Homelessness in Developing Countries

homeless children, homeless families, Homeless Women, homelessness, Homlessness, housing, personal experience

Homelessness is an international issue. In every nation in the world, there are people experiencing homelessness. However, the determinants, conditions, and experiences of homelessness vary considerably amongst citizens of developed, industrialized nations and citizens of developing, less industrialized nations.

While the issue of homelessness in developing countries has been understudied compared to homelessness in developed countries in academic research, there are some very informative papers in existence that pose salient questions about homelessness in developing nations. One of the main themes that runs through these papers is that global definitions and understandings of homelessness (often based on how homelessness is conceptualized in developed nations) are failing to accurately depict homelessness in developing nations. Scholars who make this argument also believe that skewed perceptions and incorrect definitions of “homelessness” affect the policy interventions directed at people who are experiencing homelessness in developing countries. These interventions usually fail because they are based on a false premise and misunderstanding of homelessness in developing countries (Speak and Tipple 2009, Speak and Tipple 2006, Tipple and Speak 2005, Speak 2004).

It is also worth mentioning that the bulk of this research on homelessness in developing nations seems to be conducted by the same research team–you may have noticed the frequency of their names in the citation above–Suzanne Speak and Graham Tipple. This is an important area of inquiry for researchers. Perhaps more people will join Speak and Tipple in investigating homelessness in developing nations.

Below is a bibliography of resources on homelessness in developing nations. When available, I have included direct links to the articles. (These links are valid on April 2. 2017 but may expire over time.) However, some of these resources must be accessed through research databases such as JSTOR or EBSCOHost.


Tipple, G., & Speak, S. (2009). The hidden millions: homelessness in developing countries. Routledge.

Speak, S., & Tipple, G. (2006). Perceptions, persecution and pity: the limitations of interventions for homelessness in developing countries. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 30(1), 172-188. (click here to access article)

Tipple, G., & Speak, S. (2005). Definitions of homelessness in developing countries. Habitat International, 29(2), 337-352. (Click here to access the article)

Speak, S. (2005). Relationship between children’s homelessness in developing countries and the failure of women’s rights legislation. Housing, Theory and Society, 22(3), 129-146.

Speak, S. (2004). Degrees of destitution: a typology of homelessness in developing countries. Housing studies, 19(3), 465-482. (click here to access the article)



Children’s Books About Homelessness

homeless children, homelessness

The United States is the industrialized nation with the largest number of homeless children and women. According to the National Center on Family Homelessness, there are over 1.6 million children in the United States who are experiencing homelessness. (In other words, 1 out of every 45 children in America are homeless.)  This statistic does not account for children at risk of becoming homeless, hungry children, and children experiencing poverty.  (CLICK HERE for more statistics and information about homeless children and families.)

It is reprehensible that children are experiencing homelessness.  It is an experience that is difficult for children to explain and discuss with teachers, friends, and family members.  It is also an experience that is impossible to understand for children who have never experienced homelessness and will never have to worry about the security of their housing or food.  The Institute for Humane Education has compiled a suggested reading list of children’s books about homelessness.  Books provide an avenue for discussing experiences.  These books are good for both children experiencing homelessness and children who have never experienced homelessness.

Below is the Institute for Humane Education’s list of recommended books for children about homelessness.  CLICK HERE to read more on the website of The Institute for Humane Education.

“Shoebox Sam” by Mary Brigid Barrett
2011. Grades 1–4. Delia and Jessie spend Saturdays with Shoebox Sam, who teaches them about making old shoes new again and helping those in need.
“The Lunch Thief” by Anne C. Bromley
2010. Grades 1-4.
Rafael notices the new kid stealing lunches (including his), and uses his mom’s advice to use his voice & not his fists to resolve the problem.
“December” by Eve Bunting
1997. Grades 1–4.
Simon and his mom live in the tiny cardboard house they’ve built for themselves. On Christmas Eve they don’t have much, but it’s more than the woman who comes knocking on their door has. Does their generosity bring them a miracle?
“Fly Away Home” by Eve Bunting
1991. Grades PreK–3. A young boy talks about his and his father’s lives living in an airport and has hope for himself when he sees a trapped bird find freedom.
“A Shelter in Our Care” by Monica Gunning
2004. Grades K–3.
Since moving to America from Jamaica after her father died, Zettie and her mom live in their car while they both go to school and plan for a real home.
“Sélavi: That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope” by Youme Landowne
2005. Grades 1–4.
Haitian street children band together and work to create a life for themselves.
“The Lady in the Box” by Ann McGovern
1997. Grades K–4.
When two siblings discover a homeless woman living in their neighborhood, they discover how easy it can be to make a difference in someone’s life.
“I Can Hear the Sun” by Patricia Polacco
1999. Grades 2–5.
A boy without a real home, Fondo feels lonely and unwanted. Then he meets Stephanie Michele, who takes care of the waterfowl at the pond and shares his sensitivity for nature. She teaches him how to help take care of the geese, especially one with special needs. When Fondo finds out he’s to be taken away, he looks to the geese for a miracle.
“The Can Man” by Laura E. Williams
2010. Grades 2–5.
Tim’s family doesn’t have a lot of money, but he really wants a skateboard for his birthday. When he sees Mr. Peters, “The Can Man,” who is homeless, collecting cans, Tim gets the idea to collect enough cans to pay for his skateboard, even though that means Mr. Peters gets less … it’s only until Tim’s birthday, after all. Tim really wants that skateboard, but a couple of encounters with Mr. Peters give him pause about what to do with the money he’s earned.

211 Gets Jammed in Seattle

affordable housing, homeless children, homeless families, homelessness, housing

This week, National Public Radio (NPR) has been covering homelessness in Seattle.  This affluent, idyllic city has raised to fourth on the list of cities in the nation with the highest rates of homelessness.  Seattle follows New York City, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas as the city with the greatest number of people experiencing homelessness.  Unlike other cities in America (even the “big three” of NY, LA, and LV) where homelessness is decreasing (albeit slowly) due to increased policy efforts targeted at veteran and family homelessness, Seattle has seen an increase in homeless residents in the past decade.  Seattle’s 211 line (the emergency line for homeless residents in crisis) is flooded with calls and the waiting lists for shelters and affordable housing units are years long.

CLICK HERE to read NPR’s article “Amid Seattle’s Affluence, Homelessness Also Flourishes” by John Ryan, published on April 7, 2015.

CLICK HERE to read NPR’s follow up coverage on homelessness in Seattle…”Homeless Families Wait Longer For Shelter Under Seattle’s System” by John Ryan, published April 8, 2015

Homeless Child is Ignored in Freezing Cold for Hours

homeless children, homelessness

Life & Style magazine published a powerful, telling story on 2/25/15 that shows the worst that humans have to offer.  Different from its usual fare of fashion, celebrity, and lifestyle news, this story and accompanying video highlighted a young boy who was homeless and wearing a short sleeved t-shirt while “signing” (asking for money using a sign) in NYC.  The video that accompanies the article is very distressing because it shows numerous people (all dressed in warm clothes) pass the boy without acknowledging his presence.  The only person who stops is an adult who is also experiencing homelessness.  I thank my best friend Emily for bringing this video to my attention.  It is very disturbing, so as Emily warned me, do prepare yourself before watching it, as it is not easy to watch.  CLICK HERE to read the article and watch the video at Life and Style’s website…

KPCC’s Report on Homeless Children Highlights Flaws in PIT Counts

homeless children, homelessness, methods

KPCC, the public radio station of Pasadena, CA, published a news piece on homelessness in Los Angeles.  (CLICK HERE to read or listen to the story…)  The piece does an excellent job of highlighting the complexities of homelessness and showing how these complexities are obscured by stunted data collection methods such as PIT counts.  The article shows how homelessness can become a reality for people who “do everything right” and end up with a few bumps in the road.  The article also makes note of the importance of youth homelessness and explains how the data collected by Los Angeles County on homelessness often hides the amount of homeless children.  Below is one illustrative graphic from the article.


“Communities Struggle To Reach Homeless Students Living In The Shadows” NPR story 11/11/14

homeless children, homelessness

CLICK HERE  to read (or listen to) NPR’s story on homeless students, published today in honor of Veteran’s day.

Some poignant excerpts from the news story:

“When we get ready for school or just getting dressed, we would just go to, like, a public bathroom or like a park bathroom [or] McDonalds,” says Joseph, 15. “Brush our teeth at McDonalds or change at McDonalds, and then come out, and then we’d just go to school from there.”

“California has the highest rate of homeless children enrolled in schools anywhere in the country. Many kids live in the shadows — in cheap motels, emergency shelters, campgrounds and even cars — like James once did.”

“Homelessness Among School Children on the Rise”, AP Article by Kimberly Hefling Shows Growth in Number of Homeless Youth

homeless children, homelessness

CLICK HERE to watch a powerful video on homeless students who are trying to graduate from high school while living in very challenging situations.  PBS News Hour produced this video, which interviews high school students who have experienced homelessness in Los Angeles.  The news report shows the determination and perseverance of the students whose spirits are resilient in the face of very grueling challenges.

By clicking on the link above, you will also be redirected to a story titled “Homelessness Among School Children on the Rise”, written by Kimberly Hefling of the Associated Press (9/22/14).  The article details the realities of and the reasons behind the increasing rates of homelessness for children and young adults in the United States.  For example, Hefling cites an Education Department study (released 9/22/14) that found that in the 2012-2013 school year, over 1.3 million homeless students were enrolled in U.S. schools.  This represents an 8% increase from the previous school year.

This 8% increase reveals that there are huge gaps in the current education, housing, and social services systems, and that the institutions that should be supporting students experiencing homelessness are failing these students due to lack of funding (lack of resources).  This article and the attention that it draws to the larger structural issues surrounding homelessness for youth and children in America, begs the question: what are we doing (and by “we” I mean Americans) to help support students experiencing homelessness?  What policy changes can be made to support  homeless students and why have these policy changes failed to take effect despite the URGENCY of the situation?  Please feel free to share your thoughts, comments, and questions.