5 Misconceptions about HomelessnessHomelessness affects every corner of the world. In 2019, it was estimated that 150 million people are homeless, while more than 1.6 billion lack access to adequate housing. Despite its prevalence, many have inaccurate perceptions about the nature of homelessness. The homeless population has exceedingly high barriers to overcome their circumstances. To uplift people suffering from homelessness, others must first educate themselves on the many misconceptions about homelessness. Here are five common misconceptions about homelessness.

5 Misconceptions About Homelessness

  1. “Background does not affect homelessness.” The circumstances surrounding homelessness are widespread and cannot be pinpointed. However, certain sets of conditions make homelessness more likely. For example, causes of homelessness could involve displacement, conflict, natural disasters, mental illness, family strife, gentrification, rapid urbanization and lack of affordable housing. Millions of people in Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia and elsewhere are displaced by terrorism or natural disasters. These conditions are largely uncontrollable and unavoidable. Homeless people can be put in this situation through no choice of their own. Unfortunately, the cycle of poverty may continue because of a person’s social, economic or geographical background.
  2. “Most people are homeless because of addiction.” While drugs can be a cause, it is more likely that addiction develops after one becomes homeless. People suffering from homelessness can fall into alcohol and drug abuse to numb their reality. A study conducted in Australia concluded that only 3% of homelessness was caused by addiction, while the major cause of homelessness was a lack of housing at 45%. Addiction can become a coping mechanism for people in negative situations, like homelessness. The stigma about substance abuse and homelessness make treatment for addiction less likely for people in this difficult situation.
  3. “Homeless people should just find a job.” To find and keep a job, people usually need to have a resume, reliable access to transportation, clean clothes to wear and have a means of contact like a cell phone. Homeless people often cannot fill out job applications without these requirements. Even with all of these resources, it may not be fixing the underlying issues of the cycle of chronic homelessness. Securing a job might happen, but recurring issues might deter people from stabilizing any income source. It is a definite misperception that homeless people are lazy and should find a job. The fact is, simply finding a job is harder than it may seem.
  4. “There are enough services to support the homeless.” The majority of services created for serving the homeless are pinpointed to shelter and food. While these services are valuable, they do not address larger institutional barriers to break a poverty cycle. Job support, healthcare, affordable housing and family services are a few less obtainable amenities. Solutions to homelessness must include temporary and long-term services for rehabilitation. In addition, urban centers are more likely to have services for the homeless, while access is particularly limited in rural areas. To create more permanent methods of relief, organizations must approach homelessness holistically.
  5. “Homelessness cannot be solved.” There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but community responsibility for the homeless can have a great impact. Finland is an excellent example of community change causing a decrease in homelessness. In the past 15 years, the numbers have decreased by about 40%. From individually tailored solutions, affordable housing, policy changes and local support, Finland is building strong networks that are creating tangible results. Prevention will also be a crucial step in solving global homelessness. By tackling causes of homelessness through intervention programs, a decrease in global homelessness is likely. It is a clear misconception about homelessness that this problem is inevitable and unfixable.

After challenging these stereotypes, people can begin to humanize the homeless population and do more work to solve this epidemic. Abandoning these five misconceptions about homelessness is a great way to start to challenge stereotypical beliefs. If people learn more about truths concerning homelessness, society can reshape and redefine the solutions to this problem.

Eva Pound
Photo: Flickr

Child poverty in ArgentinaPrior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many children in Argentina had been living in poverty. The pandemic has caused numbers to soar due to its many negative effects. When considering the long-term presence and future impacts caused by poverty, it is all the more critical to help the children in this country, and around the world. This article highlights facts about child poverty in Argentina, as well as some organizations on the ground helping such children.

The Current Situation

There has never been a more critical time for action than now. UNICEF estimates that 63% of Argentinian children will be living in poverty by the end of 2020, due to COVID-19. In August of 2019, child poverty reached over 50%, with 13% of children in a state of hunger. As compared to the year prior, this is an 11% increase. UNICEF estimates that at the end of 2020, there will be an increase of 18.7% in extreme poverty among children and teenagers.

Stats

The above figures depict that one in every two Argentinian children lives in poverty, which amounts to five million children. One million of these children are homeless. Those who do have homes often deal with rough home lives. Many children are subject to child labor, which includes work as domestics or “house slaves.” These children end up working in illegal textile workshops, mining, construction, or agriculture. The exploitation of child labor is commonly related to sexual exploitation. In response, Argentina has passed laws and social programs to end child labor and sexual exploitation. However, the fight to end these practices must continue.

When not at home, (only a few) children received a formal education. As of 2017, nearly 20% of Argentinian children do not attend school. After the collapse of the economy nearly 20 years ago, funding for education was heavily reduced. Children living in poverty were the first to be affected, as they had to work in order to provide for their families. There are also issues with violence occurring in schools. Bodily punishment still takes place when young school children misbehave, which can develop into behavioral problems and the belief that violence is the norm.

As compared to the rest of the population, Native children are at high risk for poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. For example, in the province of Tucumán, the Indigenous children and families live well below the poverty line and have also suffered illegal evictions from their ancestral lands. Additionally, these children are exposed to violence, malnutrition, disease, and a lack of proper education.

Aid

Child poverty in Argentina seems rather defeating based on these statistics. However, there are multiple organizations that are on the ground fighting for the human rights, safety, health, and happiness of Argentinian children.

One is Mensajeros de la Paz, a temporary home for vulnerable girls. Another is the Sumando Manos Foundation, which extends pediatric visits out to more than 7,000 at-risk children and their communities. The foundation also supplies food, provides critical medical and dental attention, and teaches fundamental health care. There is also Fundacion Oportunidad. This organization increases opportunities for economic and social integration of young Argentinian women in a situation of social vulnerability. Involvement in these organizations, as well as donation opportunities, are endless.

There are five dimensions of well-being that are vital to the success of childhood development. They are adequate nutrition, education, safe areas to live and play, access to health services, and financial stability. The fight cannot stop until there is an end to child poverty in Argentina and until each child has access to a self, healthy life.

Naomi Schmeck
Photo: Flickr

Programs Aiming to Curb Homelessness in CanadaOn any given day, there are 35,000 people experiencing homelessness in Canada. There are governmental policies put in place to alleviate people from experiencing homelessness but the policies are not enough to end homelessness. Here are a couple of programs that are working to curb homelessness in Canada.

The New Leaf Project

This program is a study where 50 homeless Canadians are given 7,500 Canadian dollars and their lives would be examined over the next 12 to 18 months in comparison to a control group that received no money. It has been argued that providing funding to the homeless population is not effective as it is assumed they would spend it on drugs and alcohol. However, the findings in this study say the contrary. The New Leaf Project found that homeless people spent the money on things they need and were able to secure housing faster than the control group.

It was also found that people who received the money had food security as well. About 70% of the people who received funding were able to find food within the first month and maintained greater food security for the rest of the year.

Another finding revealed that those who received funding spent most of it on rent, clothing and food. There was a 39% decrease in purchasing drugs or alcohol as well. Some people spent the money on other necessities like transportation whether it was a bike or for repairs to their vehicles. Some even bought a computer or saved money to start a business. The study only proved that when you invest in the homeless, they are more likely to spend money on things that can improve their quality of life.

Housing First in Canada: At Home/Chez Soi

This program was another study that tested the effectiveness of Housing First on Canadians back in 2009. Housing First, which originates from New York City in the 1990s, provides rapid housing combined with additional support for homeless people with mental health issues and drug addiction. The program achieved major success in New York City, so the people of At Home/Chez Soi wanted to see if the success can be replicated here in Canada.

Prior to the study, there were a few Canadian cities that had plans to reduce homelessness. However, there was a lack of innovation to push beyond just having shelters. There was also a lack of federal funding to focus on the root causes and preventable approaches to homelessness in Canada.

Since the launch of Housing First in Canada, about 70 Canadian cities have adopted the program and have helped over 1,000 Canadians find safe and affordable housing where many continued to stay after a decade. This study proves that “when communities use their existing skills and knowledge and combine that with a strong tool-kit like At Home/Chez Soi, they can help to address the needs of local populations and go a long way to curbing homelessness.”

An Overview of Homelessness in Canada

Homelessness was not considered to be an issue until the late 1980s. People did experience homelessness prior to that time, however, it was not as common as it is today.

The Canadian government did enact the National Housing Act in 1973 which provided social housing for low-income citizens, but social housing and other related programs were cut back in 1984. By the time 1987 hit, the government cutback caused a surge in homelessness.

By 1996, federal spending on constructing new social housing ceased and the federal government handed the responsibility for most existing social housing to the provinces. Like homeless people in many countries, homeless people in Canada rely on non-profit organizations to attend to their needs. All non-profits agree that “strategies to address homelessness must be tailored to each population group’s needs.”

Homeless people also rely on shelters for their needs. There are emergency shelters that provide shared sleeping facilities and some offer private rooms. However, these shelters expect clients to leave the morning after. Some shelters offer mid-term housing solutions and some have developed long-term housing units. These shelters also provide food, clothing, laundry services and references to other services or organizations. Other shelters offer counseling, legal assistance, harm reduction and advocacy.

While there are services available to help those experiencing homelessness in Canada, it is not enough to address the root causes of homelessness and prevent it from happening in the first place. Investing in the homeless is a viable option to help identify these root causes and end homelessness in Canada.

Jackson Lebedun
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Homelessness in UkraineUkraine, a former Soviet Republic, currently has the 112th largest GDP per capita in the world. However, Ukraine’s economy has lagged behind those of other European powers and is considered to be a developing country. Experiencing wars and widespread poverty, Ukraine’s homeless population has grown in recent years, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are five facts you need to know about homelessness in Ukraine.

5 Things to Know About Homelessness in Ukraine

  1. The number of homeless people in Ukraine is unknown: The Ukrainian government only counts the homeless population who qualify for government aid. As such, many NGOs, including the Ukrainian Social Fund Partnership, and other experts estimate that the homeless population in Ukraine was over 200,000 in 2015. With a 9.2% unemployment rate pre-COVID-19 and 1.5 million people in Ukraine living below the poverty line, these figures are likely understated. However, if these estimates are to be believed, Ukraine would have one of the highest rates of homelessness in Europe with a similar homelessness rate to that of countries like Peru and Guatemala. The level of homelessness in Ukraine is difficult to track due to a lack of adequate government surveillance and social services available for homeless individuals to use.
  2. The war with Russia has increased the homeless population: Since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, 2,777 civilians have been killed. The military conflict between Russia and Ukraine has also left an estimated 1.6 million internally displaced people (IDPs) as civilians have fled conflict zones to the relative safety of Kyiv. Made up largely of ethnic minorities, the large amount of internally displaced persons within Ukraine gives the country the most amount of IDPs in the world. The United Nations Refugee Agency and other organizations have provided shelter to these refugees in an effort to prevent them from becoming homeless. Additionally, in 2019, the Ukrainian parliament passed a bill to increase funds for affordable housing for displaced persons, providing housing for 800 IDP families. Despite these efforts, the Ukrainian refugee crisis has undoubtedly contributed to homelessness in Ukraine although exact numbers are unknown. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) did report that in 2019, it failed to provide shelter and other needs for between 8000 to 9000 internally displaced families in Ukraine.
  3. Leftover Soviet-era policies discriminate against homelessness in Ukraine: During Soviet-era Ukraine government documents called propiska served as a form of internal passport to allow access to social services and travel within the Soviet Union. Although these documents were abolished in name by the Ukrainian government in 1997, residence permits serving the same function as propiska are still used. Ethnic minorities like Roma, displaced persons and the homeless are not issued these documents due to a lack of residency. These documents serve the same purpose as the Soviet documentation once did and as such, Ukrainians still refer to them as propiska. Without propiska, the homeless population in Ukraine does not have access to public housing, homeless shelters, unemployment benefits, food coupons, employment, childcare or the right to vote. This practice of issuing government identification only to those with homes has often been criticized by organizations like the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) for deliberately discriminating against impoverished and minority communities.
  4. Social aid has become more restrictive: In April of 2016, a spokesperson from the NGO Narondna Dopomoga revealed to the Kyiv Post that they were no longer being allowed by the government to register homeless people for propiska. Previously, a homeless person was able to register via a homeless shelter or center and would gain access to social payments from the government and employment opportunities. However, with new legislation, the homeless are required to have a place of residence (which may include a semi-permanent bed at a shelter) in order to apply for these benefits. These restrictions have been criticized for appealing to anti-homeless sentiments within Ukrainian society.
  5. Several NGOs are stepping up in the absence of government assistance: Because Ukraine is a conflict zone with one of the worst economies in the world, the Ukrainian government lacks the ability to adequately respond to the country’s homelessness crisis. However, because the country receives a large amount of aid from the United Nations and its partner NGOs, there have been some efforts to combat homelessness in Ukraine. For example, the Ukrainian Charity Fund Social Partnership in Kyiv has a center where thousands of homeless come each day. Here they receive food, medical assistance, facilities to clean themselves, laundromats and access to recreational facilities. Helping the homeless youth, ex-convicts and refugees who come through, the Ukrainian Charity Fund Social Partnership also helps these groups to find employment that does not require propiska. Other organizations like Depaul provide shelter for the homeless, especially those fleeing conflict zones in eastern Ukraine as well as homeless mothers and their children.

Due to its struggling economy and war with Russia, Ukraine has suffered an increase in the homeless population in the past few years. Ranging from the unemployed to internally displaced people, government policy often discriminates against those without homes. However, with the intervention of U.N. organizations and other NGOs, homelessness in Ukraine is being addressed. With shelters, jobs and other facilities being provided, many homeless people are being tended to although much is still yet to be done on the part of the Ukrainian government.

– Aidan Sun
Photo: Flickr

Examining Homelessness in AngolaForced evictions, an abundance of petroleum, wealth inequality, economic growth and slums surround the most expensive cities in Angola. Angola, a country, that rose economically after experiencing a three-decade civil war. But the fruits of that expansion have not been shared by most of the population. This can be seen when one looks at the slums surrounding the wealthiest capitals in the Sub-Saharan region. One issue that has not been investigated much is the issue of homelessness in Angola. There currently does not exist much data on the topic that the Angolan representative at the U.N. has advocated for data collection and focused study on the issue. However, it is estimated that a significant portion of the population that reside in the capital live in slums.

How Scars of War Resulted in Homelessness

The first instance of homelessness in Angola came because of the civil war between the MPLA (Soviet and Cuban-backed government) and UNITA (rebel forces backed by South African advisors as well as the United States, France, United Kingdom and China). The civil war caused the displacement of around four million internally displaced persons. Millions experienced homelessness in Angola as a result of this long bloody civil conflict. When many of these refugees came back, they encountered a difficult legal problem over land ownership. For many Angolans, buying property on the informal market is quite common, this is partly due to the absence of a clear and adequate legal structure around property rights and ownership.

Not to mention that during civil wars, warring groups tend to take over homes that once belong to others as they flee violence and those homes tend to transact between different parties and individuals using both official measures as well as informal customary methods as the civil war rages on. This caused enormous tension on issues of land claims as it was difficult to decide who owned what. Moreover, there have been cases of Angolan refugees coming home to see that the lands they used to live on were being used for commercial agricultural purposes.

Modern illnesses

One of the issues related to homelessness in Angola is the issue of evections. Today many people, mainly in the capital, are evicted from their homes by the government. As a nation rated poorly for property rights, Angola still struggles with this social phenomenon. Just this January, around 500 families were removed from their homes on a seafront in Luanda after firms were interested in acquiring the area to conduct development projects. This trend has continued in recent years and it has affected thousands of people, who were often driven out through violent means by both state and private security forces to acquire land considered valuable for residential and commercial real estate projects. Evictions are one of the ways people experience homelessness, in which the only choice afterword is living in the slums.

Many human rights NGOs, such as Amnesty International, United Nations, SOS Habitat and Human Rights Watch, have called on the government to put an end to the policy of government evictions. They have engaged in documenting the abuses as well as raising awareness about the issues. Some humanitarian organizations like SOS Habitat and NGO Association Building Communities have engaged in local advocacy by submitting complaints and petitions regarding the abuses that are happening. This has resulted in stopping the Arco Iris eviction in Luanda and has encouraged the government in rehousing some of those who have suffered from evictions.

Mustafa Ali
Photo: Flickr

5 Facts About Homelessness in IrelandDespite being among the wealthiest countries in the world, Ireland has struggled to address its homelessness crisis. Since 2008, when the country encountered a difficult economic crisis that struck the housing market with rising rent prices and ceased construction efforts to expand housing, Ireland’s homeless population has only grown into a greater national problem. Protests have erupted across the country and the government has stepped in to address the housing crisis with its “Rebuilding Ireland” program designed to create additional housing units to protect people from homelessness. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness numbers are reflecting a decline that hasn’t been seen in years.

5 Things to Know About Homelessness in Ireland

  1. Lingering Effects of Ireland’s “Lost Decade”: Similar to the 2008 financial crisis in the U.S., Ireland had its own housing bubble which burst in 2008, setting off a decade-long housing crisis. With Ireland’s housing market dropped in price by 54%, the housing construction was forced to a standstill and Irish banks were swarmed with debt. The effects of the crisis dubbed this period of recession the “lost decade”—a time when rising rent costs turned many people to the streets, and unemployment and poverty rose. St. Vincent de Paul, the largest charity in Ireland which provides aid and shelter to the homeless, was fielding double their usual number of calls during the first two years after the crisis. More than a decade later, Ireland is still struggling to recover from the impacts of the housing crisis.
  2. Housing is Not Affordable: A report released by the Irish Homebuilders Association (IHBA) stated the time required for a potential homeowner to save a downpayment could take more than 15 years in some cities in Ireland, including Dublin and Galway. In fact, Dublin has become one of the most expensive cities in the world to pay rent. High rents that consume large portions of an individual’s income tied with limited housing availability are two factors that contribute to the challenges of saving for future home-ownership. Rising rent prices show no signs of slowing down, either, with a 17% rent increase predicted for the upcoming years. Although tenants may manage to pull together their monthly rents, homelessness does not elude all renters: The majority of people who become homeless previously lived in privately rented areas.
  3. Homelessness Rates Shows Signs of Declining Amid COVID-19: Homelessness has been rising for several years since the crisis, growing into a national concern and reality for many people in Ireland. However, recently homelessness numbers dropped to their lowest levels since 2017. In May 2020, it was reported that 8,876 people were affected by homelessness, the first time this number has fallen below 9,000 people in the last three years. This decrease is likely from the emergency accommodations recently implemented to support the most vulnerable of Ireland’s population during the pandemic. Throughout Ireland, 600 places were made available that would allow people to self-isolate and maintain social distancing. However, once COVID-19 restrictions in Ireland are lifted, it is possible these numbers could rise to even higher rates as housing construction projects are delayed even further.
  4. Young Adult Homelessness Rates are High: Young adults are one of the groups most impacted by the housing crisis In Ireland. According to Focus Ireland, an organization that helps young people out of homelessness, the number of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 afflicted by homelessness has increased by 31% since June 2015. But Focus Ireland also points out this figure is likely an underestimate. Official homelessness figures don’t account for the number of young people who seek out friends and family for a temporary place to stay rather than homeless shelters and services—“the forgotten homeless,” as Focus Ireland classifies this group. Young adults who grew up in the aftermath of the housing and financial crisis now face steep rents that hinder their abilities to save for buying a home, an emblem of adulthood.
  5. Ireland’s High Housing Demands: One of the root causes of homelessness in Ireland stems from the country’s inadequate supply of affordable housing. The percentage of households renting privately owned homes has doubled in demand over the past decade, limiting available housing and causing rent prices to climb. Construction efforts to build additional housing are not keeping up with demand either. In response, Ireland’s government installed the “Rebuilding Ireland” program in 2016, an initiative aimed at adding 25,000 housing units per year. According to the 2019 Housing Conference, the program met 74% of its 2018 annual target. However, Focus Ireland believes a solution to Ireland’s housing crisis resides in providing affordable public housing, which the country currently lacks. Public housing can give families and individuals burdened by high rents or eviction notices a humane and affordable option. Although housing, a personal right in Ireland, is slim, supporting the expansion of public housing could be the solution to actualizing this right and creating a stable future for all those who live in Ireland.

As reflected in Ireland’s recently reported figures, homelessness is on the decline. If the “Rebuilding Ireland” program fulfills its established mission of building additional housing, homelessness in Ireland could be combatted even further. Combined with Ireland’s successful response to sheltering the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, homelessness in Ireland is showing promising signs of being a resolved issue throughout the country.

Grace Mayer
Photo: Flickr 

The Inherited Burden, Combating Homelessness in GuyanaIn 2015, David Granger became the president of Guyana, the Caribbean country located in mainland South America. He defeated then-incumbent President Donald Ramotar, whose party, the People’s Progressive Party, had been in power for 23 years. Granger inherited the bane in his predecessor’s side: homelessness in Guyana.

The Housing Crisis in Guyana

Guyana has many informal settlements, such as Tiger Bay. The government is having a hard time handling the housing crisis. In 2016, 52 families were living in Tiger Bay, located in the center of Georgetown, Guyana’s capital. Ramotar administration’s failed solution to the housing deficit was to give plots of land to those who could not afford it, thus forcing them into crippling debt. This was akin to winning a free car and not being able to keep the prize because the taxes are too much. Only 55% of those plots are now occupied. If those issued land did not begin construction within a designated timeframe, the land reverted to the government, but the debt that came with renovating the land remained with the citizens.

Many of those lands are on former plantations, which needed constant repairs to its water-logged soil and had sparse infrastructure. The government prioritized low-income families and state employees in their housing schemes. One scheme involved turnkey apartments, which are apartments that are already remodeled and ready to be rented out. A study from the Inter-American Development Bank in 2016 estimated that the country had a deficit of 20,000 homes for low-income families and 52,000 properties in need of repairs. The housing situation has also led to citizens of Tiger Bay adopting unhygienic practices because of a lack of proper plumbing.

President Granger and Homelessness in Guyana

On June 1, 2019, seven months after he lost a vote of no confidence, President Granger vowed to combat homelessness in Guyana. He said he would, “like to leave the office when there is not a single homeless Guyanese… every Guyanese will have a roof over his or her head.” President Granger based his vow against homelessness on the Guyanese constitution. The constitution states that “every citizen has the right to proper housing accommodation.” The president stated his new idea will not be connected to his predecessor’s attempts to fix homelessness in Guyana.

In February of 2020, former President Granger addressed the country and announced himself as “the man with the plan” to save Guyana. One of the problems Granger plans to fix is housing. To that end, the president announced the National Squatter Regularisation Commission (NSRC). The NSRC will use funds from the National Treasury to eliminate squatting and homelessness in Guyana.

In 2017, approximately $43 million were allocated from the Central Housing & Planning Authority (CH&PA) to have 72 houses built for squatters. The CH&PA stated that some of the squatting areas would become regulated and turned into proper housing schemes, while others like Plastic City will be relocated. Plastic City is among the 173 settlements that are being targeted by the government. In the first half of 2019, the CH&PA distributed 541 houses, which was 54.1% of the target for 2019.

Guyana’s 8 Goals to Combat Homelessness

In 2015, the country gave itself eight goals to accomplish by 2020:

  1. Finish infrastructure before allocating the lots.
  2. Begin construction of the homes.
  3. Promote partnership between the private and the sectors to simplify the provisions of social infrastructure and community services.
  4. Foster community involvement to identify and implement community projects.
  5. Coordinate projects with the collaboration of governmental and non-governmental organizations.
  6. Integrate developmental planning.
  7. Regulate and contain squatters.
  8. Complete the divestment of land.

The Progress of Eliminating Homelessness in Guyana

From 1998 to 2007, the government ran the Low-Income (LIS) to increase ownership of land and housing that have valid equity not tied to the government. It wanted to put equity in the hands of the people. Once the program ended, the Guyanese government received a loan of $27.9 million for a second version of the LIS. This incarnation of the LIS was focused on improving the qualities of impoverished families by granting them access to housing. That program ended in 2015. Subsequently, the CH&PA acquired another $3.1 million for the Hinterland Housing Project, a spin-off of the second LIS.

On February 28, 2020, the CH&PA handed 43 houses to the people of Sand Creek Village. The houses were built as part of the Hinterland Project. Of the $3.1 million granted to the Hinterland Project, approximately $311,358 was assigned to the Sand Creek Village.

In Guyana, the homeless population is stigmatized and looked down upon by their fellow countrymen. The homeless population is seen as people who have “failed” because of personal choices and not because they are victims of socio-economic failings that they have little to no control over. As a result, many homeless people suffer from poor mental health.

Recently, humanitarian organizations have focused their efforts on Georgetown. The Raising and Extending Arms to Care and Help (REACH) and Potluck teamed up with local volunteering physicians and donors to assist Georgetown’s homeless population. The vulnerable population received new clothes, assistance in baths and new haircuts. In 2018, the organization reached out to 100 people to raise $100,000 for “society’s forgotten citizens.” Additionally, the Potluck NGO assisted the Guyanese homeless population by providing blood pressure and blood sugar testing and giving out over-the-counter medications.

—Pedro Vega
Photo: Flickr

University of Southern California (USC) has a course called “Innovation In Engineering and Design for Global Crises.” As part of the class, a team of USC undergraduates visited the Moria refugee camp to learn from and engage with the displaced peoples about their experiences. The need for more livable housing was the impetus for students’ project development. The result was Torch Tile — an adaptable, low-cost, user-friendly solution to the sheltering challenges of the displaced peoples in Moria.

Living Conditions of the Sprawling Moria Refugee Camp

On the eastern coast of the Greek island of Lesvos, is the Moria refugee camp. Moria is the largest refugee camp in Europe. It is the landing pad for the daily stream of refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey via a harrowing boat trip across a six-mile stretch of the Mediterranean Sea. The camp was originally designed to shelter 3,000 people. Currently, it is overflowing with over 13,000 refugees.

Tents sprawling the foothills surrounding Moria have constituted as impermanent shelters or “homes” for these refugees. Some asylum-seekers have even established residence with flowers, hand-made tandoori ovens and power cords for hijacking electricity. Despite these additions, the tents are no match for the temperature swings of Greece’s climate. In the summers, heat waves can break 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Winters on the island bring lasting snow from the sea moisture. Asylum-seekers can expect to wait a year before their asylum applications are processed ensuring they will experience both extreme weather conditions.

In the past, asylum-seekers have employed cardboard and tarps in an attempt to block out the extreme cold and heat. Increasing the temperature a few degrees led to refugees living in environments with dank, humid air that condenses on the tent inner walls. Running water is only available inside of Moria, and these moist environments put asylum-seekers at risk for health complications. Many suffer from pneumonia and heat stroke, which there are limited resources with which to treat.

In stepped the Torch Tile.

The Product

After over thirty different prototypes and dozens of hours of overnight testing, the team created the Torch Tile. The users’ needs were at the forefront of the creation’s design. The product comes in 36 or 55 sq. ft. sheets that can be laid side-by-side (like tiles) to fully surround a tent. The sturdy, lightweight and flexible material of the tiles is Aluminet.

The knitted screen-like material allows for airflow, reduces indoor humidity and lets light into the tent for visibility. Secured using zip ties and draped over the tent ceiling, the Torch Tile cools the interior by deflecting outdoor heat and light on warm days. Similarly, in winter weather one layers a tarp over the Torch Tile to warm the tent by 5-15 degrees by reflecting body heat inward.

Then, the team founded Torch Global Inc., a nonprofit currently fundraising to mass produce tiles for distribution. The goal is to provide tiles for those in Moria and for the unsheltered populations in Los Angeles.

Protecting Homes during the Coronavirus Pandemic

The distribution of Torch Tiles has been paramount to enabling people to self-isolate during the coronavirus pandemic. One Torch Tile user from Los Angeles shared, “I have COVID and can’t isolate because my tent is too hot. This product will keep my tent cooler, so I can actually stay inside and isolate.” Recently Torch Global Inc. fundraised $13,000 for the ordering of 1,500 more Torch Tiles — protection for 1,500 more people in their homes.

The collective, global mobilization and coordination of resources necessary to resolve the refugee crisis in Greece is unlikely to occur soon enough. Even when it is, situations and conflicts will likely displace more people in the future, and asylum-seekers living in tents will be inevitable. By thermo-regulating shelters, Torch Tiles alleviate one aspect of refugees’ vulnerability and address the downstream effects of displacement.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr