home Inclusion, Urban policies & Governance Urbanization and homelessness

Urbanization and homelessness

As the pace of urbanization increases, efforts to address one of the most visible problems of inclusion – homelessness – are comparatively inadequate.

The world is urbanizing at an alarming rate, and with alarming results. Urban landscapes are now the most visible sign of gross inequality, modern glass and steel skyscrapers sitting next to makeshift shacks. Our urban centers have become polarized: two cities existing side by side, separated by status and rights. Urbanization is a tale where some profit immensely while others struggle to survive – the result of policies and state inaction that has elevated some people at the expense of others. One tragic manifestation of this inequality is pervasive and growing homelessness.

Homelessness may present itself in different forms. The first that comes to mind is the one prevalent in western cities: people living in the open. A less visible form is that found particularly in the global south where homelessness manifests in very precarious housing conditions without basic services and security of tenure. Homeless people face stigmatization, criminalization and discrimination because of their “homeless” status, based solely on their association with a social group that is regarded as undeserving. Inequality is the most consistently identified cause of homelessness, and yet homelessness is the least discussed representation of inequality.

While homelessness is usually seen as a result of personal choice and lack of moral fortitude, it is often the government policies that are at fault. Capitalist exploitation of the basic human right to shelter results in treating housing as a commodity rather than a human right. It is rooted in a global privileging of wealth and power, while scapegoating and scorning those who have little of both.

However dire the situation, it seems its urgency is not properly felt, as addressing homelessness is not at the top of the list of priorities for governments. Moreover, the few actions meant to tackle it function more as a band-aid since they do not address the structural causes of homelessness. In order to be effective, government responses must move beyond charitable approaches, focused on addressing individual needs, to approaches aimed at addressing structural causes and restoring justice and dignity to those for whom it matters most.

Source: The Guardian

Photo: Gratisography