Homelessness in JapanHomelessness in Japan is currently a significant issue. While the number of homeless people in Japan is in steady decline, Japan’s national survey still found there were 5,534 homeless people in 2017. What makes homelessness in Japan unique is its low visibility. This poses a distinct challenge for those trying to reduce the number of homeless in the nation.

History of Homelessness in Japan

There are many causes of homelessness in Japan. While more recently, many have become homeless due to failed loan payments or corporate restructuring, in the 1990s, significant changes in the economy led to a rise in homelessness.

After the conclusion of the Second World War, there was a demand for informal day-laborers. Under this system, men would come to day-labor neighborhoods in the early morning. There, job brokers from construction companies would then hire them as manual laborers for a day.

As Japan’s economy matured and diversified, this custom fell out of favor, leaving many without work. Furthermore, the Japanese economy’s shift to the service industry, an influx of young foreign workers and the advancing age of these early laborers all served to push these men to homelessness.

Homelessness and Japanese Culture

Homelessness in Japan divides into visible and invisible. Both groups, however, are less visible to outsiders compared to the homeless in other counties. Part of this low visibility seems to be rooted in the Japanese culture’s emphasis on politeness. Based on Confucian values, there is a significant focus on loyalty, justice, shame, refined manners, modesty and honor.

For the homeless people of Japan, these cultural emphases often make them feel ashamed of themselves. Visitors to Japan, for example, often observe that the homeless of Japan rarely ask for money from pedestrians. In addition, the Japanese culture’s emphasis on politeness also means the homeless try to stay out of everyone’s way. Oftentimes, the homeless will set up their shelters along remote locations such as riverbanks. If the homeless have shelter in crowded areas like subway stations, they will remove themselves during peak hours. However, there are homeless populations in Japan even less visible than this.

Internet Café Refugees

Many nonprofit and advocacy organizations in Japan claim that the Japanese government’s count of the homeless population is under-researched. These organizations claim the government’s figure doesn’t account for the Japanese homeless who live in fast-food restaurants and internet cafés. The term “internet café refugees” refers to a group of homeless who spend their nights at internet cafés because they do not have a stable residence.

The metropolitan government survey in 2018 revealed there were an estimated 15,000 people who stayed at these cafés every day during the week. Approximately 4,000 of these people were homeless. In addition, 3,000 of these people did not have stable jobs. For these irregular workers, there are internet cafés that offer amenities such as private booths, showers and laundry services. A Japanese worker named Fumiya said it costs him about $750 a month to live in an Internet café.

Alleviation of Homelessness

There are many organizations in Japan that are actively trying to alleviate the current state of homelessness in the country. Tsukuroi Tokyo Fund, for example, aims to provide housing, employment and a place of belonging to the homeless of Japan.

Tsukuroi House, a shelter run by Tsukuroi Tokyo Fund, turns abandoned, vacant homes and rooms into shelters for the homeless. Tsuyoshi Inaba, the director of the organization, claimed about 40 to 50 people used these housing facilities in 2017. He further claimed that these formerly homeless people were able to start living on their own afterward.

The organization also established “Shio no Michi,” a café run by the organization. The café hires numerous homeless people, with or without mental or physical ailments, to work the shop.

Moving Forward

The current state of homelessness in Japan is characterized by the low-visibility of the homeless. While efforts by organizations like Tsukuroi Tokyo Fund are having a significant impact, more needs to be done to bring this issue into the spotlight. Moving forward, the Japanese government and other humanitarian organizations need to prioritize finding solutions to the economic and financial issues that cause homelessness in the nation.

– 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 South Korea
It is easy to dismiss homelessness in South Korea, as the nation ranks as one of the top 20 economies in the world. High-tech society can overshadow the unfortunate reality that many of the homeless face in South Korea. In 2017, the South Korean government estimated that there were more than 11,000 homeless people in South Korea. This is not a surprise to many South Korean. When walking in Seoul for an extended amount of time, it is common to come across the homeless.

Factors that Contribute to Homelessness

  1. Housing Index: While homelessness in Seoul has dropped significantly, from 4,505 people in 2014 to 3,478 in 2018, there is still a sizable homeless population in Seoul. A variety of factors contribute to homelessness in South Korea. The rapid rise in housing prices all around the country is making owning a home more difficult for many Koreans. The housing index, a trend of average housing prices across the country, in South Korea is on a constant rise. The housing index rose from 33.60 points in 1987 to 100.20 points in 2019. This lack of affordable housing is one of the factors that contributes to homelessness in South Korea.
  2. Financial Bankruptcy: Financial bankruptcy is another leading cause of homelessness in South Korea. According to a study by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, 24 percent of the homeless lost their homes due to snowballing debts. The study stated that the average age of homeless people in South Korea is in their mid-50s.
  3. Alcoholism: For the homeless who suffer from alcoholism, receiving support can be especially difficult. Mr. Lee, a homeless in Seoul who was interviewed by South China Morning Post, testified to this issue. Since many homeless shelters have a zero-tolerance policy toward alcohol, many of the homeless elect to live on the streets. When questioned about why he left the homeless shelter, Mr. Lee said, “I used to receive support from organizations, but I stopped going to these centers because there was no freedom there.” This further reflects the prevalence of alcoholism among the homeless in South Korea.

Government Efforts to Reduce Homelessness

The South Korean government is making positive steps toward reducing homelessness in South Korea. In Seoul, the homelessness problem is still easy to spot; however, the homeless population is in a steady decline. A 2017 assessment by the Seoul government found that there had been a 30 percent decrease in the homeless population in Seoul since 2010.

South Korea’s commitment to supporting the homeless is also very public. With the election of President Moon Jae In, the Ministry of Welfare announced an expansion to assisting the homeless. The South Korean government pledged to increase the supply of housing for the homeless, creating jobs and providing job training programs for the homeless.

Currently, the city of Seoul is running an outreach program. Simin Chatdongi or “People Visiting Their Neighbors” is a program that encourages citizens to alert the authorities about their neighbors who might be on the verge of becoming homeless. Citizens who want to participate can sign up for the outreach program online or visiting a program booth at a residents’ assembly or neighborhood festival. As of Dec. 2019, the program gathered 8,563 reports.

 

Homelessness in South Korea is caused by many factors, including the housing index, financial bankruptcy and alcoholism. However, the South Korean government’s commitment to helping its less-fortunate populace leaves a silver lining to this otherwise bleak reality. Many in South Korea look forward to the positive changes that are to come for the homeless.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Facts about Homelessness in NepalNestled almost entirely in the Himalayas, the country of Nepal is home to more than 28 million people. Unfortunately, homelessness burdens more than 250,000 people and an additional 2.8 million are bound to life in the slums, many being children. Political instability, natural disasters and a weak economy are all factors that contribute to the state of homelessness in the country. However, campaigns and organizations like Children & Youth First are improving the quality of life for some of Nepal’s poorest citizens. Here are five facts about homelessness in Nepal.

5 Facts about Homelessness in Nepal

  1. Around 25 percent of Nepali people are living off less than $1.90 a day. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. More than a quarter of its population lives below the poverty line. This means that thousands of families are living off a little more than a dollar a day, which makes owning a home nearly impossible. This statistic directly affects the rate of homelessness in Nepal, which is extremely high and will only continue to rise if nothing is done.
  2. Natural disasters are destroying homes. Due to its location along the slopes of the Himalayan mountains, Nepal is prone to natural disasters. The country is at a high risk for earthquakes, floods and landslides. All of these are disasters capable of destroying hundreds of homes in an instant. In 2015, an earthquake demolished more than 600,000 homes, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless and costing about $10 billion worth of damage. A reported 22,000 people were injured. The humanitarian response was large, however, and Nepal received worldwide help with disaster relief from various countries including Bangladesh, China and India.
  3. Homeless children in Nepal are vulnerable to a number of threats including drug addiction and child labor, which are both crippling to a child’s potential. Because they do not have access to constant shelter or a safe environment, these children’s education and futures are often compromised. Fortunately, organizations like Children & Youth First are working to rescuing these children from the streets and give them a space to learn, grow and thrive in a safe and supportive environment. In addition to rescuing homeless children from living on the streets, this organization also helped to rebuild the rural government schools that were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake.
  4. The Children & Youth First also started the  Life Vision Academy program is changing the cycle of poverty by allowing homeless children to unlock their potential. Life Vision Academy is one of the most successful programs when it comes to reversing the impact of poverty in Nepal. At Life Vision Academy, formerly marginalized children are allowed the opportunity to construct a future free from the burden of homelessness. LVA also offers a program that trains homeless and underprivileged children in STEM, which ultimately broadens their horizons.
  5. In December of last year, Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) launched a campaign that was able to rescue and rehabilitate around 750 homeless people from the nation’s capital in just two months. KMC provided necessities like shelter and health screenings to the rescued individuals. It also helped to reunite a large number of them with their families. In addition to this, the campaign also offered rehabilitation for any people affected by drug addiction.

Homelessness in Nepal is still a prevalent issue, but organizations are working to improve the lives of those affected by poverty. By rescuing people from the streets, rehabilitating people and giving homeless children an opportunity to tap into their potentials, these campaigns and programs are helping to lift the burden of homelessness from the country.

Hadley West
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Homelessness in Helsinki
Helsinki is home to 50 percent of Finland’s homeless population. Still, the country is the only EU nation where homelessness is on the decline thanks to its Housing First program. Since the launch of the initiative in 2008, Finland has reduced the homeless population from 18,000 people in 1987 to 6,600 in 2017. Keep reading to learn more about this solution to addressing homelessness in Helsinki.

More Than Housing

The Housing First principle aimed to reverse the old standard of getting one’s life in order before having a house. Housing First was developed by a social scientist, a doctor, a politician and a bishop. These four individuals recognized the old way did not work and chose to shed light on areas that do.

Other establishments developed out of the Housing First endeavor, including the Y-Foundation and the Helsinki Deaconess Institute (HDI). The Y-Foundation is a program that offers affordable housing assistance to tenants, while the goal of the HDI is to help the homeless by doing away with night shelters and short-term hostels.

Nimi Ovessa

The four developers of Housing First aptly titled their proposal Nimi Ovessa, Finnish for “Your Name on the Door.” The title expressed their philosophy that housing should be non-negotiable. In Helsinki, the homeless population deals with addiction, mental health issues and medical conditions.

Housing First offers support to tenants ranging from access to education, training and work placements to recreation and basic life skills, all while providing them a home. Some Housing First establishments may ban alcohol, and some may not with certain restrictions. Counselors often work around the clock. For example, at Rukkila, a homeless hostel in Malminkartano, a suburb of Helsinki, there are seven staff members for 21 tenants.

Blueprint

Helsinki owns 60,000 social housing units. One in seven residents lives in city-owned housing. The city also owns 70 percent of the land within city limits. Each district includes a strict housing mix aimed at limiting social segregation. The housing mix includes 25 percent social housing, 30 percent subsidized purchase and 45 percent private sector. Furthermore, tenants in social housing do not have a mandated capped income.

The developers of Housing First have exceeded their initial goal of building 2,500 new homes to 3,500. The municipality, state and NGOs all back the program. With all of this support, the program was able to buy flats, build new blocks and convert old shelters into permanent and comfortable homes.

Progress and Cost/Benefit Ratio

In Helsinki, homelessness decreased to 35 percent, with 1,345 people now off the streets. Rough sleeping is almost non-existent, and there is only one 50-bed night shelter remaining. This is good news for street sleepers who have endured deadly winter temperatures as low as -7C° (19F°). “If you’re sleeping outside [in the middle of winter], you might die,” said Thomas Salmi, a tenant at a housing facility in Helsinki. Deputy Mayor Sanna Vesikansa, who witnessed a large number of homeless people in Helsinki as a child, said, “We hardly have that any more [sic]. Street sleeping is very rare now.”

Since 2008, Housing First has spent over 250 million euros in creating new homes and hiring staff. Meanwhile, Helsinki has seen savings upward of 15,000 euros a year in emergency healthcare, social services and the justice system. In 2018, some tenants moved out of Rukilla, able to live independent lives. The benefits outweigh the cost.

Eradicating homelessness in Helsinki is far from complete. However, the major reduction in long-term homelessness must be applauded. Helsinki has proven when authorities are fully committed, positive change can occur.

– Michelle White
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Germany
The latest stats by the Federal Association of Homelessness Help (BAGW) show that there were 678,000 homeless people in Germany in 2018. This figure marked an increase of more than 4 percent between 2017 and 2018. The majority of these people sleep in emergency quarters, while 41,000 sleep on the streets.

Causes of Homelessness

In Germany, there are several factors that contribute to homelessness. One is the decreased number of social housing units. Social housing units have reduced by 60 percent since 1990 as the government continues to sell its stock of housing units to private investors. Additionally, there has been a decrease in affordable housing, particularly in large cities and urban centers. Studies show that housing costs in Germany are among the highest in Europe. This affects those with incomes below the poverty threshold, as well as young people (ages 18-24). Munich is reported to have the highest prices for both renting and buying houses in Germany. Berlin, which is said to be at the center of housing shortages in Germany, could account for about 20 percent of the country’s homeless.

Finally, the increase in immigrants has greatly contributed to the rise of homelessness in Germany. The immigrants are from other European Union countries, particularly Eastern European, and are also refugees and asylum seekers. It is estimated that 440,000 of the homeless are migrants. The number of homeless people with migrant backgrounds rose by 5.9 percent compared to a 1.2 percent increase for those without a migrant background.

Housing Rights in Germany

In large cities and urban centers, such as Berlin and Munich, the homeless set up makeshift tent camps in parks and other open spaces. During the winter, in an attempt to avoid the adverse winter conditions, they relocate to U-Bahn (underground railway) stations. Law requires German municipalities to provide basic emergency accommodation to those at risk of homelessness. Various municipalities and NGOs are providing temporary and emergency housing services.

In addition, the Social Code in Germany stipulates that the risk of losing a home entitles the owner to some form of assistance. Covered by the municipalities, this could be a loan or allowance for rental debts. Of the 16 German states, only four of them have the right to housing enshrined in their state constitutions including Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg and Bremen. However, regulation throughout the country still establishes the right.

Current Efforts

In 2018, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to spend €6.85 billion on solutions to homelessness. She announced that the federal government would aim to build 1.5 million new housing units and 100,000 new social housing units by 2021. There are also more immediate relief efforts that individuals and German cities provided. For example, the city of Berlin is offering a warm hall in Kreuzberg as an alternative to the U-Bahn stations the homeless would stay in during the winter. Entrepreneur Matthias Müller is doing his part to help the homeless in Germany by introducing a shower caravan in Berlin. Matthias transformed a bus into the shower caravan, which is a unit with a sink, shower and toilet so that homeless women can maintain personal hygiene. The caravan is also accessible to people with disabilities.

Solutions

BAGW estimates that Germany needs 200,000 new affordable housing units each year to manage homelessness. The federal government, various municipalities and NGOs could also work together to emulate Finland’s Housing First approach. In this method, the goal is not to have temporary or emergency accommodation, but instead, permanent housing and needs-based support. This way, instead of just managing homelessness, Germany could end it completely.

– Sophia Wanyonyi
Photo: Flickr

aboriginal homelessness in canada
In 2017, the Reputation Institution ranked Canada the most reputable country in the world in its Reptrak survey. In fact, in the prior six years that the institution conducted the RepTrak survey, Canada never ranked worse than second. Many know the country for its welcoming disposition, health care and welfare programs. Unfortunately, Aboriginal homelessness in Canada proves that the quality of life is very poor for one particular minority group.

The Problem

Every country, no matter the reputation, faces its own set of problems. For Canada, a key problem is the under-representation of Aboriginal voices in government and the over-representation of Aboriginals living in the streets. Indeed, one of the most reputable countries in the world contains an impoverished indigenous population, a remnant of the atrocious treatment of aboriginals since colonial times.

Caryl Patrick, a York University researcher finds that “Aboriginal homelessness in Canada is a crisis that should be considered an epidemic.” He attributes this to the disproportionate native representation in homeless populations. In major urban zones, Aboriginals account for between 11 percent to almost 100 percent of the homeless population, even though only 4 percent of the Canadian population is native. In Yellowknife, the Northwest Territories, 95 percent of the homeless population is native.

A study by the Social Planning and Research Council of British Columbia found that aboriginal Canadians face a different set of challenges than non-Aboriginals. On the issue of homelessness, these inequalities are very evident.

Aboriginal people in Canada are 10 times more likely than non-Aboriginal people to become homeless. Although homeless people all have similar challenges, Aboriginal homeless people have to deal with the additional issues of racism and discrimination. Exclusionary practices in treatment programs that should address everyone equitably exacerbate the problem.

Reports state that Inuit populations in Montreal avoid using shelters and charitable organizations because they experience discrimination from not only the non-native workers that serve them but from non-native homeless people as well. In addition, Aboriginal homeless people are more likely to be younger and completely homeless rather than in a shelter. It is clear that the Aboriginal homeless in Canada face more difficult challenges than non-native homeless.

Cause of Aboriginal Homelessness

Aboriginal homelessness in Canada is part of the larger issue of homelessness, housing inadequacy and poverty in Canada. Moreover, Aboriginal homelessness intricately connects to their history with the Canadian government. The aforementioned exclusionary practices which only perpetuate the racism and poverty in Canada are a symptom of a failure to provide culturally appropriate services that take into consideration the scars of intergenerational trauma. In any case, when a service does not tailor to its users, it is less effective.

There are general pathways to homelessness, but for the native population, there are many more. Beyond the broader context of increasing income inequality and decreasing availability of affordable housing across Canada, Aboriginal people must cope with unresolved historical and cultural trauma and discriminatory community systems and services.

Solutions

Like any other systemic, structural problem, the Canadian government has made funding commitments toward the housing and well-being of both reserve and urban-dwelling Aboriginal people. In 1999, the federal government allocated $753 million toward resolving homelessness across the country. The government devoted $59 million to addressing urban Aboriginal homelessness, and it continues to replenish the budget as the problem continues. However, money alone cannot solve the problem.

Some Aboriginal-specific healing strategies have proven effective. In order to successfully reverse historical and cultural trauma, people must apply culturally appropriate and responsive methods. An example of this approach on a local level is the Lu’Ma Native Housing Society in Vancouver, BC. The program provides 300 culturally-appropriate and affordable housing units for low-income Aboriginal peoples and offers culturally-relevant programs like ceremonial activities and traditional clothing and jewelry making courses.

Additionally, the Society ensures Aboriginal representation at employee, management and board levels. Culturally responsive programs like these decrease Aboriginal homelessness in urban centers and combat discriminatory practices.

On a national level, the Canadian government has launched Reaching Home, a strategy that aims to prevent and reduce homelessness by doubling support for at-risk communities. Communities involved in Reaching Home are attempting to reduce chronic homelessness by 50 percent. In 2016, the government doubled its investment in reducing indigenous homelessness. Reaching Home played a key role by supporting the delivery of culturally appropriate responses to the needs of Aboriginals in vulnerable conditions, including women, youth and mothers.

Looking Ahead

People often overlook Aboriginal homelessness in Canada, even though the country has a top-tier reputation. It is a complex aspect of poverty that intricately connects the larger issue of homelessness to the nuanced history and culture of Aboriginal peoples. Although only 4 percent of the population is native, the over-representation of indigenous peoples living on the streets is a startling statistic. It illustrates the magnitude of the issue and the need for resolution. Hopefully, through local and nationwide efforts that fund and support communities in need through culturally appropriate approaches, perhaps every person living on the streets can find not just shelter, but a home.

Andrew Yang
Photo: Flickr

 

Child Witch HuntThree priests stand around Joy, a 15-year-old girl, pinching and slapping her. Joy, like many other children, is a victim of the child witch hunts in Nigeria. “My grandmother was sick, and her leg became very swollen. She said I was the one responsible, that I was a witch,” Godbless told Al-Jazeera. Now he is one of the many street children on the outskirts of Calabar, scouring dumpsites for plastic bottles and cans to cash-in for food.

Child witch hunts are not exclusive to Nigeria. Cases have been documented in Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bolivia, Guatemala, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia and even communities in Europe and the United States.

The “Simple” Answer to Complicated Problems

In some regions, witchcraft has become a way to explain misfortune and hardships, such as death, divorce or illness in families and communities. A part of the problem is limited knowledge about illnesses, which when coupled with strong cultural beliefs, prompts people to search for metaphysical answers. Children who seem aggressive, solitary or have physical deformities are more likely to be accused, as well as orphans raised by relatives, such as Godbless.

Children and even babies have been branded witches, and cases of abuse include being ostracized, chained, starved or beaten. Some children are even set on fire and are beheaded. Humanitarian organizations have reported an increase in accusations of witchcraft over the past 10 years and especially against children.

In the Niger Delta, child witch hunts are a manifestation of severe socio-economic problems, such as poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS. Although the region has an abundance of natural resources it remains crippled by economic underdevelopment, inequality and environmental degradation, with up to 46 percent of the population living in poverty. The average daily wage is a little more than a dollar. Economic pressure and misfortunes make children in the Delta an easy scapegoat for familiar problems. In the Congo, the first cases of child witchcraft came with the rise of urbanization due to poverty and war, and the emergence of religious sects.

Homelessness is a Common Outcome

In 2010, researchers found that 85 percent of street children in Akwa Ibom, a state in Nigeria, were accused of witchcraft. An earlier report estimated that 15,000 children in Akwa Ibom and Cross River were accused. In Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more than 20,000 street children were victims of the child witch hunt phenomenon. In 2017, 640 boys and more than 1,000 girls between the ages of 6 and 17 were accused of witchcraft in the Congo and subjected to violent exorcisms.

Examples of Solutions

Despite these concerning statistics, today, there are numerous local and international organizations dedicated to protecting victims, raising awareness of child abuse and improving education, legislation and law enforcement.

Nigeria’s criminal code and 2003 Child Rights Act outlaws abuse and accusations of witchcraft, although implementing the law at the state level has been slow. Only three-quarters of Nigeria’s states have domesticated the law. The charity, Safe Child Africa, however, was able to persuade the Akwa Ibom state government to make child witchcraft accusations illegal. By investing in sheltering and educating alleged child witches, Akwa Ibom is the only state that is specifically providing for the abuse of children accused of witchcraft.

In Cross River, UNICEF has been working with the ministry of sustainable development and social welfare to address their version of the Child Rights Act, which does not explicitly outlaw witch-branding. Cross River’s 2018 budget included shelter for children at risk of being accused of witchcraft.

The orphanage DINNoedjaelp – founded by the Danish humanitarian Anja Ringgren Loven – provides medical care, food and education to over 30 alleged child witches. “Right now, Nigeria is the African country with the most children out of school. When the Nigerian government does not use agents to inform and educate, we must through our educational work try to stop the superstition,” Loven told People Magazine.

Reuniting Families

The small Nigerian volunteer organization, Today for Tomorrow, meets street children near the Lemna dumpsite in Calabar – where Godbless now lives – to provide food and health care. Way to Nations, DINNoedhjaelp and other Nigerian organizations do not only rescue children but try to reunite them with their families as part of restoring and educating communities.

“Home visits is the most important part in our advocacy program. When children, who were previously accused of being witches come back to their family and village again, and look healthy, strong, speak good English, have gotten their confidence and hope back, that gives the whole village something to think about,” Loven said of reuniting the children with their families.

Ending child witch hunts requires education just as much as addressing widespread poverty. After government agencies held a series of meetings regarding the issue of child witches and abuse, religious and civil liberty organizations began working to end the hysteria, including several Nigerian Pentecostal churches, who mobilized people through sermons, print media and film. According to Dr. Utibe Effiong, churches have started producing movies that highlight the damage these accusations cause.

Although change is happening, the fight is far from over. Providing a stable future for children in Nigeria and beyond means alleviating poverty by revitalizing economies and educating the masses, so cultural and economic change can happen.

– Emma Uk
Photo: Flickr

 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