On October 17th, 2019, the Symposium on Women and Children/Girls experiencing Homelessness/Displacement was hosted by UNANIMA International at the Baha´i International Community Center. It was an extraordinary event due to the variety of knowledgeable experts and speakers. The first speaker was Guillermo Campuzano, C.M. – Father Memo – to provide a report and overview on the work of the Working Group to End Homelessness (WGEH). In this report, he made it clear by referring to several statistics that the issue of homelessness is of utmost urgency since about 1.8 billion people on this earth are homeless or inadequately housed – that is almost every fourth person. This shocking fact is accompanied by the reality that this affects the most vulnerable people groups, namely indigenous people, women and children. Father Memo made it clear that in order to accomplish the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, those highly affected groups require special attention so that no one is left behind.
Throughout the meeting it was emphasized and mentioned repeatedly that the issue of homelessness regarding any group of people requires strong collaboration between the existing networks and working groups. The recent accomplishment by an expert group meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, was a definition of homelessness which is intended to be used in all advocacy work to reach the common goal of ending this particular crisis. As there is a lack of measurement, the following definition was a large achievement to be able to move forward on this issue collectively.
“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. Homelessness is a manifestation of extreme poverty and a failure of multiple systems and human rights.”
Amongst the great variety of speakers was one representative of the UN delegation of Ireland, but also two in the audience, one from Slovakia and one from Burkina Faso. While assuring their cooperation with Civil Society, the expert speakers shared their experiences of how they target the issue of homelessness. Leilani Farha – UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing – provided insight on her efforts to collect data, raise awareness and establishing a program called “Shift”. It intends to push states towards implementing systemic change so that this human and basic right for every human being to have adequate housing is guaranteed across the globe. Along with other speakers, Ms. Farha highlighted the reluctance of states to act as well as the misunderstanding of the public concerning the identity of homeless people. The perception of the lazy man that only lives off benefits from society is simply not true. Women who don´t want to abandon their children, people ousted by society for being less fortunate is vast majority instead. As the community activist from Ireland, Elizabeth Madden, shared from her personal experience, being homeless created huge obstacles finding a job or support by government but mostly changed how people treated her.
On the other hand, John McEvoy – a representative from Sophia Housing in Dublin, Ireland – emphasized the reluctance of the state to admit and solve the issue of homelessness within its borders. Shelters aren´t the solution which is why Sophia Housing focuses on long-term housing to ensure immediate reintegration of homeless people in society. The reality for many homeless people to be moved around from one shelter to another one was also mentioned by UNANIMA International Research Fellow Kirin Taylor. The lack of existing literature, but also technology makes it difficult to grasp the size of the issue of homelessness. Ms. Taylor emphasized the urgent need to develop those two key aspects in order to provide better and more effectively resources to affected people groups. She is currently working on finalizing several case studies that will be released and shared with Civil Society as soon as possible. However, the findings so far are highly valuable which was also greatly appreciated by the two speakers from UN institutions.
Mr. Chris Williams – Director of UN Habitat – as well as Ms. Renata Kaczmarska – representative of UN Focal Point on the Family – emphasized the need for cooperation between Civil Society and their institutions. The urgency of the issue of homelessness along the lack of sufficient data makes it difficult to target each affected group adequately. The fact that mostly women and children are affected is of even greater significance since they are the core of the future generation. Systemic change is not only necessary, but possible if worked together. Furthermore, some progress has been made, especially mentioned by Mr. Williams concerning the WGEH and his increased interest to work together.
Lastly, the 58th session of the Commission for Social Development will take place from the 10th to the 19th of February 2020. Since the priority theme will be “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness” all the speakers highlighted the importance to advocate and to aim their efforts towards this highly significant week as a short-term goal. Overall, the event “Symposium on Women and Children/Girls experiencing Homelessness/Displacement” was very valuable to listen to different experts and connect with them to fight homelessness together. Each country on this earth faces the issue of homelessness with no exception and the number of affected people is very high and the systemic change comprehensive. Therefore, it requires several coalitions to fight homelessness together. It starts on the local level and continues by sharing best practices as well as data collectively. The Symposium on Women and Children/Girls experiencing Homelessness/Displacement was an important step to ensure future partnership as well as exchange of data to fight homelessness together.