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)



“On the Streets” – Los Angeles Times documentary series on homelessness

Homlessness, Inequality, Los Angeles, personal experience

Los Angeles Times reporter Lisa Biagiotti has started a twelve part documentary series on homelessness in Los Angeles. The objective of the series is to connect the staggering statistics on homelessness in Los Angeles with the personal stories of people who are experiencing homelessness in the city.

The documentary is free and accessible to view on youtube, here is the link: ON THE STREETS — a feature documentary on homelessness in L.A.

The series is very effective at showing how varied experiences (and causes) of homelessness can be.

Some of the many quotes from the homeless people who were interviewed by Biagiotti in the film include:

“We’ve only been homeless for about two months…my husband and I had a set back…and then we lost everything, and now we’re down here [skid row].”

“I used to be somebody, now I’m somebody else, you know what I mean? I have a high school diploma and a college degree and they look at me like I’m homeless…I’m not homeless, I’m houseless because I don’t have a house. Homelessness is a state of mind.”

“It’s not sad but if you can’t make a certain amount [of money] and buy and apartment and afford to eat and do other things…you have to [live in your car].”

“My husband got arrested…because a guy attacked me. Now he’s serving 180 days and I ain’t got nowhere to go right now…he [my husband] told me to stay over here by the jail until I get out, but he don’t get out until December 31st and I don’t got no where to go.”



The Throwaways

homelessness, mass incarceration, personal experience

The Throwaways is a documentary that chronicles the life and experiences of Ira McKinley, an activist documentarian whose interactions with police brutality, mass incarceration, and homelessness have led him to produce excellent work that illustrates the urgency of these racial justice issues.  This is a “must see” film for anyone interested in policing policies, mass incarceration, homelessness, and inequality.  The film features interviews from local activists in the Capital Region of New York State, as well as interviews from scholar Michelle Alexander.

Click here to visit the official website of the film.  The Throwaways has won numerous awards and is now touring the country, so check the website to see if a viewing will be coming soon to a theater near you!

Hotel 22

homelessness, personal experience

The documentary Hotel 22 premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The documentary follows the night route of bus line 22 in Silicon Valley. This route serves as a warm, semi-safe spot for people experiencing homelessness in the Silicon Valley to sleep and sit.  It looks like a great film. To watch the trailer and to read more about documentarian Elizabeth Lo CLICK HERE to read coverage by the New York Times.

“Here’s What It’s Like to Be a Homeless Techie in Silicon Valley”, by Joshua Harkinson Mother Jones

homelessness, personal experience

CLICK HERE to read a Mother Jones story on the increasing number of people experiencing homelessness in the Silicon Valley area.  One part of this article chronicles the life of Robert Aguirre, an electrical engineer who owned his own company but is now living in a homeless encampment in San Jose with his wife.  The article highlights the painful realities of diminishing affordable housing in the area and makes the best case for increasing affordable housing (and incentivizing affordable housing policies) that I have read in a long time.

Some poignant quotes from the interview with Robert Aguirre:

“Tech companies have an obligation to help out. They’re the ones who’ve outsourced middle-class jobs and driven rents far beyond many people’s reach.”

“People are down in the Jungle for all sorts of different reasons—domestic violence, mental health problems, drug problems, or just being broke. I’d easily say 75 percent of people in the Jungle wouldn’t be there if they could afford housing.”

“Society is judged by how we treat those that are unable to care for themselves—the elderly, the young, and the mentally disabled. That’s the real measure of who we are.”

Once Homeless, Family Feels ‘Blessed To Wake Up Another Day’

homelessness, personal experience

CLICK HERE to read or listen to an excellent NPR Storycorps piece on Franklin and Sherry Gilliard, a family that experienced homelessness but is getting back on their feet through the use of transitional housing programs and food pantries and banks.  A sobering reminder that homelessness can happen to anyone.

NPR asks “What Do Homeless Vets Look Like?”

homelessness, personal experience

NPR is on a roll this week, continuing to publicize issues of homelessness and housing inequality.  Click HERE to see a photo essay about homeless veterans in San Diego who discuss their looks, their lives, and their identities.

What TO say and what NOT TO say to a person experiencing homelessness.

homelessness, personal experience


Click on the link above to be redirected to the article written by Winston Ross. The piece provides an excellent guide for enacting sensitivity and compassion for people experiencing homelessness.  If you are in a hurry, here is a brief summary (with paraphrasing and editorializing!):

What TO say to a homeless person:

1) I don’t have any money, but is there anything else that I can do to help?

2) Did you catch the game?

3) Good morning! (This is my favorite. It is the easiest and the most simple and yet for some reason making eye contact and greeting people experiencing homelessness proves difficult for many…Any thoughts on why?!?!?!)

4) How are you doing? Would you like to talk?

5) I will keep you in my thoughts.

What NOT to say/do:

1) Why don’t you get help?

2) Here’s a dollar, please do not use it to buy alcohol.

3) Why don’t you go to a shelter?

4) You don’t seem like you should be homeless.

5) Get a job

***Now, hopefully some of these points are OBVIOUS, but it never hurts to have a refresher in kindness and basic human decency skills!!

Homeless People Share One Thing About Themselves That Will Surprise You, By Abraham

homelessness, personal experience


Click on the link above to read a fantastically inspiring–yet realistic and grounded–story about the secret talents and experiences of people who are currently homelessness in Orlando, FL.  The group, Rethink Homelessness (https://twitter.com/RethinkHomeless) invited Orlando’s homeless residents to share a surprising fact about themselves or an interesting experience. The results of the project may (or may not!) surprise you!


“The Lives of America’s Homeless”, Rebecca J. Rosen, The Atlantic

homelessness, personal experience

“The Lives of America’s Homeless”, Rebecca J. Rosen, The Atlantic

This is A MUST READ article!! Rosen highlights the stories collected by Margaret Miles, director of St. Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis, MN.  In 2008, Miles developed an oral history project documenting the lives of people experiencing homelessness in the state of Minnesota.  The project has collected over 600 oral histories thus far.

***Click on the blue link above to read the article.