Urban some people may physically not have a roof

Urban
poverty can be understood in different ways, however the distinction between defining
urban and rural poverty can be problematic. One of the reasons for this is that
the spatial classification of poverty can have a direct effect on discussion
and research created regarding the structural causes of poverty. In recent
decades we have seen ‘Global demographic shift to urban areas as undisputed,
predictions about the urbanization of poverty are based on a multitude of
controversial assumptions regarding the definition of urban areas, the nature
of poverty and the capacity to measure it’ (Wratten, 1995). Increased
urbanisation has a direct link with the number of people that are homeless.
Homelessness as an urban poverty issue is contested as different definitions of
being homeless result in different research and statistics being created.
However, because of the increasing issue of homelessness making it a global issue,
as well as the significant body of research that shows that home is far more
than an economic entity, but it is a complex emotional contested concept with
detrimental effects to mental health when someone is without suggests that it
is a very important urban poverty issue to discuss.

In order to be able to competently
argue that homelessness is a important global urban poverty issue it is
important to be able to correctly define it. There is a move by social planners
that have pioneered a meaning of poverty that ‘allow for local variation… and
expand the definition to encompass perceptions of non-material deprivation and
social differentiation’ (Wratten, 1995). This way of conceptualizing poverty
and not undermining the different types of poverty people can face, is
important. This can also be applied to the way that homelessness is understood.
It should be noted that some people may physically not have a roof or shelter
at all, and sleep on the pavement or doorways, however people who are in slums
who have physical shelter are still defined as homeless. The UN- Habitat
defines homes in terms of whether or not it is ‘adequate’, which is measured by
whether it has; tenure security, structural support, infrastructure support and
convenient access to employment and community services. There needs to be the
differentiation between squatters, those informally housed and those homeless, however
there is a spectrum of informal to formal housing, however small differences in
the definition of homelessness should undermine it as an widescale urban
poverty issue.

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A home has two definitions
and ways of understanding and interpreting it. It is first an economic entity
and secondly a theoretical and complex concept with a multitude of powerful
emotions attached. There are countless ways of understanding a home and the
ways in which it is represented as it is such a unique concept. Alison Blunt
writes that ‘a home is hence a complex and multi-layered geographical concept,
put most simply a home is a place/ site of feelings and cultural meaning’
(Blunt and Dowling, 2012). She goes on to say that it should be recognised that
homelessness and houselessness must be differentiated, however this creates a
range of definitions and a way of explaining and understanding the definitions
so critical social geographers have created a middle ground, explaining
homelessness as ‘simply being without shelter and without any sense of
belonging or identity’ (Blunt and Dowling, 2012), However, I critique this
definition when applied to people living in inadequate housing or slums there
is a sense of belonging and community. Therefore, I believe this definition to
be more applicable to a more typical homelessness seen in the global north.
This however, is why I believe homelessness to be such an important global
urban poverty issue as relative to each country there are people without
shelter and social geographers and planers alike, understand the issue as
research created must be specific to each country as representations of homes
and homelessness differ greatly between countries and cultures.  

Social constructions and
issues come with the word poverty as media representation allows for a
reconstrued view of poverty but also in the technological age and the increased
accessibility people have to images and it is these ‘reinforced representations
that are an important element in the othering process’ (Lister 2012). One
example of this is Nick Davies book The
Shocking Truth, about Hidden Britain in which the adjective ‘different’ is
used consistently throughout. This representation can ‘reinforce the way in
which people in poverty are typically seen as the objects rather than the
subjects of media representation’ (Illouz 1994). As well as media
representations that is damaging to those who are homeless making them detached
from society and feeling like an ‘other’, there is the issue of stigma. The
nature of stigma attached to poverty differentiates itself in different
societies due to factors such as; historical treatment of the poor as well as
nature of social welfare. The stigma associated with being homeless ‘is not to
be underestimated… play an important role in maintaining inequality and social
hierarchy’. Although this applies to ‘homelessness’ as a whole, its
specifically more relevant to homelessness in western countries.  These are countries with a supposedly secure
welfare state system therefore the public perceptions of causes of poverty and
homelessness may be more sceptical and therefore increasing the negative
perceptions of them by the wider public and then in turn, lower self esteem and
difficulty changing their media representation.

Homelessness is a global
issue, however representations of it and the way of understanding the
complexity of it as an important urban poverty issue needs to understand it in
relation to different countries and societies. People who live in informal
housing, or slums are included in global figures of those who are homeless.
Slum is the most globally used word, however ‘the world slum is itself
problematic. It arose out of a specifically British experience of the early
industrial era, and has associations inappropriate to poor urban settlements of
Dhaka, Mumbai or Lagos’ (Seabrook, 2009), however despite these noted issues
with the word, the readings that I reference use the word ‘slums’ throughout so
 this essay too will reference the word
slums. 

The UN-Habitat is a
program with United Nations that aims for a sustainable and successful urban
future. ‘Its mission is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable
human settlements developing and the achievement of adequate shelter for all’
(UN Habitat). It gives facts and statistics regarding the rapid urban growth
seen globally. ‘In 2014 54% of the global population is in cities, but by 2050
it is expected to be 66%’ (Totaro, 2017). This projection demonstrates the
importance for more empirical research to be gathered regarding people living
in slums as current methods of eviction and demolition is a short-term action
failing to give a real solution to the issue. Another issue is conceptualising
slums as definitions change as well as the nature of the tenure. I will aim to
give context to the urban poverty issue of homelessness by examining the slum
population in Nairobi, Kenya. Nairobi population is three million, including
180,000 in the most well-known slum of Kibera. Slums in Nairobi are incredibly
densely populated areas, being ten times more dense than formal residents in
similar areas in the city. Slum dwellers are defined with the lack of water,
sanitary functions, over crowding or lack of secure tenue. A governments
ability to provide housing for its citizens directly reflects the success of
the government. Statistics could show a decline in population in inadequate housing,
but this may be due to changing definitions and markers of slums and poverty
resulting in false data. Another issue faced by geographers and urban planners
highlighting the importance of the issue of homelessness as an urban poverty
issue is the difficulty in applying theories to improve lives that are gathered
from empirical data from one country. There are cultural shifts between
countries as well as the rapid changing nature of the slums itself highlight
the importance of studying and collecting data in developing countries about
homelessness and applying it so solutions quickly.

A second example that
gives depth to the argument that homelessness is a very important urban poverty
issue that needs research and theories to be collected and applied delicately
is rapid urbanisation in China. China is experiencing wide scale and rapid
urbanization, ‘approximately 225.4 million migrant workers live in cities’
(Wang, Wang and Wu, 2010), however the government has failed in providing
housing for this demographic. China does not have large scale slums but instead
has urban villages, with growing populations that are made up mainly of
migrants. Shenzhen, home to eight million residents, being an example of one. ‘Rural
to urban migration has become a very important part of urban development’
(Davin and Zhang, 1999), despite poor housing conditions it has not acted as
detrimental to growth of urban development in China. The conditions are poor,
with 4 people per room as an average, as well as ‘37% of migrants do not have
exclusive use of a toilet, bathroom or kitchen’ (Wang, Wang and Wu, 2010), however,
not many of the residents are under the absolute poverty line. This is due to
‘the government having effective control over resource allocation and could
guarantee the basic living conditions for urban residents’, avoiding the
poverty seen in slums in other developing countries.  Against housing standards, Shenzhen does not
fall in the slum category, however the housing is inadequate and overcrowded.
However, the migrants consider how to use and save their limited income and
sharing is the most effective way of doing so. The urban villages despite the
overcrowding are relatively safe and secure, and new affordable housing is
consistently built. This demonstrates a success of the government in providing
housing for the urban population, however, I still argue that this is an
example of an urban poverty issue. In perspective, the lives of residents may
be better than those in the slums of Nairobi or Mumbai, but I argue that being
‘homelessness’ is defined more than just having a shelter over your head. The
inadequate housing standards that the residents in urban villages live in mean
they are unable to connect it to a concept of ‘home’ provided by Blunt and
Dowling. ‘Urban poor become a vulnerable group characterized by market
exclusion and limited by welfare dependency’ (Wu and Webster, 2010). This
reliance of welfare and instability regarding their home is known to be
psychologically damaging to the head of the household ‘stigma and worry
associated with debt have a measurable impact upon the subjective well-being of
those providing’ (Ford and Burrows, 1999s). In the Urban villages in China, if
migrants were unable to pay for the housing they would have little choice but
to return to their original home. This further demonstrates the issue to be
global, despite there being slight differences in the experience of
homelessness, they are still defined by inadequate housing, which is
detrimental to the mental health of those living in those conditions.

Homelessness is not an
urban poverty issue that is exclusive to developing countries. The UK faces a
housing crisis that leaves one in two hundred people homeless. ‘Homelessness in England is a
“national crisis” and the government’s attitude to tackling it is
“unacceptably complacent’ (BBC News, 2017), with figures rising ‘since
2011 increased by 134%’, (BBC News 2017). The UK is in housing crisis,
where population is increasing by 1% per year, adding 270,000 new households,
with only 140,000 new homes being built and not enough of them being affordable
homes have resulted in a spike in homelessness (Fitzjohn-Skyes 2017). Homeless
people in the UK are not living in slums or urban villages with poor
conditions, but this must not undermine it as an important urban poverty issue.
Being labelled as homeless in the UK can range from rough sleeping, being in
temporary accommodation, hidden homeless which is sofa surfing, squatting or
living in inadequate housing. Homelessness in the UK could be described as a
hidden issue, however, the government has the means to tackle to issue but in
order to do this the causes and routes to homelessness need to be understood.
Failures of the government are demonstrated in the film I, Daniel Blake. The
story demonstrates the issues with the welfare system and the ignorance to urban
poverty in the UK. Further demonstrations of governments inability to respond
to the crisis are those ‘homeless because of tragedy’, the fire in Grenfell
Tower. Four-Fifths of those made homeless have still not been given a permanent
home, with 105 households living in hotels over the Christmas period.  ‘The
entirely preventable atrocity at Grenfell Tower has revealed the extent of
inequality in Kensington and Chelsea, and the years of poor political
decision-making and financial mismanagement.” (Gentlemen, 2017). Urban poverty
in the UK is relative. The huge gaps between the rich and poor were highlighted
so painfully after the fire. The shock after the crisis put into perspective
the fragility of the issue, the anger remains in urban areas where the disparities
between class are no longer hidden.

‘Homelessness is a global quagmire that needs a global holistic approach
to solve nonetheless unevenly spread across countries’ (Godson, 2018),
homelessness as an urban poverty issue spans every society and country and has
a negative effect on quality of life and economic stability of millions of
people. Research and data must be collected delicately as each country has a
unique problem, all with unique solutions attached.  Work collected by Blunt and Dowling, along
with a number of social and feminist geographers, demonstrates the immeasurable
importance of having a ‘home’. Their findings should be used by planners and
politicians when determining policy which prevents or reduces homelessness as
an urban poverty issue. Housing is a human rights issue, and for the UK, with
the fifth largest economy in the world the government’s failure for providing a
home is both inexcusable and evidence for it being prevalent global urban
poverty issue.