Seizing the chance to end homelessness

February 19, 2007

Mother & Baby homeless picture

(Picture by John McCabe, from

Here is a great op-ed by Henry Cisneros (yes, the one that was persecuted a la Bill Clinton for his sexual escapades) about the need, and opportunity, to end homelessness in the U.S.:

The most recent estimate, and the first in more than a decade, shows that at minimum 744,000 men, women and children experienced homelessness in the United States on any given night in January 2005. Distressingly, about 23 percent had a disability and were homeless for long periods.

These numbers are derived from taking a snapshot of the problem; the reality is that homelessness is quite fluid and that over the course of the year about 3.5 million people are without a home.

These grim statistics add up to a single truth: There are too many people who experience homelessness and far too many who spend years — quite literally — sleeping on the streets. What these statistics do not address, but what we know is also true, is that many more people are living on the periphery of homelessness, at risk of eviction or living in a precarious situation because they cannot afford their housing.

Certainly we have the resources to end homelessness. And, importantly, we have the knowledge. Across the country, new solutions have emerged, strategies that focus less on shelters and soup kitchens — the proverbial hot and a cot — and much more on long-term solutions like preventing homelessness in the first place and getting people back into permanent housing rapidly instead of letting them languish in emergency shelter.

He is definitely right in that we do have the resources. In fact most countries do – they just need to focus the money on where it counts, not on petty things like war and corruption. This is especially true after hurricane Katrina.

While only government can fully stamp out homelessness, individual civic groups are the ones that are leading the way:

One breakthrough strategy is called Housing First. This approach minimizes the time people spend in a shelter by providing access to permanent housing and then, after people are stably housed, services that address other needs. That way, the individual or family has stable housing while they sort out how to make improvements in their lives.

I have seen great success with this approach across the United States, with marked decreases in homelessness. In San Francisco, Housing First approaches helped reduce homelessness by 28 percent; in Columbus, 46 percent among families; and 43 percent among families in Hennepin County, Minn.

The entire article is pasted below… Read the rest of this entry »


Disasters & Climate Change – You do the math

February 2, 2007

From Reuters AlertNet:

New statistics out today show disasters killed 21,342 people worldwide in 2006, compared with 82,061 the year before. Economic losses caused by natural hazards also fell, to just $19 billion in 2006, compared with $210 billion the year before.

These heartening figures, released by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), are a reflection of what didn’t happen in 2006. No massive temblors like the Kashmir earthquake of 2005 that killed 73,338. And certainly nothing like the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, which left 230,000 dead or missing. Nor were there hurricanes to rival Katrina, Wilma or Rita that together racked up $166 billion in damages in the United States.

That’s the good news – and news that confirms a trend observed since 2000.

“The number of people killed by disasters has been decreasing, if we do not take into account the two mega events: the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the earthquake in Pakistan,” said Debarati Guha-Sapir from CRED.

The bad news is that even as disasters are claiming fewer lives, the number of people affected by them remains staggeringly high at 134.5 million in 2006. That’s down a bit from 158 million in 2005 (again, a number inflated by the Kashmir quake) but far higher than in decades past.

So what you might say? So the magnitude of disasters come and go. But it is not just as simple as watching the weather forecasts. We need to connect the dots between natural disasters, global warming, poverty, and health & human rights.

Thankfully, the article made them for me!

That said, it’s still people in Africa and Asia who bear the brunt of disasters due to an intrinsic link between poverty and vulnerability to risk – a link that explains why an earthquake that hits Los Angeles, say, is likely to kill far fewer people than a quake of similar magnitude that hits Java or Bam.

That’s because poor countries often lack the resources to mitigate against hazards, whether by setting up early warning systems, protecting livelihoods or building risk-reduction strategies into their development plans. Again the figures bear this out.

Last year the United States was hit by more natural disasters than any country except China (26, compared with China’s 35). But if you rank countries by the number of people killed or affected per 100,000 inhabitants, the U.S. hardly even figures.

By this count, Malawi tops the list with 34,331 per 100,000 people, followed by Burundi (26,778) and Kenya (11,935).

That these three nations are among the poorest countries in the world – and thus among the least able to take the impact of climate change in their stride – is surely no coincidence.

Courtesy of CRED (and from the same article), here’s a breakdown of the world’s 10 deadliest disasters in 2006, followed by a list of countries most hit by disasters and numbers killed or affected per 100,000 inhabitants:

Disaster Country Toll
Earthquake (May) Indonesia 5,778
Typhoon Durian (Dec) Philippines 1,399
Landslide (Feb) Philippines 1,112
Heat wave (July) Netherlands 1,000
Heat wave (July) Belgium 940
Typhoon Bilis (July) China 820
Tsunami (July) Indonesia 802
Cold wave (Jan) Ukraine 801
Flash flood (Aug) Ethiopia 498
Typhoon Samoai (Aug) China 373

Natural disasters per country – 2006

China 35
United States 26
Indonesia, Philippines 20
India 17
Afghanistan 13
Vietnam 10
Australia, Burundi, Pakistan 8
Ethiopia, Mexico, Romania 7
Germany 6

Victims (killed or affected) of natural disasters per 100,000 people – 2006

Malawi 34,331
Burundi 26,778
Kenya 11,935
Philippines 9,097
Afghanistan 7,194
China 6,753
Somalia 5,490
Thailand 5,040
Guyana 4,562
Vietnam 3,969

Human Rights for Katrina Victims…

December 11, 2006

Is it too much to f@%$#ng ask?

Human Rights Day , which was December 10, is an appropriate time to review a serious human rights crisis here in the United States: The fate of people from the Gulf Coast—particularly from New Orleans—displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Our nation’s greatest natural disaster—and the man-made crisis that followed—were on an unprecedented scale. More than a million people were uprooted from their communities after the storm, and over 300,000 from New Orleans alone are still displaced over one year after the levees broke.

[…]This idea is supported by the U.N.’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the internationally approved framework to protect human rights before, during and after being displaced by a humanitarian disaster.

Be sure to read the rest, it is a superb read.