Nairobi, 12 October 2020 – On the occasion of World Homelessness Day, UN-Habitat hosted a webinar on the theme “Housing and Social Protection for all to End Homelessness”. The event, jointly organized by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and UN-Habitat marked another milestone of the collaboration between the two agencies on the topic.

The event brought together high-level technical experts to discuss the renewed urgency of addressing homelessness within the context of a COVID-19 new normal.

During the event, Mr. Robert Lewis-Lettington, Chief of UN-Habitat’s Land, Housing and Shelter section, highlight the fact that “as the United Nations we must respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the most vulnerable. People experiencing homelessness are amongst them. If we want to make our cities sustainable and inclusive, we must address homelessness”.

At the end of his remarks, he launched the new UN-Habitat Proceedings Report of the 2019 Expert Group Meeting on “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness” that took place in Nairobi 22 - 24 May 2019. The report collects and analyses the contribution of the experts who participated in the EGM and aims to broaden the understanding of the complex causes of homelessness.

Ms. Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Inclusive Social Development of UN DESA, further stressed during the meeting the complex and global nature of homelessness and how, she says, “it affects people from different ages, geographical areas and backgrounds and this has become increasingly visible today with the COVID19 pandemic”. According to Daniela Bas, “we must build on the strong political will and the actions that have been taken to address homelessness during the pandemic to recover from the COVID19 crisis and build back better”.

Other leading voices in the field of homelessness prevention discussed strategies to better map and tackle the root-causes of homelessness and to support government in their effort to end homelessness forever.

Ms. Dame Louise Casey, Chair of the Advisory Committee of Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH), pointed out that “a lot of funds have been spent on developing strategies to solve ‘symptoms’ of homelessness without addressing the root causes of the disease. To address homelessness, we must prevent the recurrence of its driving factors”. She also stressed the importance of data for devising evidence-based and effective policies. On this point, she said “if we do not count homelessness, we do not see homelessness and IGH is committed to partner with any willing stakeholder to conduct a global homelessness survey”.

Ms. Christina Behrendt, Head of ILO’s Social Policy Unit, Social Protection Department, discussed the need to strengthen social protection systems and the delivery of affordable housing to address homelessness, building on the positive initiatives taken by governments globally during the COVID-19 emergency phase. According to Christina Behrendt, during the pandemic “208 countries have improved in different ways their social protection systems, with 131 housing or basic services related measures in 86 different countries”.

Mr. Freek Spinnewijn, Director, European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA), addressed the issue of harmonizing the definition of homelessness and presented the European Typology of Homelessness and housing exclusion (ETHOS). He said: “the ETHOS definition tries to capture homelessness as a process and its features across different scenarios. ETHOS does not promote hierarchy in gravity within categories of homelessness. It features collateral and indirectly related issues such as asylum and gender-based violence as well as long term solutions”.

The webinar also served as a platform for amplifying the voices of those who experienced homelessness. Ms. Liz Madden and Ms. Iris Bailey shared their experiences on what it means to be homelessness and how they overcame this experience. Ms. Madden pointed out that “being given a home was just the first step toward ending her homelessness situation. For many people homelessness is a state of mind that is hard to escape without experts’ support”. Ms. Bailey shared the real-life stories of friends and relatives who were left behind, suffered homelessness and lacked support to change the situation.

Participants agreed that homelessness is the result of a structural failure to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. As Ms. Bailey said at the end of the event, “everyone should have the right to say ‘this is my mail and address’, ‘my home’, ‘I am going home’ and ‘I live here’ ”.