Source: Global Sisters Report
Editor’s note: More than 1.6 billion people worldwide live in substandard housing. Of those, at least 150 million have no home at all. In this special series, A Place to Call Home, Global Sisters Report is focusing on women religious helping people who are homeless or lack adequate shelter. Over the next several months, we will examine how homelessness and a lack of affordable housing affects teens and young adults, families, migrants, the elderly and those displaced by natural disasters and climate change in stories from Kenya, India, Vietnam, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, the United States and elsewhere.
A group of experts, including Daughter of Wisdom Sr. Jean Quinn, met in Nairobi, Kenya, in May 2019 and came up with a preliminary working definition: Homelessness is “a condition where a person or household lacks habitable space with security of tenure, rights and ability to enjoy social relations, including safety.”
Quinn, executive director of UNANIMA, a United Nations-based coalition of Catholic congregations focused on concerns of women, children, migrants and the environment, said she hopes one of the outcomes of the U.N. meetings this month is a consensus about a definition. She said she also hopes the U.N. will take steps toward a universal count, or census, of homelessness.
“If you don’t have that, governments will put in something to suit themselves,” she said. And if there is not a common definition, “governments will create their own definition, making it hard to compare and combat the issues on homelessness globally.”
Quinn acknowledged that it is frustrating that, as the U.N. notes, the last time the United Nations attempted to count the global number of homeless people was in 2005, when it estimated that 100 million people were homeless. (UN-Habitat, the U.N. body that focuses on adequate shelter and the development of sustainable urban areas, uses a more recent estimate of 150 million.)
Quinn, who will be one of the featured speakers during the U.N. gathering, said she hopes the meetings will also call attention to a facet of homelessness that does not get the attention she believes it deserves: family homelessness.
She calls family homelessness “a hidden problem” that often involves head-of-household mothers and their children unable to find permanent housing, living in shelters, hostels, hotels or institutional settings and often “on the move.”
“We welcome that the U.N. is now talking about the issue,” said Quinn, a founder of Sophia Housing in her native Ireland, which describes itself as “a collaboration of religious and lay people working to support the ‘out of home.’ “
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Photo1: People gather around a fire, the only permitted source of heat at the Oppenheimer Park homeless encampment, on Jan. 16, 2020, following a heavy snowfall in Vancouver, British Columbia. (CNS/Reuters/Jesse Winter)
Photo 2: Daughter of Wisdom Sr. Jean Quinn, executive director of UNANIMA, a United Nations-based coalition of Catholic congregations focused on concerns of women, children, migrants and the environment (GSR file photo)