New York, USA. “Homelessness is a harmful form of systemic discrimination and social exclusion. It is a global phenomenon that affects people everywhere – in developed and developing countries; in rural and urban areas”, said Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs (ECOSOC) at the inauguration of the 58th session of the Commission for Social Development (CSocD58).
This fifty-eighth session of the commission took place from 10 to 19 February 2020 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. This Commission is the advisory body responsible for the social development pillar of global development. The priority theme of this year’s session was, “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness”.
Fr. Nnamdiogo Ebem, CMF (Nnamdi) from the Province of US-Canada, Fr. Rohan Dominic CMF and Fr. Henry Ramirez Soler CMF have participated in the Commission representing the Fondazione Proclade Internazionale-onlus (FPI-onlus), the Claretian Presence at the UN. During the commission, FPI-onlus has co-sponsored a side-event which was organized by the Salesian Mission under the title, “Youth Homelessness: Interrogating Policy Gaps and Legislative Vacuum.” In different parts of the world, the Claretian Missionaries are involved in providing affordable and safe housing to thousands of poor people. The Claretians are also in forefront in building houses for the people who are affected by the natural calamities in many disasters hit places. Commenting on his experience at the UN, Fr. Nnamdi said, “It was good experience to be part of the discussion on pertinent issues that affect millions of people in the world. Homelessness is social challenge at the global level. But it is only a symptom of failed social and economic structures at global level. A lot of religious orders are deeply involved in advocating for change. UN gives us forum to make impact on issues affecting millions of people in the world. As Claretian Missionaries, Let support our brothers working with the UN.”
For the first time in the history of United Nations, it is addressing the issue of ending homelessness and affordable and safe housing for all. Homelessness is a global problem that affects all countries. Since homelessness was never discussed at the UN, there is a lack of universally accepted definition and the measurement. This is the first challenge to address homelessness. This lack of clear understanding of homelessness also makes extremely difficult in counting the homeless population. So, there are no reliable data available in order to address the problem globally as well as nationally.
In one of the panels, Mark McGreevy, Founder of the Institute of Global Homelessness at DePaul University in the United States, who moderated the discussion, said homelessness is clearly a multifaceted issue in need of a common definition and better global data. Worldwide, he said, an estimated 100 million people suffer from street homelessness, 15 million are evicted from their homes annually, 1.6 billion live in inadequate conditions and another 883 million live in slums. Listening to homeless people — who understand the challenge best — is crucial, he said, adding: “We ignore their voice at our peril.”
The Catholic Religious NGOs including the Vincentian family and UNANIMA International initiated the forming of UN NGO Working Group to End Homelessness, two years back and pushing an agenda related to ending homelessness to be tabled at a UN Commission. Eventually the with the support of many member states, the Commission on Social Development has chosen affordable housing as the priority theme for 2020.
The final resolution of the commission urged the governments at both national and local levels to improve access to more affordable housing in communities. This, they suggested, can be done through targeted social measures and formal policies on the building and distribution of reasonably priced, safe housing choices for those without means to access such options on the open market. The declaration also called for an end to discrimination and negative stereotyping of homelessness by proposing that laws, advocacy and awareness campaigns be implemented at grassroots levels.