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A Systemic Approach to Eliminating Homelessness

by | Feb 4, 2018 | News

Speech of Mark McGreevy, Founder and CEO of DePaul International, at the side event panel entitled “A Systemic Approach to Eliminating Homelessness” presented by the Vincentian Family at the United Nations, in Collaboration with the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN in the framework of the fifty-sixth session of the Commission for Social Development, entitled “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all.

Good afternoon everyone. My thanks to all who have helped to organize this side event and in particular to the Permanent Representative of Ireland – Geraldine Byrne Nason – and the members of the Vincent de Paul Family of religious orders and lay associations.

My name is Mark McGreevy and I am wearing three hats today.

Firstly, I am the Group CEO of Depaul International a street homeless charity active in seven countries – UK, Ireland, France, USA, Slovakia, Ukraine and Croatia – working with over 22,000 homeless people a year in very different cultural and political environments. From street children in Ukraine to street drinkers in Ireland. From young people facing homelessness in the UK to hospice care for elderly homeless people in Slovakia. A very wide ranging brief.

Secondly, I am the founder of the Institute of Global Homelessness which is a partnership between Depaul International and DePaul University based in Chicago. This is the first organization to look at street homelessness from a global perspective bringing together leaders from the worlds of academia, policy, practice and advocacy to share ideas and best practice.

Thirdly, I am the coordinator of the Famvin Homeless Alliance (present today) which is a focal point of a global network of charity representing a membership of some two million people across the world. Using the existing Vincentian Family staff and volunteers at the UN and the global membership we hope to influence systemic change for homeless people as well as grow our services on the ground to better serve them. More of that later.

Every year, in the middle of February, the Audubon Society here in the USA and other similar international charities sharing the same mission recruit bird watchers across the globe go outside into their gardens and streets and take part in something called the Great Backyard Bird Count.  From counting the different kinds of birds in different localities at the same point in time each year they get a sense of the changes to bird population and migration patterns. It allows them to ascertain whether certain species are at risk from environmental factors or from man-made interventions. They can tell if previous interventions they have made are working. They get early warning of what is going wrong. A chance to put things right through lobbying and investment in habitat.

I find it interesting that the world of bird conservation is much more sophisticated in relation to high level data collection than the global street homeless movement – we have no idea how many street homeless people there are in the world! Very few countries count them.

We have fairly accurate figures as to how many refugees and displaced people there are which is a staggering 65.6 million. Through clever satellite technology and algorithms, we estimate 689 million slum dwellers. However, as I said in my high-level presentation on Monday the last global guesstimate of street homelessness came in 2001 from the UN Human Settlements Program, which suggested that 100 million people have no access to housing in any shape or form. In truth, we just don’t know — but it’s likely the figure is much higher than that.

What does that lack of a focus on accurate data say about the importance of this issue in global debates? How can you begin to solve or advocate for a problem if you can’t measure it? How do you know if it’s getting better or worse?  If the street homelessness sector was as connected and as organized as the bird watching world might street homelessness have the same high profile as health, hunger, education or environment?

We know from discussions with the statistical commission at the UN that it is possible to lobby to make the measurement of street homelessness part of information gathered in every country within the UN community as a measurable indicator within the present SDGs. We also know that by doing this we would have a very crude lever to hold many countries to account for the first time. However, it is going to take time and a concerted effort by all who are passionate about this if it is going to happen.

One of the reasons given as to why we don’t measure street homelessness globally currently is that it’s just too difficult given the fact definitions of homelessness differ from country to country. It’s impossible to compare apples and pears.

When the Institute of Global Homelessness was founded in 2015 we chose to tackle this problem head on and through a well thought through (and resourced) three stage process embracing researchers, practitioners and policy makers from 30 countries and regions across the world. The outcome was the IGH Global Typology of Homelessness which you can find online if you visit the IGH website. In summary, this divides homelessness into three distinct areas. a basic summary might be refugees and idps, slum dwellers and street homeless people.

For the first time, we have a common language and a global framework which allows us to compare data and in particular – street homelessness.

Why street homelessness. Well there are already strong advocates for refugees, idps and slum dwellers, even street children in global debates but the poverty and story of the older homeless, of homeless families, of discriminated and persecuted homeless people is not heard often enough. No specific mention of them in either the Millennium Development Goals or the Sustainable Development Goals. However how can this be the case when of the 17 SDGs three cry out for the need to end homelessness.

The first is SDG 1 – Eradicating poverty in all its forms – admittedly poverty globally is relative but surely eradicating poverty means an end to people living on our streets.

The second is SDG 3 – Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. Housing is a social determinant of health and there is overwhelming evidence that homelessness is associated with ill health and dramatically lower than average life expectancy.

Finally, SDG 11 – Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe resilient and sustainable. This goal includes providing safe adequate housing for all. By definition surely this includes preventing and addressing homelessness.

Is it possible to end street homelessness? No ingrained poverty is easy to overcome but yes there are some countries that point the way. Much more difficult in Africa and Africa and the other places where urbanization is gathering pace a poverty is overwhelming. However, we have to see to it that the poorest have a place of safety and security in our new and expanding cities. Without our advocacy, how will things get better.

Throughout its 400-year history the Vincentian Family has a proud tradition of helping homeless people – refugees who come to our shores seeking safety, slum dwellers in Africa, India and Latin America and street homeless people in our cities across the world. However, in 2017 faced with a global epidemic of homelessness, the leadership of the Vincentian Family asked the question – can we do more? How effective might we be if this great, global Vincentian movement worked together more closely?  With that in mind

  • We have a plan to build more housing for homeless people and improve our services in all 151 countries in which the Vincentian Family works
  • We aim to support and develop existing and emerging leaders in homelessness across the globe through training programs organized by the Institute of Global Homelessness
  • In addition, the IGH has begun a campaign working to end street homelessness in 150 cities across the world by 2030 – to show that it is possible to do so.
  • Of particular relevance to this gathering today we want to lobby for structural change in support of homeless people at a national, regional and global level and in particular within the institution of the UN. We will service and support a platform that tells the stories of street homeless people across the world. Our aim is make street homelessness measurable within the current SDGs and beyond that to press that ending street homelessness becomes a goal in itself – part of every countries anti-poverty strategy. To do that we need more than the Vincentian Family, more than the Institute of Global Homelessness and we need more than Depaul International. We need a movement for change and I hope you can join us

Thank You!

Mark McGreevy

New York, January 31, 2018

Source: Famvin Homeless Alliance

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