It’s estimated that about two percent of the world’s population is homeless. Two percent — it doesn’t sound like much, but when you do the math, that’s nearly 154 million people living on the street, in temporary dwellings, at refugee camps, and in other transitory and often dangerous conditions. Aside from these homelessness statistics, another billion people currently live without adequate shelter, and by 2050, it’s believed that number will reach close to three billion.
In reality, it’s likely that the number of homeless people around the world is even higher than the data suggests. Homelessness statistics, as it turns out, are incredibly difficult to come by, and the last time a global survey was even attempted was in 2005 by the United Nations. For such a prevalent problem, the lack of accurate information — especially from developing nations — presents a serious roadblock in the search for solutions.
Why are homelessness statistics so hard to obtain?
Painting an accurate picture of homelessness on a global level is challenging for many reasons, one of which has to do with the very word itself. Homelessness has many definitions, and they vary depending on the country and cultural concepts that surround it. A UN report titled The State of Homelessness in Developing Countries seeks to address the fluctuations that make it difficult to set a standard of measurement across populations.
Here’s how the report defines the different variations of homelessness:
- Rough sleeping: Literally lying down on the street, under a bridge or in a public place to sleep at night; temporary, seasonal short or long term.
- Pavement dwelling: A regular ‘pitch’ is used over a longer period of time and some very rudimentary shelter of card, cloth or plastic is erected; short to medium term.
- Squatting: Staying in the same derelict building on a regular basis; short to medium term.
- Living in abjectly poor, often dangerous, dwellings: For example, staying in boats or other floating platforms without security or services and which fails all tests of adequacy; long term or permanent.
- Refugee camps: Living without the foreseeable possibility of returning home; long term or permanent.
Other problems surrounding the accuracy of global homelessness statistics include: lack of government resources, the taboo nature of homelessness and the tendency of governments to downplay the issue, and the fact that many homeless people themselves are reluctant to come forward and register due to a combination of shame, insufficient resources, or safety concerns, such as violence and sexual assault.
Even without knowing the exact data, we do know without a doubt that homelessness is a problem of epic proportions. Yet despite the scale, we believe it’s a solvable one.
We’re focused on finding lasting solutions for an ongoing problem.
When you look back at the UN’s definitions of homelessness, the temporary nature of every scenario of homelessness points to a solution. Those living without a home are constantly jumping from one temporary living situation to another, whether it’s squatting from building to building or creating a makeshift tent on the street. Even homeless shelters and government-run housing programs are temporary, short-term approaches. To address the daunting global homelessness statistics, we need lasting solutions that focus less on providing temporary fixes and more on permanent resolutions.
Natural disasters, for example, are a major contributing factor to the temporary living conditions and subsequent homelessness that many people face. These devastating events destroy homes and resources, often leading to the adoption of relief shelters as permanent residences. While relief is much needed in the short term, people in these zones are at a much higher risk for injury and death due to the lack of withstanding shelter during and after such a disaster.
Haiti, a Caribbean country, has been hit by natural disaster after natural disaster throughout its history due to the location in prime hurricane and tropical storm territory. In January of 2010, the 7.0 magnitude earthquakes were the most devastating disasters to hit Haiti in generations, claiming the lives of approximately 300,000 people. The damage of vital infrastructure like communication systems and roads, as well as three major universities left the country in crisis for years. To make matters worse, that same year hurricane Tomas hit, further worsening the state of the country amidst attempts to rebuild. Years later, Haiti is still recovering as the problems caused by these storms perpetuate.
Haiti holds a special place in the hearts of our team — it’s the reason why our founder, Brett Hagler, created New Story in the first place. On his first trip to the country, he saw families living in inadequate conditions; surviving in tents and other temporary dwellings that offered little to no protection from the elements. He knew this problem was bigger than big, and yet he was compelled to solve it. Returning home, he shared his experience and raised enough money to build tone home. The success of this one home, and then another, compounded to develop a clear vision for the transparency-focused, scalable nonprofit that we are today.
Again, short term relief is vital for immediate survival, but temporary solutions are not a long-term fix. The key to limiting natural disaster-induced homelessness is building structurally sound, disaster-resistant homes and communities that will ultimately minimize the after-effects of natural disasters in the future.
For these reasons, every New Story community is built by local workers using concrete and cinder block materials atop a strong foundation. In addition, part of our strategy involves a focus on participatory design, where families are invited to give feedback on the homes before they’re built. This is a critical step as it enhances our ability to build smarter and meet the needs of these families, ultimately increasing the likelihood that these communities will last for years to come.
Since building in Labodrie, Haiti, a powerful hurricane swept across the country putting home designs to the test. Thankfully, all of the homes withstood the disaster, and most importantly, so did every single one of the individuals living inside.
Tackling homelessness together, one step at a time.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by global homelessness statistics, but we believe the problem — no matter how large — is a solvable one. We know we can change temporary solutions to long-term ones, and this is what drives us at New Story to find new ways of innovating and improving everything from building methods and technology to the way nonprofits operate as a whole.
Even through our best efforts, this is not a problem we can solve alone. That’s why we look to teach and share our innovative housing breakthroughs with other nonprofits and government organizations with a similar mission. So together, we can all build better, faster, more long-term housing to end global homelessness. It’s also why we look to you — and why we give the option to donate either to innovation to enable more breakthroughs or home building, where 100 percent goes directly to building homes for families in need today.
Homelessness statistics reveal a significant global problem, but with your help, it’s not beyond solving.