Homelessness is far from a developing country's problem. In Europe alone, there are 3 million people on the streets. In Australia and Canada, hundreds of thousands of people are homeless. Of course, the problem is much worse in poorer countries. There are over 9.5 million homeless people in Columbia and 24.4 million in Nigeria. In total, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights estimates that the world has 100 million homeless people.
How do people end up on the streets? Job losses, foreclosures, unemployment, and lack of affordable housing all play a part. Social factors can also be part of the problem; domestic violence, lack of a supportive family, drug abuse, alcoholism and mental illnesses all contribute to homelessness.
Finding a solution to the homelessness problem has been hard for many cities, states and countries. The current New York mayor has a notoriously tough time reducing the number of 'cluster sites' in his city. Some cities, like Moscow, have no programs in place to fight the problem despite the numbers of homeless people growing steadily. Other cities such as Phoenix and San Francisco have put measures in place to reduce homelessness, such as newspapers which are given to the homeless population to sell and earn a living.
Some cities are struggling much more than others, and some are overwhelmed by levels of poverty. These fifteen cities have bigger homeless populations than anywhere else in the world.
15 Athens, Greece
Homelessness in Greece has significantly increased to 20,000 homeless people in recent years. About 50% of the homeless population roams the streets of Athens. A high rate of homelessness in this, the home of Aristotle and Plato, is largely down to the aggressive recession that hit Greece during the Global Financial Crisis.
The recession hit the country hard, reducing its gross domestic product by as much as 25% and causing unemployment rates to soar to 27%. Many people have also lost their lucrative jobs. According to the Athens city hall, most of these people suffer from depression, with 60% resorting to drugs and alcohol.
14 Phoenix, Arizona, United States
By the end of 2014, there were 11,314 homeless people in Phoenix Arizona. The Phoenix Rescue Mission suggests that the main reasons people end up homeless are foreclosures, job losses and evictions.
Social situations such as drug and alcohol addiction, mental conditions, and domestic violence also force people onto the streets.
Of the city’s homeless, 43% are reported to have mental conditions while 21% attest to abusing drugs. Almost half of first-time homeless people say that job losses and foreclosures are the main reasons for their homelessness. The state of Arizona has established the Arizona Commission for Homelessness and Housing, and the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, to address the issue through education, advocacy and special projects.
13 San Francisco, Northern California, United States
The Coalition on Homelessness reported that 10,373 people were housed in emergency shelters in San Francisco in 2013. This homeless advocacy association aims at reducing this number over the next few years. It was formed in 1987 and created an ingenious way to end homelessness: Printing and distributing a magazine, which they called the Street Sheet, to the homeless to sell.
Today, they print 17,000 copies of this newspaper, which is actually the longest constantly running newspaper of its kind in North America. In 1990, the organization also developed the Community Housing Partnership that has since set up over 1,000 permanent housing units for the homeless people in San Francisco.
12 Washington, D.C., United States
Despite being the capital of the most powerful nation on earth, Washington, D.C. harbors many homeless people. D.C., formally the District of Columbia, faces crippling homelessness with over 57,000 people on the streets.
Of these, 13,000 reside on the streets of Washington. These individuals are so deep in abject poverty that they cannot meet basic needs such as buying food or clothes. Five in every 10 homeless adults reported a $0 income while 30% tested positive for chronic health problems.
This number is higher in the female population given that 80% are living with HIV and chronic diseases. What’s more disheartening is that their access to crucial medical care is significantly reduced.
11 Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Boston is the third major city in the US with the highest number of homeless people. It also has the highest number of people living in emergency shelters – 16,540, to be precise.
According to surveys, up to 25% of the homeless have jobs, but these jobs do not pay enough to fund a roof over their heads.
The director of the Emergency Shelter Commission for the Boston Public Health Commission states that the city has one of the highest family homelessness rates due to the high costs associated with housing in Boston. However, Boston has very few homeless people wandering the streets: It has a strict ‘right to shelter’ law that requires the state to find a place for qualified families living rough to live.
10 Sao Paulo, Brazil
A 2011 government census shows that there are in excess of 15,000 homeless people in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Sao Paulo is the most populous city in Brazil, as well as in the Americas.
Life on these streets as a homeless person is excruciating. Approximately 50% of the homeless people in Sao Paulo are housed in emergency camps, but the other half, the one that gets it hard, sleeps on the streets. They are forced to face notoriously harsh treatment from Brazilian authorities.
9 Budapest, Hungary
It's technically illegal to be homeless in Hungary. The parliament of Hungary introduced this law to forcefully move an increasing number of homeless people into shelters.
Budapest has 10,000 homeless people, and the 6,000 people that roam the streets can now be charged and possibly face jail time. The law shocked human rights groups, since unemployment and debt rates are sharply increasing. There are 20,000 more homeless people throughout Hungary.
8 Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires has an estimated 15,000 homeless people. Sadly, 30% are children and 13% are elderly. The city provides shelters for the destitute, but it can only shelter a maximum of 1,700 people. The number of those without a roof over their heads is growing, and their chances of gaining employment are dwindling. Reasons as to why people end up homeless in Argentina are vague.
One volunteer says that a person becomes homeless when he or she loses connection with his or her family. Apart from this, he says that most down-and-out people owe numerous debts and have drug and substance abuse problems. Once on the streets, it becomes difficult for them to obtain identity documents because of the lack of a permanent address.
7 Mumbai, India
Mumbai has a population of almost 12.5 million. Over half of these residents live in one of the many thousands of slums in Mumbai.
25,000 of these people are broke and on the streets. Lack of affordable housing, job losses, attrition of family support, inadequate income, substance abuse, disability and domestic violence are the leading causes of homelessness in Mumbai.
Surveys also show that drug abuse and alcoholism are high among the dispossessed and harassment by property owners leads to homelessness. India as a whole also experiences high poverty rates. According to the United Nations, 150,000,000 children below the age of 18 are living on the streets with 60,000,000 of them being under the age of six.
6 Jakarta, Indonesia
Indonesia has higher Twitter activity than any other city in the world. Most residents here also have two phones each. Despite all these advancements, Jakarta is also home to over 28,000 people living rough.
The homelessness phenomenon began with the reign of the tyrant General Suharto. Suharto instituted policies that oppressed the locals. His administration would grab land that was privately held under the pretence of development. However, the land was only used to enrich the government.
This, in turn, pushed many people into the streets. The number has continued to grow over the years. In 2013, killer floods shattered the homes of over 100,000 people, adding that number to the total homeless people in the city.
5 Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City is home to over 30,000 homeless people. A disturbing 50% are children, and poverty is the main reason so many children do not have a roof over their heads.
One major effect of poverty is family breakdown and physical abuse. Many children prefer to run away from their homes for fear that arguments between their parents will become violent. Some leave at this point while others leave after a physical abuse incident.
Overall, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) approximates that more than 25% of Mexico's under-18s live in utter poverty.
4 Moscow, Russia
3.4% of the population in Russia is homeless. Tens of thousands of the homeless population is in Moscow. Researchers place the number of homeless people in Russia at 1.5 – 3 million. Homelessness in this country has been the norm since World War II.
Yuri, who has spent over 15 years on the streets, says he lost his house at the age of 29. Upon his father’s death, Yuri’s sister sold their house and threw him out. Today, he lives with other homeless people at a train station and has $15 a day to survive.
3 Los Angeles, California, United States
The streets of Los Angeles are home to over 57,000 destitute people.
The majority are male and single, and half of these homeless people are African American - despite the fact that the black population only accounts for 9% of L.A.'s total population.
31% of L.A.'s homeless abuse drugs while 18% are disabled physically. Their average age is 40, although the women tend to be younger. 25% are also reported to have a mental illness. On any given night, the city has over 12,934 homeless people seeking refuge in a homeless shelter, or in a motel using emergency vouchers.
2 New York City, New York, United States
There are 60,352 people without a roof under their heads in the Big Apple.
This number includes 25,640 children. 22,386 are adults and over 12,326 are single. These numbers have continued to rise steadily regardless of the campaign promises by the new mayor Bill de Blasio.
De Blasio’s plan was to shelter homeless families away from the usual cluster sites. Although Bill’s administration is trying to move them into permanent houses, it is proving hard to fight the stubborn cluster site problem. In fact, he has been forced to increase these sites from 2,918 to 3,143. He plans to remove 4,000 people from cluster sites this year.
1 Manila, Philippines
Manila, Philippines has the highest homelessness rate in the world. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights reports that this city has 70,000 dispossessed people on its streets. The commission also reports that the entire country has a distressing 1,200,000 children living on the streets. These children are faced with numerous problems including the abuse of drugs such as marijuana, shabu and cough syrups, health problems due to the deplorable conditions in which they live in, child prostitution by pedophiles and foreign sex tourists, and the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Recently, when the pope was visiting the country, numerous street children were rounded up and locked in cages. Authorities supported the inhumane act arguing that it was done to prevent gangs of beggars from approaching the pope.