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Attitudes to and interventions in homelessness: insights from an international study

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  1. Attitudes to and interventions in homelessness: insights from an international study Suzanne Speak and Dr Graham Tipple Global Urban Research Unit School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape University of Newcastle upon Tyne

  2. About the study • DFID sponsored • Peru, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and China • Mainly secondary sources; only a few interviews

  3. Study topics • Current housing supply characteristics; • current definitions of homelessness; • appropriateness of western typologies; • numbers of people involved in types of homelessness; • systemic causes of homelessness, isolation or exclusion of homeless people; • characteristics of homeless people; • street children, typologies of street children; causes of street child phenomena; • conditions of living; • responses to homelessness;

  4. Summary • Perceptions of homeless people are generally very negative across our studies. • In a few, NGOs are responding with more positive images and involvement with homeless people. • Change of perception is very important

  5. Justifications given for negative perceptions • Competitiveness: seen to reduce business prospects • Worth or desert: an attempt to ration help in a pseudo-logical way • Appearance: problem for the city’s image • Pity, charity and compassion: can undermine potential - victims, helpless and in need of charity.

  6. Perceptions of homeless people • The ‘other’: The common perception of homeless people as ‘others’ • The cause of their homelessness is their personal inadequacies

  7. Perceptions of homeless people • The ‘villain’ : Laws such as the Bombay Prevention of Begging Act (1959) in India. Simply being on the streets is cause for arrest. • Homeless people are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of crime.

  8. Perceptions of homeless people • The ‘Beggar’: Unemployed and indigent • Most homeless people work, very few are beggars • The ‘mentally Ill’: often included in definitions. Higher incidence of mental illness but most are not. • The ‘Immoral’: Often equate homeless people with lack of morals.

  9. Perceptions of homeless people • The ‘Transient’: tramps, vagrants, floating people. More gathering and settling than this allows. • The ‘non-citizen’: deprived of ration or identity cards and the rights of citizens.

  10. Perceptions of homeless people • The ‘Loner’: detachment from society characterised by the absence or attenuation of the affiliative bonds. Often more integrated than this allows. • Many parents and children on the streets together.

  11. Perceptions of homeless people • The ‘Helpless’:unhelpful portrayal of homeless people as victims, ‘unfortunate shelterless souls’, emphasising their helplessness. Emotive pictures to gain sympathy. • Particularly the case for street children.

  12. The reinforcing role of interventions • Anti-social and unclean - leads to clearance operations / evictions. • Cleanliness denied by removing taps, etc., from public places. • Hostels not cleaned • Criminals – Arrests • Beggars – No storage for possessions or work equipment in hostels

  13. Positive interventions • There were fewer reported in our studies than we expected. LDCs are far behind industrialised countries in positive interventions • Mumbai: participation in resettlement from railway land • Mumbai: Training street children in traffic control Both treat homeless people as capable insiders

  14. Positive interventions • Use of schools, gymnasia, shelters, in Catholic schools, etc. • Street children interventions are often more positive than for adults – education on the street, no compulsion to settle, etc.

  15. Importance of change in attitudes • Start with understanding the realities of life on the streets and in the worst housing in cities • Need to know more about the causes of homelessness, the lifestyles of homeless people, and the contributions they make towards the economy • Need to adopt some of the flexible approaches addressed to street children

  16. Suggested interventions • Remove stigma • Legalise street sleeping • Establish night-time, ultra-cheap, very basic accommodation in city centres with safe storage • Retain citizenship rights • Washing and sanitation facilities in streets/ public places where homeless people gather. • Collaborate with involved NGOs, especially faith-based.