The Nature and Extent of Homelessness in Developing Contexts

The number of homeless people worldwide is estimated to be between 100 million and one billion, depending on how we count them and the definition used. However, little is known about the causes of homelessness or the characteristics of homeless people in developing countries. Most developing countries have poor or non-existent data relating to homelessness. There is an urgent need for governments to undertake adequate censuses of homeless people. Our study highlights huge differences in the percentage of the population which is recognized as homeless in different countries. However, this is likely to be influenced by the ‘service statistics paradox’, in that, those countries with a willingness to acknowledge homelessness, and to establish services for homeless people, are more likely to be able to locate and count them and thus, will have more accurate (and higher) figures.

In order to count homeless people, there must first be a working definition of homelessness, which there is not in most of the countries studies. Governments and NGOs may need assistance to undertake adequate censuses and to define homelessness in order to inform policies on housing, land allocation and support for homeless people. Western definitions and typologies of homelessness are inappropriate for developing countries, therefore new definitions must be developed, However, it should be noted that a single definition of homelessness is unlikely to be appropriate to all developing countries. A study by CARDO in the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape, at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, set out to explore the nature and extent of homelessness in nine developing countries.

The empirical research was conducted in ten countries (Peru, Bolivia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Egypt, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and China). In each of these countries a researcher was contracted to undertake research in accordance with a terms of reference. At least one member of the UK team visited each of the countries to gain deeper understanding and support the researcher, with the exception of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Indonesia.