Getting an accurate picture of global homelessness is extremely challenging. In some countries, street sleepers are actually discounted for census purposes because they have no official house or address. Census data is typically collected based on household and the census takers struggle to count the “hidden homeless”.
Even though, most census data takes into account those living in shelters and receiving government aid. Still, those who may be residing in inadequate settlements such as slums, squatting in structures not intended for housing, couch surfing with friends and family, and those who relocate frequently, can be hard to be accounted for. Moreover, the definitions of homelessness vary from country to country.
The last time a global survey was attempted – by the United Nations in 2005 – an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide. Here are some of the data gathered in the Southeast Asia region.
More than 180,000 people live in informal settlements in Phnom Penh, and there are around 20,000 street children who are often the victims of human trafficking. Human Rights Watch reports about serious mistreatments of homeless people by police.
There are approximately 3 million homeless people in Indonesia. According to the 2001 census, around 28,364 people were homeless in Jakarta, but due to recent natural disasters such as floods and storms the homeless population has grown significantly.
A quarter of the population lives below the national poverty line. It is estimated that around 44% of the urban population live in slums. The capital, Manila, has the largest homeless population of any city in the world – 3.1 million. An estimated 1.2 million children in the Philippines sleep rough, with 70,000 in Manila.
Understanding Cause of Homelessness
As many as 1.6 billion people lacked adequate housing. Little is known about the causes of homelessness or the characteristics of homeless people in developing countries.
The common perception of homeless people as unemployed, drunks, criminals, mentally ill or personally inadequate is inappropriate. However, in developing countries, homelessness is largely a result of the failure of the housing supply system to address the needs of the rapidly growing urban population. Examples are such as:
- Have often migrated to the city to escape rural poverty or to supplement rural livelihoods
- Are generally employed in low paid, unskilled work
- Often choose to sleep on the streets rather than pay for accommodation, preferring to send the money to their families
- Are frequently harassed, evicted, abused or imprisoned
- Suffer poor health with a range of respiratory and gastric illnesses
- Are victims of crime, rather than perpetrators of it
- Are predominantly lone males but increasingly couples and families with children
Homeless women and children are most often the victims of family abuse. Their poor economic standing places them at greater risk of homelessness in order to escape abusive situations.
- Are frequently escaping abuse, particularly from stepparents or extreme poverty
- Are often detained or imprisoned for being on the streets
- Mistrust adults and authority
- Prefer to live on the streets rather than accept over authoritarian accommodation
- Have generally been abandoned or widowed or are escaping abuse
- Turn to inappropriate relationships to secure accommodation for themselves and their children
- May end up begging or in prostitution to support their children