ARDA, spoke of a woman named Eliza who approached ARDA for help after her husband passed away at a young age. She was left homeless and was unable to care for their baby. ARDA gave her a job as a Teacher’s Aide in their preschool. Through hard work and determination, Eliza eventually became the director of that same preschool.

What’s in Store for the Future?

Though the polystyrene blocks have proven to be an exemplary building component, ARDA is already looking for better materials, with hopes of building houses at an even faster rate. According to Hovsepian, ARDA is working toward securing an architect and building a 3-D printing factory in Armenia. With this new technology, houses can be built within one week, which will not only provide homes, reducing homelessness in Armenia, but it will also create thousands of jobs.

What do Potential Donors Need to Know?

When asked what people might not be aware of regarding the living conditions in Armenia, Hovsepian stated, “People don’t seem to understand just how impoverished these cities are. These people look just like us, but they’re living in devastating situations.” He also mentioned that many people think their small donations might not make a big difference. “A little bit here is a lot over there. It only costs $360 a year to sponsor a child, which helps pay for food, clothes, and education for an entire year.”

ARDA has been helping the poverty-stricken communities of Armenia for decades but its work is nowhere near completion. Armenians who have been living in containers that were not meant for habitation will soon be able to live in actual houses, complete with plumbing and heating, improving the situation of homelessness in Armenia. With ARDA’s help, there is hope that Armenians will emerge from poverty and become self-sustaining.

– Sareen Mekhitarian
Photo: Flickr

Notre-Dame RepairsThe cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris is a cultural, religious, and architectural icon that has stood at the center of Paris for nearly a millennium. For many, this cathedral is a sacred place of refuge, an escape from the world or a childhood memory. On April 15, a fire nearly destroyed the cathedral, severely damaging the spire and roof of the building. In the aftermath of this tragedy, news headlines focused on the noteworthy flurry of donations from billionaires and small donors pledged to Notre-Dame repairs.

After reaching nearly $1 billion just days after the fire, several articles marveled at how easy it was to raise these funds when investing the same amount of money and public support for other pressing issues seems so difficult. In a few op-ed pieces, authors even expressed the sadness and disappointment of how vigorous the funding was to repair a church whose religion preaches helping the poor and oppressed. This begs the question of what else could $1 billion be used for? Here are five different ways the funds for the Notre-Dame repairs could have been used.

What $1 Billion in Aid Could Do Around the World

    1. International Aid: In 2017, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) spent more than $1 billion on agricultural aid worldwide, which includes investment in capital for agricultural and technological development. USAID spent a similar amount on maternal and child health worldwide to treat cases of illness and provide medical technology to assist in childbirth.
    2. World Hunger: Through local partnerships and government leadership, the Feed the Future Inititiaive spent roughly $3.3 billion in agricultural and rural loans between 2011 and 2017 to mobilize farmers and families in developing countries. The average spending per year for this program amounts to about half of what was donated to the Notre-Dame repairs ($0.5 billion), yet the progress made through this initiative has added an estimated value of nearly $42 billion in economic output.
    3. The Refugee Crisis: The Office of the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has requested $783 million to aid the South Sudan crisis where there are an estimated 2.4 million refugees. It raised $783 million in just 24 hours after the Notre-Dame fire. The funds UNHCR has requested for the crises in the countries of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Afghanistan comes to around $879 million. That money would aid more than a million refugees collectively in the three countries.
    4. Homelessness: In Beijing, China, homelessness is an increasing problem. The Fengtai Shelter, located in Beijing, serves almost 3,000 people annually and receives just $1.2 million each year in aid from the government. With $1 billion, nearly 800 similar homeless shelters could receive $1.2 million in aid.
    5. Climate Change Relief: Alaskan residents have witnessed dramatic changes where whole villages have been sliding into rivers. The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) said relocating one such village, Newtok, would require anywhere between $80 to $130 million. Given this analysis, $1 billion could be used to relocate roughly ten such villages in Alaska, impacting thousands of people who are being displaced by increasing water levels.

Here are just five different ways that $1 billion could be used towards important problems in the world. These examples go to show the magnitude of what can be done with $1 billion to help the poor and oppressed. Although it is hearting to see so many people rally together to help with the Notre-Dame repairs, it would be an amazing leap to see that kid of dedication put towards humanitarian aid efforts.

Luke Kwong

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 Abandoned Infants in Pakistan

At just over a month old, Fatima was given away on live television. Fatima is just one of many children orphaned in Pakistan after being abandoned in trashcans and dirty alleyways. Placed in piles of rubbish, these infants are dying by the hundreds every year. On his show, “Amaan Ramzan,” Dr. Aamir Liaquat Hussain famously gives away cars and other luxury items to families in need. However, the show made world news after giving Fatima and another baby girl to a family who are unable to have children. As he explains, “These children are not a part of garbage, are not a part of trash, so we took these children from the garbage, from the trash and delivered them to the needy people, the needy parents.” Fatima’s new mother, Tanzeem Ud Din, said that she hopes the show will help encourage others to adopt children in need.

While the cause of the trend to abandon children remains unknown, many have their theories. One father who adopted two of these afflicted children and wishes to remain unnamed said, “it could be people not wanting children, women on their own or a couple that did not go through with an abortion.” He says religious belief plays a great roll in this. Many perish in the litter before they can be rescued. The lucky ones make it to orphanages dedicated to helping abandoned children. The father described his visit to the orphanage he adopted from sites of children with fear on their faces, crying because they had been dropped off two days ago when their mother died and their father left to remarry. Many of the children here live without a birth certificate or any paperwork for identification.

While the situation is horrific, many are working on solutions that will help save these children’s lives.

  1. Improvements to legislation: According to Director of the Imkaan Welfare Organization, Tahera Hasan, “Solutions don’t lie with philanthropic institutions and they never will. We are literally a drop in the ocean as far as the larger landscape is concerned.” In 2016, the Upper House of Parliament passed its first-ever bill to help abandoned children. Un-attended Orphans Rehabilitation and Welfare Act was written to protect the rights of orphaned children and ensure housing, education and healthcare.
  2. Decreasing poverty rates throughout Pakistan: According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2015–2016, 39 percent of the population lives in poverty. In contrast, the country has a total fertility rate of 2.55, according to the CIA Factbook, putting it at number 76 for world fertility rates. As a comparison, the United States is 142 on this list. Ahsan Iqbal, Minister for Planning, Development and Reforms says poverty reduction is one of the main objectives of Pakistan’s Vision 2025.
  3. Improving adoption services: According to Hasan, “There is no formal structure for adoption in place here, it is not recognized by the state.” Hansan is dedicated to the support of families adopting in Pakistan with the Imkaan Welfare Organization. Adoption remains mainly unregulated in Pakistan, with no paperwork for these children.

Social worker Ramzan Chippa said, “Parents who are adopting babies want healthy babies.” However, many orphaned children are described as severely mentally ill, one father even noticing a boy tied up in his orphanage to prevent him from taking bites out of his own arm. As a result, organizations such as Imkaan Welfare Organization are necessary to help these children become adoptable and find homes to be placed in.

The unnamed adoptive father referred to the child crisis in Pakistan as “unfinished business.” For countless children abandoned in dumpsters and litter, that is what their life is. Until Pakistan can adequately care for the thousands of unwanted children born every year, their existence will seem unfinished as they are homeless, purposeless and without a family.

Maura Byrne
Photo: Flickr

Poland’s Rising Homeless Population
When one first looks at the statistics of Poland’s homeless population and rates, it does not appear as bad as other Eastern European countries. Unfortunately, it is quite hazardous to be homeless in Poland. With deadly cold weather during the winter and spring, along with few programs to help solve this problem, many who live or come to this country make it a point to avoid living on the streets. Here are seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population.

7 Facts About Poland’s Rising Homeless Population

  1. Homeless Statistics: Many of the homelessness statistics appear outdated and inconclusively gathered. The Polish government had announced that there were around 33,408 homeless people within the country. Many, however, believe that these statistics have grossly underexaggerated this number and that the actual number is much higher.
  2. Homelessness Duration: One of the more damaging statistics to the homeless situation is that not only is the number of homeless growing in Poland, but people are staying homeless for longer durations. In 2017, records determined that around 25 percent of the homeless population were staying homeless for over 10 years with no sign of their situation improving. More people within the country are finding themselves homeless for longer durations, in spite of emergency care and other NGO programs.
  3. People Who Are Homeless: The homeless population does not comprise of just Polish citizens. It also includes asylum seekers and refugees, with most hailing from Chechnya. Many of these Chechen refugees and asylum seekers are seeking a safe haven from persecution within their homelands, and have actually gotten along well with other homeless in Poland.
  4. Rising House Prices: A large reason for the rising homeless rates is the rising housing prices, not just in Poland, but within Europe in general. Large cities within Poland such as Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk have seen a 7.11 percent increase in prices. This is mostly due to low supply, high demand and a decline in low-cost housing among young adults. This may be good for homeowners and real estate investors, but it is to the detriment of those who cannot afford the rising housing prices. Out of the seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population, this might be one of the most impactful.
  5. Housing Program: A housing program that allows for subsidies to housing within cities could give the homeless a chance to live in a training flat that the Camillian Mission for Social Assistance runs. Unfortunately, this program does not cover medical costs which can lead to a person’s inability to work, and in turn, make them unable to pay what they need to stay in the aforementioned flats. This program has not released a success rate, but some believe that it is lowering every year.
  6. Health Care: Another crippling factor for the homeless population is other faulty social programs that cannot properly support the population. Accessing health services for the homeless is difficult mainly because of bureaucratic requirements that homeless people cannot meet more often than not because of their situations. In 2018, however, the government put a new law into place that allowed it to cancel its requirements for health care so that Polish citizens could receive free health care that the state budget paid for.
  7. NGO and Community Programs: After analyzing the situation, the E.U. has concluded that Poland’s situation is similar to the Portuguese. The E.U.’s analytics since 2018 have deduced that although Poland had put programs in place to try and deal with the issue of homelessness, around 90 percent of services that people receive come via NGOs and other community groups that receive financing from local authorities. The NGOs, however, do not help fix the problem of reintegrating the homeless into a liveable situation, as they are more equipped for emergency situations.

As these seven facts about Poland’s rising homeless population shows, the Polish government is trying to help those who find themselves down on their luck, but the problem has festered due to inefficient programs. Though these programs clearly aim to help people in dire situations, they do little to solve the overall problem of keeping people off of the streets. The country will clearly appreciate help from the E.U., but the way Poland uses the money will determine people’s fates.

Collin Williams
Photo: Flickr


There are no concrete numbers or official statistics that show how many people are homeless and what is the real situation with homelessness in Bulgaria. However, there is a trend that can be observed – the numbers are increasing. As of 2013, as many as 1,370 people have been registered in temporary accommodation facilities. The real number is likely much higher since this only accounts for people with government-issued IDs who have signed up in those facilities.

Urban Nomads

There are many reasons and circumstances that lead to people losing their home. The most vulnerable groups of people that end up without shelter are refugees, the Roma minority, elderly people who have become a burden to their families or young adults who have previously been in foster home facilities.

Most of the participants of a survey that Urban Nomads, a project that is aiming at improving living conditions for the homeless in Bulgaria, conducted stated that what they really hope for is a job and a place to stay, contrary to stereotypes some still believe in. The organization believes in the value that homeless people can give to society and are dedicated to helping them by constructing tiny portable houses from recycled materials. People do not just choose to live on the streets and those who are in that situation have been through a lot to end up like that.

Government Addressing Homelessness in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is one of the poorest countries in the European Union. According to Eurostat statistics from 2015, 40 percent of the country’s citizens live at risk of poverty or social exclusion. In 2013, there were 13 centers for temporary accommodation in the country that served 442 people, as well as six shelters and 13 centers for homeless children.

The policies designed to tackle the problem operate mainly on the municipal level but there are problems that prevent their success. The major issue with the social services available is the lack of adequate funding and good financial management. To add to this, the coordination and project management also need improvement. As a result, the needs of people exceed what is provided by the country, affecting homelessness in Bulgaria.

Initiatives that Help Homeless People in Bulgaria

Winter, the most difficult time for people who live on the streets, is here,  and there are several initiatives that aim to alleviate homelessness in Bulgaria in these times. Caritas is a nonprofit organization that works with homeless people in Bulgaria. Their goal is to help those who are most vulnerable: refugees, migrants, the elderly and the homeless are helped to lead a fair and dignified life. Along with social centers in major cities they provide mobile services- domestic care for elderly and support for people on the streets. Caritas has helped over 4,000 people in Sofia and provides food, hygiene kits, medicine and assistance.

There are also other initiatives. In Sofia, a restaurant will donate food to those who are in need during the winter. Volunteers from the Bulgarian Red Cross opened a winter dining room in the town of Ruse. They expect to provide warm meals, a bath and clothes to around 40 people in need every day. In Pernik, two rooms from the hospital will be given to homeless people during the cold months, according to the mayor. Dobrich opened the doors to its house of temporary accommodation. The house for homeless people will be open 24 hours a day and has the capacity to house eight people.

These organizations and initiatives, along with government activities, help people who do not have access to the basics of living a dignified life and improve the situation of homelessness in Bulgaria. And truly, everything to make these people suffer less helps, but the issue of homelessness should be tackled on a more structural level by reintegrating these people into society and helping them find a sustainable way of providing for themselves.

– Aleksandra Sirakova
Photo: Flickr


Vietnam’s homeless children were coined “children of the dust” or “street children” and frequently live in large, bustling cities, like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. However, organizations have initiated direct community engagement and support for street children by building children’s shelters.

According to the Human Rights Watch, there were approximately 23,000 homeless children in Vietnam in 2006. As impoverished families become unable to support their children, many turn to the streets in search of work.

A majority of street children are boys who find cheap labor in cities, such as Hanoi. Common jobs include shoe-shining and street vending in public spaces. Due to the difficulty of maintaining a stable income on the streets, the Human Rights Watch reported that homeless children in Vietnam often earn an estimated 20,000 dong, about $1.25 each day.

To address these growing concerns, four organizations have made progress in aiding Vietnam’s street children.

Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation

Since 2004, the foundation has reached more than 2,000 children and currently has 400 children using their programs. The Step Ahead program focuses on caring for both street and disabled children, using “social workers, lawyers, psychologists, teachers and residential care staff” to provide children’s shelters, tutoring services and legal assistance.

Additionally, the Step Ahead program promotes an outreach team to directly provide healthcare and shelters for homeless children in Vietnam. A drop-in center is also available for children to socialize and meet with social workers.

Family 4

Family 4 currently operates several children’s shelters, which serve as home to 30 children, aged 6 to 18 years. According to Family 4, the children are “orphans, or children from extremely impoverished families whose parents could no longer provide for them.”

Four social workers, called “mothers,” are responsible for establishing a familial environment to create healthy relationships with the children, paying close attention to their health and developmental needs. Education is also encouraged by the shelter, spanning from kindergarten to college.

For example, Dat, a former child at Family 4, received his university degree in Agricultural Engineering and currently works as an organic strawberry farmer. Dat became a member of Family 4 in 2004, after his single mother struggled to afford care for him and his siblings.

Children of Vietnam

The organization focuses on reaching children through education, healthcare, housing, nutrition and disaster relief. For instance, scholarships are distributed for both education supplies and hospital bills.

In 2005, a tutoring program was implemented within the Da Nang Street Children program to increase high school graduation rates. For example, in 2013 alone, the program reached 154 children. Moreover, the Bright Scholars Club formed in 2012 to aid women toward financial stability, allowing greater privileges for their children.

More recently, in 2013, the program built six “new compassion houses,” ten toilets and made housing repairs for four families. Roof repair was also completed at the Hoa Mai orphanage. Children of Vietnam also provided 248 families with disaster relief for floods.

Friends of Hue Foundation

The children’s shelter is just one of several projects supported by this foundation. Founded in 2000, after a serious flooding in Hue, the foundation originally centered its mission on disaster relief, but has since expanded to programs, such as the children’s shelter.

The shelter implements “extracurricular activities and classes such as traditional Vietnamese music, piano, dance and art classes” in addition to career counseling and an English-language program. Since its initiation, the Friends of Hue Foundation has enabled 20 children to leave the shelter and pursue “formal education” and various careers.

“Children of the dust” now have greater access to shelters offering healthcare, education and safety from the streets. As organizations recognize and employ programming for street children, their futures look more hopeful than ever.

– Christine Leung

Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in Brazil
The biggest country in South America is dealing with one of the most drastic poverty issues on Earth. Despite billions of dollars invested in event tourism like the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016), Brazil’s economy has begun to spiral downward as the country faces its biggest decline in over a decade. These crucial facts about poverty in Brazil offer insight on the issues that plague them.

Poverty in Brazil

  1. The homeless population is revolutionary
    One of the recent facts about poverty in Brazil is that squatters there have collectively chosen to occupy abandoned hotels and are now facing the threat of eviction. One example is the Mauá Occupation, which houses over 1,000 people that make up around 237 families. Mauá was a unique idea back in 2007 when the homeless population was barely surviving on the streets and began taking up land by way of force. Now, it has become a full-blown movement. Like many countries, Brazil suffers from gentrification and increased living costs. Brazil’s gentrification has created a revolution of homeless people occupying space both as a protest and out of necessity. This past November, over 20,000 homeless marched throughout the city in direct protest of the housing inequity.
  2. Slavery ended only 130 years ago; inequality still devastating
    In 1888, Brazil became the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery, and the social, economic and moral ramifications of it still ripple throughout the nation. This is one of the more subtle and lesser spoken facts about poverty in Brazil because it reflects an ugly part of a recent history. Known as Afro-Brasileiros, black and brown Brazilians make up 51 percent of the nation’s population and suffer from discrimination and exclusion more than their lighter-skinned neighbors. Afro-Brasileiros also make up the majority of the homeless and poor population, and only seven percent of the city’s rich self-identify as such. Despite being known as a racial democracy, 80 percent of Brazil’s richest one percent are white, while only 13 percent of black and mixed-race Brazilians between 18 and 24 are currently enrolled in college. Afro-Brasileiro activism takes many forms; the Quilombos are descendants of slaves fighting for reparations. Another group focuses on the disproportions of blacks dying at the hands of Brazilian police. They have the slogan #VidasNegrasImportam, which translates to “Black Lives Matter.”
  3. New spending cap is making matters worse
    The new spending cap, known as PEC 55, will cut public spending for programs that help the poor. A U.N. official lauded it as the most socially regressive austerity package in the world. With 60 percent of Brazilians opposing it, the 20-year spending freeze inducted by President Temer has been protested and deemed a direct attack on the poor by many analysts.
  4. Unemployment was once slow growing; now it’s much faster
    Since the end of the World Cup in 2014, Brazil’s economy has been steadily declining to a new low. Unemployment grew from about six percent in December 2013 to nearly 12 percent in November 2016, despite almost 30 million Brazilians rising out of poverty between 2004 and 2014. Economic inequality is now expected to increase and around 2.5 million more Brazilians will be forced into poverty in the coming years.
  5. Water everywhere but not much to drink
    Roughly 20 percent of the world’s water supply is in Brazil yet much of the population suffers from a water shortage. The problem is that water is being used to power the economy, not the people. This is actually one of the older facts about poverty in Brazil, as the nation’s water misallocation has always been notoriously underserving. More than 60 percent of the nation’s energy is from hydropower plants while 72 percent of the water supply is consumed by agriculture via irrigation. In fact, Brazil is one of the most water-dependent nations in the world. More than eight percent of its GDP is agriculture and agroindustries, making it the world’s second-largest food exporter. Allocation of most of the nation’s water goes to the business sectors, and between 2004 and 2013, there was only a 10 percent increase in sanitation networks among the poorest 40 percent (i.e., households with toilets).
  6. From an emerging economy to a shrinking one
    Formerly an emerging economy growing at a rate of 7.5 percent in 2010, it shrunk at about the same rate over the last two years. Shrinkage is expected to increase due to President Temer’s privatization plan, and around 57 state assets are set to undergo a privatized makeover. From highways to airports and even the national mint, the privatization is in an effort to increase employment and improve quality of the service provided by the sectors. There is some proof that this could work; back in the 90s, the privatization lead to the considerable modernization of several crucial sectors. The best possible scenario still leaves the majority of the population, specifically the poorest, out of the financial loop.  Attracting international interests is great for the richest population looking to sell land to the highest bidder which happens to be China.
  7. Deforestation of the Amazon by China hurts locals directly
    China’s overwhelming demand for food meets Brazil’s immense agricultural production in a way that primarily benefits the wealthiest of Brazil. The Brazilian government has been selling off large parts of the Amazon to China directly, ironically in an effort to help China’s pollution while hurting Brazil’s sensitive ecology and economy. China’s deforestation of the Amazon temporarily increases employment in Brazilian cities near the forest, but then once first stages of production are over, massive layoffs result in a plummet of employment with the social climate (increased crime and violence) going with it. The massive deforestation even threatens Brazil’s ecological promises involved with the Paris Agreement.
  8. Infant mortality has dropped significantly but could be lower
    As of 2016, Brazil has significantly lowered it’s infant mortality rate from about 53 deaths per 1,000 (circa 1990) live births to about 14. While this is quite an achievement for such a developing country with so many social problems, UNICEF, the organization most responsible for helping the decline, remarked that the indigenous children of Brazil’s mortality rate is twice as high as those of city-born children. This shows that even for countries with relatively low levels of mortality, greater efforts to reduce disparities at the sub-national level are still needed. According to UNICEF, back in 2013 at least 32 municipalities still had an infant mortality rate of 80 deaths per 1,000 live births.
  9. Worker’s Unions are going extinct
    A recent law passed by President Temer allows employers to bypass nearly all hurdles set up by unions by eliminating a “union tax” that generates funding for worker’s unions. Designed to aid multinational corporations and not workers, the “reform” has been criticized by the International Labor Organization (ILO) as being in violation of international conventions. This permits inhumane working conditions and legalizes free labor. Legislation changes like this alter the future of the Brazilian workforce exponentially as multinational companies begin their migration into the Amazon.
  10. The right conditions for slavery
    Temer altered the definition of slavery so that it is defined by the victim’s freedom to leave. Meaning if a worker is kept in all the same living conditions as slavery, but not being physically forced to stay, it is to be considered legal labor. This is an emerging fact about poverty in Brazil because it has not happened yet, but legislatively, the absurd conditions do exist and the threat of slave labor is very real. This critical alteration of the definition has lead to the need for deeper investigations and, in alignment with the new changes, requires a police report with every case, creating more complications with each case. This drastically hurts the effectiveness of the ILOs ongoing fight against slavery which saw the liberation of more than 30,000 slaves in Brazil since 2003. The migration of businesses to the Amazon has made investigations much harder for the ILO and the conditions under which slaves work have gotten more brutal as well.

– Toni Paz
Photo: Flickr