Inflammation and stories on Housing

coffin homesFor years, Hong Kong has remained the most expensive city in the world, with property prices averaging $2,091 per square foot. The effects of globalization and an increasing population density have worsened the wealth inequality in the region. While Hong Kong’s GDP per capita is nearly $50,000, a recent census found that one in five Hong Kong residents are living in poverty. As the city becomes more crowded, many low-income residents can only afford to live in Hong Kong’s “coffin homes.” These subdivided units make up almost 20% of Hong Kong’s housing. They are frequently overcrowded, unsanitary and windowless. Accordingly, the families living in these homes have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Children cannot go outside, have difficulty keeping up with online learning and often experience financial and emotional stress. Fortunately, organizations like the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) are using grassroots political activism to advocate for impacted families.

Hong Kong’s Coffin Homes

Photos taken by AP photographer Kin Cheung show individuals living in housing units as small as six by three feet. Many are closet-sized, tucked into larger rooms with communal bathrooms and kitchens. These subdivided units are full of mattresses, clothing, TVs and trash. Many don’t have room for residents to stand or sleep, and residents report cockroach and bed bug infestations.

A 2016 census estimated that 209,700 Hong Kong citizens were living in subdivided units. The median monthly income of residents was $1,741 a month, with many of them working in food services. Residents struggle as COVID-19 has forced the closure of nearby restaurants, limiting the number of customers. The South China Morning Post reports that, from January through March 2020, revenue from the food and beverage industry in Hong Kong dropped more than 30%. A survey of low-income adults, conducted in early March 2020, found that 38% of had lost their jobs. As Hong Kong experiences its third wave of COVID-19, residents continue to face unemployment.

COVID-19 and Hong Kong’s Children

SoCO reports that one-fourth of Hong Kong’s children live below the poverty line. Around 50,000 children live in small apartments, rooftop huts or subdivided units. Online learning presents serious struggles for these students, as almost 70% of low-income students in Hong Kong surveyed by SoCO did not own computers. Almost 30% also lacked broadband internet access.

In addition to limited learning, children are more likely to experience long-term psychological effects as a result of home confinement. Oftentimes, children living in Hong Kong’s coffin homes do not have space to be active and, due to COVID-19, cannot go outside. Financial stress, limited social interaction, minimal personal space and boredom can cause long-term psychological harm. A survey of parents by the University of California in Los Angeles found that after quarantining, 30% of children met the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All of these effects are exacerbated for children living coffin homes. Additionally, the cramped and unsanitary spaces allow COVID-19 to spread at higher rates.

Grassroots Advocacy for Hong Kong’s Impoverished

SoCO is an NGO that works in Hong Kong to minimize wealth inequality. SoCO aids a variety of Hong Kong citizens impacted by poverty by teaching political involvement and community advocacy. For those living in Hong Kong’s “coffin homes,” the organization pushes for rent controls, the building of more public housing and financial support. Additionally, SoCO collects data on issues impacting children to assess the top 10 concerns to bring to the government’s attention. This inspires children under 18 to understand and advocate for their rights. SoCO has also partnered with smaller organizations to provide physical activities and free classes for children.

As conditions in Hong Kong worsen, low-income families and those living in “coffin homes” cannot be ignored. Children may suffer the most due to home confinement, limited school access and financial stress. While there is no immediate solution, organizations like SoCO continue their work throughout the pandemic to ensure that the government remains aware of the major wealth and education inequalities in Hong Kong.

Ann Marie Vanderveen
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Lithuania
Lithuania has experienced many issues with poverty and an increase in homelessness since its independence in the early 1990s. Its independence quickly led to high unemployment, low wages, poor state support in security housing, gaps in social housing provisions and an underdeveloped social services sector. This eventually resulted in a surge in homelessness in Lithuania.

Despite the overall increase in homelessness, Statistics Lithuania reported over 4,000 homeless people in 2017. While significant, the 4,000 homeless people in 2017 is actually a reduction since 2012 when reports determined that there were about 4,957 homeless people in Lithuania. The Lithuanian government has put some social policies in place in the case of unemployment; people who register with employment services can receive benefits while also using provided resources to look for another job.

With these policies, Lithuania has experienced a drop in unemployment from over 17% in 2010 to 6.35% in 2019. The Lithuanian government has stepped in over the past few years in response to the homelessness crisis and implemented provisions that promised public housing and services to those in need of assistance. The following key points will explain how Lithuania is combating the crisis and the challenges it is facing.

How Lithuania is Combating the Homelessness Crisis

According to the European Social Policy Network, the Lithuanian government put legislation and policies in place to help people experiencing homelessness:

  1. Shelters and crisis centers for homeless people: There are provisions for shelter in two forms: short-term temporary housing and crisis centers. Short-term temporary housing is for homeless people and people with addictions or other critical situations that threaten a person’s health or life. Services there include information, medication and representation, access to basic facilities for personal hygiene and access to health care. The duration of these services can last up to three nights. Crisis centers are for homeless people and victims of violence. Services include social and psychological support, employment consulting, skill-building, access to healthcare and more. Crisis center services aim to restore independent living and social connections and to help people reintegrate into society. The duration of these services may last up to six months and can receive an extension. There are also day centers for the homeless. These facilities allow people a safe place to stay during the day, to make food, attend courses and receive other social services.
  2. A brief history of social housing in Lithuania: Prior to Lithuania’s independence, the Soviet Union enacted a mass construction of social housing. Students, workers and young people leaving foster homes were the main demographic of people using this housing. The Lithuanian government dismantled public housing and allowed citizens to restore their property in the form of real estate after gaining its independence. Mass privatization eventually led to a surge in housing prices. As a result, vulnerable groups unable to afford housing returned to the streets.
  3. Ex-convicts received a chance to live independently: Ex-convicts received counseling and services aimed at preparing them for independent living. The ex-convicts would often receive access to these services toward the end of their sentences. There are no statistics on exactly how many ex-convicts are homeless, but the number of ex-convicts in homeless shelters has gone down in recent years.
  4. Larger cities with the highest rates of homelessness have their own policies in battling homelessness:  In the city of Vilnius, the municipality has a program that establishes transitional supported accommodation for people moving from homeless shelters to independent living. Accommodations have the support of social workers to manage finances and debt. They also offer counseling services to help people adjust.
  5. Recent legislation allows municipalities to provide housing for those in need:  Effective January 2019, an amendment allowed municipalities to rent housing from private or legal persons and then sublet it to people in need of housing support. This was in response to the issue of people illegally renting houses which prevented people from receiving rent assistance. This amendment addressed the stigma associated with poor and homeless people in the rental market.

The Challenges Lithuania Faces in the Fight Against Homelessness

The current programs and policies show the progress Lithuania has made since its independence. However, the country still faces challenges in its fight against homelessness:

  1. The number of evictions from social housing is increasing: The Lithuanian government made provisions for financial compensation to help with the cost of utilities for low-income citizens. Municipalities can also provide debt relief to recipients of social assistance. During the coronavirus pandemic, financial assistance increased and Lithuania facilitated new conditions for obtaining assistance. Despite this, evictions increased and counseling for debt relief became nonexistent.
  2. There is low-level reliability of funding for social protection for housing: Financing social housing in Lithuania has increased over the past decade but it has been low in comparison to the rest of the E.U. In 2016, the expenditure on social housing in purchasing power standards in the E.U. was about €54 per inhabitant whereas Lithuania’s expenditure was about €12 per inhabitant. The Ministry of Social Security and Labor planned to allocate over €3 million in housing support for 2019.
  3. The duration of stay in shelters is insufficient: Staying at a shelter for three nights does not solve the complex problems of homeless people. In many cases, once a person leaves the shelter they receive no further support and return to the streets.
  4. Social housing is difficult to obtain: It can take people anywhere from three to 12 years to receive social housing depending on the municipality. In 2014, the number of persons and families waiting for social housing was about 32,000. The waiting list decreased to approximately 10,500 in 2017. This was due to revisions on the waiting list and the enforcement of duty to declare assets and income.

Lithuania’s Ministry of Social Security and Labor has put into effect policies to help decrease the wait times for social housing. In 2024, wait times for social housing could decrease to five years. Meanwhile, in 2026, expectations determine that the wait times could decrease to about three years. If municipalities do not provide social housing by the deadline, they must compensate part of the rent to families in their current housing while they wait for social housing.

The policies the Lithuanian government has put in place have helped many homeless people get back on their feet. However, it is clear that Lithuania has a long way to go to resolve the issue of homelessness.

– Jackson Lebedun
Photo: Flickr

Macedonia's Housing Crisis
Macedonia’s housing crisis requires swift attention. In 2018, about 21.9% of the country’s population was living below the poverty line. With a population of 2,082,957 in 2018, more than 456,000 people living in Macedonia were experiencing poverty that year. Furthermore, Macedonia saw an unemployment rate of 17.76% in 2019, a rate which is more than double the national average of 7.04%. The collapse of state-run housing development organizations in Macedonia since its independence has led to about 15% of Macedonians living in “illegally constructed buildings.” This means that roughly 320,000 people living in Macedonia lack access to adequate housing.

Invisible Homeless

The unauthorized housing that many people in Macedonia must live in bars thousands from access to important social systems and tools. Since Macedonians require an official home address to obtain a legal ID, the state effectively renders many of them nonexistent. This prevents these people from utilizing such essential services as insurance, social safety nets and immunization services.

Macedonia’s housing crisis is also a health crisis. Without adequate housing, hundreds of thousands of Macedonians are at risk of injury and disease due to hazardous living conditions. In 2018, fewer than a third of Macedonians had thermal insulation systems in their places of residence. Inadequate heating and insulation in buildings have forced thousands of people living in Macedonia to use homemade fires to keep warm since they cannot afford the expensive heating bills otherwise necessary to heat their homes. In the capital city of Skopje, roughly “two-thirds of households use firewood as their primary source of heating,” according to the Financial Times. Without proper air circulation, this can lead to severe chronic health conditions such as heart and lung disease due to inhalation of the hazardous particles which such fires produce.

Habitat for Humanity and Roma SOS

While Macedonia’s housing crisis is a daunting problem, some are doing significant work to improve housing in impoverished Macedonian communities. Despite being an attractive country for foreign investment due to its low tax rates and free economic zones, Macedonia still has one of the lowest foreign investment rates among European countries. This can make it harder for the government to provide solutions.

A Macedonian-based organization called Roma SOS is working to improve the living conditions of those experiencing the most need in Macedonia. The organization is currently working with Habitat for Humanity to provide impoverished Macedonians with zero-interest loans for legalizing and renovating their homes. While Habitat for Humanity provides the funding for these loans, Roma SOS helps residents in navigating the legal process of receiving approval for their loans.

Since 2004, Habitat for Humanity has worked to improve affordable housing for the people of Macedonia, and in 2019 it served 4,245 individuals “through market development.” Habitat for Humanity has further worked to provide individuals in Macedonia with housing that is not only affordable but also energy efficient. Since beginning this project in 2010, it has worked to restructure more than 60 buildings to improve energy efficiency, which has saved Macedonia more than 7,910 MWh of energy usage annually. The loans that Habitat for Humanity provides are essential for giving impoverished people in Macedonia access to better housing. With these loans, Habitat for Humanity has made heating safer and more affordable for more than 1,000 families living in Macedonia.

On the Path to EU Membership

Macedonia’s government also appears to be taking steps towards increased funding for improved housing. Macedonia has recently signed a deal with Greece and is currently on its way to becoming a member of the E.U. By joining the E.U., Macedonia would see an increase in foreign investment and would be able to apply for crisis aid packages to help improve housing in its impoverished communities.

The country’s housing situation may look bleak, but there is significant work occurring to address Macedonia’s housing crisis by improving the country’s economic situation. Several organizations, both outside of Macedonia and within it, are providing poor Macedonian populations access to safe, legal housing. With Macedonia moving towards E.U. membership and its accompanying economic support, there is hope for thousands of people in Macedonia whose living conditions formerly seemed hopeless.

Marshall Kirk
Photo: Pixabay

homelessness in SerbiaAgainst a backdrop of poverty, unemployment, privatization and eviction, Serbia is facing a housing crisis. This widespread homelessness in Serbia disproportionately targets minority groups.

Poverty and Unemployment in Serbia

Homelessness in Serbia stems in part from the country’s poverty and unemployment rates. In 2013, a survey by The World Bank found that poverty threatened 24.5% of Serbia’s population. Recent economic recessions have highlighted joblessness as another major problem within the country, with the unemployment rate ranging from a high of 24% in 2012 to a recent low of around 12% in 2019. With many people out of a job and fighting to stay above the poverty line, homelessness looms as a real threat to Serbia’s people.

Serbia’s Housing History: Privatization and Eviction

The problem of homelessness in Serbia has been augmented by recent cuts in public housing. The privatization of housing in Serbia began with The Housing Law of 1992. The law disincentivizes the government from providing adequate public housing. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, there has since been a “virtual disintegration of state responsibility” for housing.

In 2016, another law worsened Serbia’s housing crisis. The Law on Housing and Building Maintenance, among other things, increased evictions. Evictions can catastrophically undermine human rights, especially when they threaten vulnerable communities. Before Serbia’s 2016 law was even enacted, Amnesty International called out its potential to “violate the rights of individuals and families in vulnerable communities at risk from forced eviction.”

This lack of public housing and frequent evictions have increased the threat of homelessness in Serbia. While the exact scope of the country’s situation is difficult to measure, the most recent census in 2011 estimates that around 20,000 people face homelessness in Serbia.

Vulnerable Communities: Refugees and the Roma People

When it comes to homelessness in Serbia, refugees are particularly vulnerable. Of Serbia’s refugee and internally displaced persons population, roughly 22% face poverty, placing these groups at a high risk of homelessness.

Additionally, Serbia lacks adequate space within refugee camps to shelter those coming into the country. Despite the large refugee population, the Serbian government provides sparse accommodations. In 2016, the Serbian government provided only 6,000 beds to asylum seekers, leaving many without shelter.

Another vulnerable group within Serbia is the Roma population. Low levels of education and high rates of poverty leave the Roma people struggling to afford private housing, while discrimination against them puts them at a disproportionate risk of eviction. Evictions of Roma people have become so targeted that the European Roma Rights Centre and Human Rights Watch sounded the alarm when, with little notice, 128 Roma people were evicted from their homes in Novi Beograd within one day.

Who Is Helping the Homeless?

There is good news. The Regional Housing Programme (RHP) is fighting homelessness in Serbia by providing housing for refugees. The organization has worked with over 7,000 housing units and, by 2019, had provided housing to 4,200 refugee families. On June 20, 2020, the organization celebrated World Refugee Day by moving 270 families into the RHP’s newly constructed apartment building in Belgrade. The organization’s work has gotten media attention in the form of a new film. “Here to Stay” describes RHP’s achievements and shares stories from the refugees who have found a home thanks to RHP’s help.

Another organization, Združena Akcija Krov nad Glavom (Joint Action Roof Over Your Head), is helping Serbia’s homeless population during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with providing housing accommodations, the organization delivers essential supplies such as food, protective masks and sanitizer to the homeless.

Organizations like these provide hope in Serbia’s fight against homelessness. In the face of the Serbian government’s lack of effort to provide clean and safe public housing to its people, these organizations are making a huge difference for the many people affected by homelessness in Serbia.

Jessica Blatt
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Austria
Although Austria has no national plan to combat homelessness, provinces like Vienna, Upper Austria and Vorarlberg strive to make advances when it comes to finding a solution. Increases in homelessness come as a result of rising unemployment and housing costs. In an attempt to mitigate this, some cities take the staircase approach —  a series of steps and services a person, who may deal with mental illness or addiction, must complete in order to live independently.

To properly place a person on the spectrum of homelessness, the government adopted the conceptual categories of “roofless” and “homeless” which the European Federation of Organizations working with the Homeless brought forth. People living on the streets or using emergency shelters classify as “roofless,” while “homeless” is the term for people living in homeless accommodations like hostels, women’s shelters or immigration centers.

Quick Facts

In 2019, the European Social Policy Network released a report discussing the ins and outs of homelessness in Austria. The organization determined that the country saw a 21% increase in people registered as homeless from 2008 to 2017. By 2017, a total of 21,567 people registered, of which 13,926 has the classification of roofless and 8,688 were homeless.

The report also noted that more men than women registered, which may be a result of “hidden female homelessness,” meaning that women are more likely to stay in a friend’s house or precarious housing. At the report’s October 2012 reference date, roughly 7,381 out of the 10,089 homeless and roofless population were men.

Vienna as a Solution

In recent years, Vienna has become a model for fighting homelessness for other cities across the globe including Vancouver and various cities in the United States and Asia. The key to the city’s success comes from its protection of open space, transit-centered development, rent control and a focus on building neighborhoods with mixed ethnic, age and income communities. On top of that, roughly $700 million goes to government-subsidized “social housing,” which shelters 60% of the capital’s population. This results in a combination of non-market and market affordable housing.

One of the plans providing opportunities for those in need in Vienna and other Austrian cities is Housing First. Through the organization, housing is the initial step, unlike the staircase program where participants must address their other problems like mental health, addiction and more before obtaining housing. Housing First’s approach is to replace traditional institutions with flats in the municipality housing sector so that people can build their lives knowing that they have a roof over their heads. Since its launch in 2012, the organization has placed 349 people in homes. As of 2016, housing stability was at 96.6%.

Another initiative called Shades Tours emerged in 2015 and gives the homeless a unique employment opportunity in Vienna and Graz. The company provides tours to the public, but rather than sight-seeing historic buildings, homeless guides show the city through their socio-political perspective giving an insight into one of three categories: poverty and homelessness, refugee and integration or drugs and addiction. Through the tours, it hopes to further educate the public about the challenges the homeless face while also providing guides with an income.

An Advocate for the Future

The Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Wohnungslosenhilfe, also known as the National Association of Assistance to the Homeless, is a nonprofit that emerged in 1991 to reduce homelessness in Austria. It primarily does so by organizing national responses and a network of facilities through public relations work. Among other projects, it wants to facilitate a nationwide policy that issues subsidies to people at risk for poverty and dealing with high housing costs in an effort to promote its idea of “Living for Everyone.”

Recently the BAWO released statements urging the Austrian government to take proactive measures to reduce the possible increase of homelessness as a result of COVID-19 by freezing evictions and lengthening hours of emergency shelters. As an advocate for this marginalized population, there is a hope for the future. The BAWO’s determination to lower housing costs and create affordable, permanent housing, helps renovate a society that previously made climbing the economic ladder difficult.

With these initiatives and advocates, homelessness in Austria can look to continue its downward trajectory. As more cities and provinces dedicate additional resources towards tackling homelessness and possibly replicating Vienna’s approaches, the country can push toward record lows of registered homelessness and demonstrate a working model to the rest of the world.

Adrianna Tomasello
Photo: Flickr

Housing in Australia
For the past 30 years, Australia has experienced a housing crisis that has increasingly left more of its citizens displaced from homes. While further government initiatives are needed to resolve this issue, innovative solutions from tiny house developers could improve overall access to affordable housing in Australia.

Over 116,000 of Australia’s citizens suffer from homelessness, according to the most recent census. The United Nations reports that Australia ranks fourth globally for the highest percentage of citizens experiencing homelessness in a developed economy. Between the 2011 and 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics census, rates of homelessness increased by 13.7%. This sharp increase in homelessness is attributed to spikes in housing prices and the overall decrease in income within the country. In addition, housing affordability, the cost of housing in comparison to median household income, has declined significantly since 1980. All of these factors have resulted in severe rates of homelessness across the country. According to the most recent census, just 18% of the homeless population in Australia is currently residing in government-provided accommodations. The remaining 82% settle for other accommodations, most notably including overcrowded dwellings. While mayors of heavily impacted cities like Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne confronted state-level governments over declining affordability of housing in 2019, high rates of homelessness persist within the country.

Tiny houses have been utilized across the globe as a sustainable and affordable alternative to pricy, fixed property. Tiny homes can be purchased pre-built, in a kit for self-assembly or built entirely from scratch. The tiny house trend allows for flexibility in terms of living location, material pricing, and requires minimal upkeep. Prices for tiny homes can average $65,000 if built from a kit but can cost as low as $20,000.

Nonprofit Response

While the governmental response to Australia’s housing crisis has been lacking, multiple nonprofit organizations have formed to offer innovative solutions for individuals experiencing homelessness. One organization, called Transition Village Wallan, has built ten tiny homes, partnered with 12 organizations and raised over $219,000 for those experiencing homelessness in Australia. Transition Village Wallan’s headquarters are in the state of Victoria– which identifies over 22,000 of its residents to be homeless– just outside the city of Melbourne. With the strategic placement of its headquarters and its passion for providing ample housing in Australia, Transition Village Wallan has proven to be a significant ally for action against homelessness in the country.

Looking Forward

With proper support, tiny houses could be a solution to the housing crisis ablaze throughout Australia. This option is particularly suitable for outer-city environments, of which the country is dense. Through the efforts of organizations such as Transition Village Wallan, the imbalance of housing affordability across the country is beginning to be addressed. Creating affordable, sustainable and portable homes across Australia’s city suburbs could advance not only the living quality of its citizens, but also nation-wide economic, health and security standards.

Lilia Wilson
Photo: Pixabay

Homelessness in Trinidad and Tobago

The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is the southernmost island in the Caribbean. The country has a population of approximately 1.39 million people, with 20% of those people living below the poverty line. As a result, homelessness in Trinidad and Tobago is a common reality for many citizens. Homelessness does not only impact those who experience it directly, but it also harms the surrounding community and the overall Trinidadian economy.

The Effects of Homelessness and Poverty

According to Newsday, there are approximately 414 homeless people living on the streets of Trinidad and Tobago. Behavioral health disorders, rising numbers of victims of assault and acute and chronic physical conditions are just some of the effects of homelessness in Trinidad and Tobago. Crimes against the homeless has risen drastically in the country. There has been a total of 1,437 assault cases against homeless individuals alone. With an unemployment rate of 4.9%, and rising drastically, conditions are made worse as more citizens fall below the poverty line and into homelessness. 

The 2020 coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted economies worldwide, and Trinidad and Tobago is no exception. The pandemic has increased the number of vulnerable individuals and the percentage of people living in homelessness in the country. As a tourism-dependent country, the pandemic caused the closure of most touristic attractions, thus decreasing the amount of money going into Trinidad and Tobago. Therefore, many people were laid off and fell below the minimum wage line.

The Good News

Despite the increasing numbers of people on the streets, many organizations have come together to help the homeless in Trinidad and Tobago. With the help of The Social Development Ministry, the Trinidad and Tobago Defense Force has worked rigorously to build temporary housing for the homeless. The facility aforementioned began construction in April of 2020 and provides homeless individuals with roofs over their heads, cots to sleep on, clean bathrooms and meals three times a day. To ensure the safety and health of those staying there, social distancing has been enforced and The Public Health Department has conducted inspections.

By raising funds to provide housing for those less fortunate, Habitat for Humanity has also made a positive impact in the country. The organization builds safe and clean habitats for those in need in Trinidad and Tobago. The non-profit began building in 1997 and has served more than 700 people since.

Homelessness in Trinidad and Tobago affects many people, especially during a time when homeless rates are rising drastically as more people lose their jobs. Assistance provided by the Trinidad and Tobago Defense Force has helped decrease the number of people living on the street. As more shelters open, more homeless individuals begin receiving the help they need.

– Jacey Reece
Photo: Flickr 

Homelessness in ZambiaZambia is quickly becoming one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most urbanized countries, but homelessness in Zambia is becoming increasingly prevalent. Zambia’s housing stock has a national deficit of 1.3 million units, which is projected to double by 2025. More than 60% of the Zambian population is under the poverty line, living on $2 a day; 40% are considered to be facing extreme poverty, with $1.25 a day. Roughly 70% of people living in urban areas do not have access to proper housing. They live in informal settlements that often have inadequate access to clean water or sanitation.

Urbanization Spurs Zambia’s Housing Crisis

High-income jobs are typically found in urban areas, making the urbanization rate nearly double the population growth rate. Increased urbanization increases the demand for jobs, stagnates wage growth and raises the price of housing. According to a 2010 estimate, when you compare purchasing power, the cost of living in Lusaka is higher than in Washington, D.C. In 1996, Zambia’s National Housing Policy was put into place. This policy recommended that 15% of the country’s budget every year be designated for housing developments. This policy was awarded the 1996 “HABITAT Scroll of Honor” by the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, commending the policy’s focus on involving community participation.

Zambia’s Homeless and Poor People’s Federation was founded to raise awareness and offer possible solutions to Zambia’s housing crisis. It opened a house model during Lusaka’s 83rd Agricultural and Commercial Show. The Federation aimed to demonstrate the power and intelligence that the homeless community can leverage in finding solutions to the problems they face. It wanted to raise awareness around the concept of building incrementally and using low-cost building materials.

Child Homelessness & Solutions

Roughly 1.5 million Zambian children live on the streets, either due to being orphaned or due to extreme poverty. There are roughly 1.4 million orphans under the age of 15 in Zambia, and roughly 750,000 of these children were orphaned due to HIV/AIDS. This has led to a crisis in Zambia, as many street children are being exploited for child prostitution.

What’s being done to address child homelessness? First, approximately 75% of all Zambian households care for at least one orphan. The Zambian Ministry of Sport, Youth, and Child Development partnered with the Ministry of Defense to create youth rehabilitation and reintegration programs. Since the start of these programs in 2006, roughly 1,200 children have completed the rehabilitation program, with mixed results.

Other organizations are working to protect the rights of vulnerable children in Zambia. SOS Children’s Villages, established in 1996, helps provide safe housing for disadvantaged youth in Zambia. It also provides accessible education and medical treatment. To date, over 4,700 Zambian children have received education from SOS Children’s Villages, and over 7,000 have been enrolled in the Family Strengthening Program. Additionally, over 688 Zambian children have been provided with alternative care. Meanwhile, UNICEF works with the Zambian government to improve policies surrounding social services and the protection of Zambia’s orphans.

Land Policies Aim to Address Homelessness in Zambia

Several groups are working to improve housing conditions for Zambia’s homeless population. Habitat for Humanity raises awareness around land rights and focuses on empowering Zambian community members to advocate for the issues important to them. In 2018, 1,965 people volunteered with Habitat to help improve the housing available for people living in Zambia. The Internally Displaced Peoples’ Voice (Zambia) likewise promotes housing rights for vulnerable populations.

The Zambia Land Alliance promotes pro-poor land policy, criticizing past Zambian land rights policies for being too narrow and allowing abuse by public officials. For example, the Zambian Land Acts of 1995 state that “conversion of rights from customary tenure to leasehold tenure shall have effect only after the approval of the chief and the local authorities,” which can become problematic when local officials are not acting in the best interest of the affected communities. The Minister of Lands and Natural Resources has revealed that some public officials have been selling land to foreign investors, specifically commercial farmers, who then push out small, local farmers. There are currently land policies being drafted that emphasize the importance of improving land delivery mechanisms in Zambia.

Conclusion

When thinking about Zambian homelessness, it is important to look at the nation’s history. Many members of the United Nations have emphasized the impact of colonialism in spurring global homelessness, calling for greater support from developed nations. Dennis Chiwele of Zambia suggested that homelessness is often incited by urbanization and a lack of governmental safety nets. Countries like the United States should help nations like Zambia cope with these more complex side effects of urbanization.

Danielle Forrey
Photo: Flickr

homelessness in Sweden
Sweden
is known for its generous welfare state; however, homelessness in Sweden is a rising concern. Swedes spend a larger proportion of their disposable income on housing compared to other European countries, and that figure is rising rapidly. The lack of affordable housing and the growing population has led to a housing crisis and an increase in homelessness.

The definition of homelessness in Sweden is divided into four categories:

  • acute homelessness

  • institutional care and category housing

  • long-term housing solutions

  • short-term insecure housing solutions

The Swedish government conducts a national survey every six years to analyze trends in homelessness. The survey reported that 33,269 people were homeless in 2017. Since the last report in 2011, acute homelessness increased from 4,500 to 5,935 people, and those in long-term housing solutions increased from 13,900 to 15,838.

Who Are The Most Vulnerable to Homelessness?

Women are increasingly more susceptible to homelessness, compared to men. More than one-third of the homeless in Sweden have children younger than 18, resulting in at least 24,000 children with parents who are homeless.

The majority of parents struggling with homelessness stated the main cause as having an income too low for them to qualify as tenants in the ordinary housing market. This factor forces them to enter the secondary market and into long-term, but insecure, housing situations.

In recent years, a large influx of migrants including refugees has contributed to rising homelessness in Sweden. Around 43% of people that are homeless were born in a country other than Sweden. Sweden has the highest rate of homelessness per 1,000 inhabitants in Scandanavia.

More people are becoming homeless due to evictions, sudden unemployment, or relationship breakups than due to mental health or substance abuse issues. Since more than 20% of the homeless do not need additional social services besides housing, they do not get support at all. The largest contributor to homelessness in Sweden is the housing crisis.

The Housing Crisis

There is a lack of available and affordable housing in Sweden, especially in cities. In 2017, 88% of municipalities reported a housing shortage. The wait time for an apartment is significantly increasing over time, making it nearly impossible to secure a rental apartment.

A reason for the shortage is that new construction is not keeping up with the growing population. There is low production of new public housing or rental apartments due to the cost of land, workers and materials; the cost is high due to the extremely high demand. There is little space left to build, and architects and city planners are reluctant to build taller to adhere to Swedish building customs. The rentals that are built are directed to upper-class markets with an average rental rate substantially higher than what social services will pay. Rising costs have made it even more difficult for marginalized groups to enter the conventional housing market.

What is the Solution?

To deal with the lack of housing, some have turned to co-housing. Companies such as Colive are remodeling large houses where tenants would pay for a bedroom and shared common spaces. The plan is to create tens of thousands of units within the decade.

Homelessness in Sweden is more of a structural issue than a social one, although the social aspects should not be ignored. While there is no explicit national strategy to address homelessness, there have been calls for an integrated housing provision strategy in which the state, region and municipality are all jointly responsible for providing adequate housing. Policies need to be more proactive to tackle the large proportion of people stuck in the secondary housing market. Measures need to be put in place to incentivize affordable housing builds with specific goals for low-income housing, according to the Stadmissionen report.

Having one’s own home is a fundamental need that also offers safety and security. Housing First, a method for dealing with homelessness in New York City, was implemented in Stockholm and Helsingborg in 2010. This approach eliminates conditions for housing and treats housing as a fundamental human right. Now, 94 municipalities in the country have Housing First strategies; these programs are local and not national.

Overall, the solution to homelessness in Sweden requires solving the housing crisis. The government needs to enact policies that spur affordable constructions while simultaneously moving the responsibility of homelessness prevention to municipalities and the state rather than social services.

Katie Gagnon
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in SlovakiaThe country of Slovakia is located in central Europe and borders The Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Austria. Slovakia has a deep-rooted history in Europe. Slovakia was originally a part of Czechia and had the name of Czechoslovakia. While allying with Nazi Germany, the Slovakian government became independent. After the war, however, Czechia and Slovakia became one country once again until the Velvet Revolution in 1989. In 1993, the two countries peacefully agreed to separate and become two independent countries.

The current population of Slovakia is 5.4 million and 80.7% is Slovik. Slovakia does not have a high percentage of migrants, with only 0.2 migrants per 1,000 persons. Also, less than one-eighth of the population lives in poverty. Although poverty is not as severe in Slovakia as in other countries, poverty affects certain demographics more heavily. Here are four facts about poverty in Slovakia.

4 Facts About Poverty in Slovakia

  1. The Poverty Rate: In 2016, 3.30% of people in the Slovak Republic were living on less than $5.50 a day, a decline from their highest poverty rate in 2004, when 5.30% of people lived on less than $5.50 a day. The rate fluctuates between a 0.1% and 0.8% increase or decrease each year.
  2. Minorities: The majority of the Slovak ethnic group residing in Slovakia experience the luxuries of living in the country. These luxuries include access to clean water, comfortable living conditions, access to health care and sanitized environments. Although many Slovaks have these luxuries, minority groups such as the Romani people experience higher poverty rates on average. Poverty in Slovakia directly affects the Romani people, the third-largest minority group. The majority of these communities do not have access to running water, electricity or a proper system for waste disposal. The children within this group are more likely to drop out of secondary school, experience trafficking (prostitution or forced labor) and not receive necessary health care.
  3. Access to Clean Water: As of 2017, 99.79% of people have access to clean water. Compared to the rest of the world, Slovakia ranks 17th for clean water access. The fewest amount of people had access to clean water in the year 2000, with 7.82% of the population not having access to clean water. The rate continues to steadily rise every year.
  4. Housing: Habitat for Humanity partnered with the Environmental Training Project and started a program to build housing for poor communities in 2004. So far, this project has served more than 1,000 families in Eastern Slovakia. To begin construction, the program assisted families in taking out microloans and it provided construction training to families to develop skills. In addition to construction skills, families learned how to manage their finances and take out microloans in the future.

These four facts about poverty in Slovakia show that it has a low poverty rate in comparison to other countries. Access to clean water and other human necessities are available for some; however, poverty in Slovakia disproportionately affects minority groups. These groups do not have the same access to essential human needs and it affects their everyday lives. There is hope, however, because organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity and The Environmental Training Project, are working to provide necessary resources for developing communities.

– Brooke Young
Photo: Flickr