There is no globally agreed definition of homelessness.
Even within countries, the topic can be contentious. At the same time, we know we can’t measure and solve a problem we can’t define, so in 2015 IGH made developing shared language on homelessness a top priority. The result of this project is the IGH Framework, the product of collaboration from researchers, policy experts and on-the-ground leaders in six continents. While the Framework does include a common definition of homelessness, “lacking access to minimally adequate housing,” it also describes the many housing situations that could fall into that definition, which allows for flexibility based on geographic and cultural context. A country, city, people can choose which of these types of housing need they include in their local definition of homelessness.
The aim of the Framework is to develop a framework of homelessness that is meaningful across the globe, with resonance in the Global South as well as the Global North. This definition should provide a common language and reference point to frame exchanges on the topic of homelessness within and across world region, alongside a robust basis for the development of a global estimate of the number of people affected by homelessness, and trends in the scale of this phenomenon.
In developing this definition, we have drawn upon a wide range of sources, including:
- The 'European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion' (ETHOS) developed by FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless) and the European Observatory on Homelessness (EOH) (Edgar & Meert, 2006; Edgar et al, 2007; see also Appendix A).
- Critiques and developments of ETHOS, and in particular contributions by Kate Amore and colleagues (Amore et al, 2011; Amore, 2013).
- The sustained programme of work undertaken by Graham Tipple and Suzanne Speak on homelessness in the developing world (e.g. UN Habitat, 2000; Tipple & Speak, 2005, 2006, 2009; Speak, 2013).
- Articles on homelessness definitions in specific developing world contexts, especially those which focus on the interface between street homelessness and the population living in slums/ informal settlements (e.g. Cross et al, 2010; Kok et al, 2010).
By allowing us to meaningfully discuss homelessness in a global context and laying the foundation for measurement, this Framework will help us understand where efforts to address homelessness are succeeding. This is the first step toward informed, focused and measurable action to ending homelessness.
To read the full Framework online in Habitat International, click here.