Unit 5: What is Wrong with Cities?
Homelessness is a phenomenon that all urban dwellers have heard about. Common as it is, it is hard to measure. A person without a roof is homeless. How about a person living in an aluminum shack? Can we say a person has a home when they have four walls but no water, no toilet and no bed?
Globally, 100 million people are estimated to be without any shelter and one billion people, or 17% of the world's population, live in poor housing.
In the 12 countries that make up the European Union, there are between 2 to 5 million homeless people. In the United States, estimates range from about 250,000 to over 3 million people.
Urban housing conditions tend to be worse in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Bombay, India, for instance, there are 250,000 'pavement dwellers' or people who sleep on the streets. Entire families live in small huts of less than 5 square meters set up on the sidewalks.
Homelessness and poor housing conditions have adverse effects on people's health. For example, the homeless in London, the United Kingdom, live 25 years less than the rest of the population.
A number of other health problems are caused by poor housing conditions. These are explored in the section on health.
Poor housing also makes people more vulnerable to disaster. The 1985 earthquake in Mexico City that killed 10,000 people claimed the lives of many low-income families living in flimsy structures.
Homelessness is obviously related to poverty but it does not follow that poverty automatically leads to homelessness. High rents, lack of available urban land, a government's inability to build affordable housing and sudden shocks to the economy that make people lose their jobs are some of the direct causes of homelessness.
SEE ALSO HEALTH, POLUTION, AND SAFETY AND CRIME
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