Washington (BWA)--For a growing estimated 100 million persons worldwide, the concept of "home" is only a desperately distant idea, despite the Christian principles of sharing and charity.
Recognizing the wide disparity in resources for living in different parts of the world the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) in 1985 urged Baptists everywhere to examine their ways of life in the light of the scriptural injunctions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, heal the sick, care for the disadvantaged, visit the prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46).
The United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Housing (UN Human Rights Council) has declared, "The human right to adequate housing is the right of every woman, man, youth and child to gain and sustain a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity." This right is denied more and more people in recent years as economic recession has created greater disparity between those with access to adequate housing and those with no hope of such housing.
For the period 2003-2007, an estimated three million persons were homeless in Europe, one million in France alone. The United Kingdom has more than four persons per 1,000 who are without shelter. An estimated 78 million are homeless in India, and 100,000 sleep on the streets each night in Australia.
In Brazil, experts estimate as many as 20 million persons live in hovels, under bridges and other street structures, or are squatters in clandestine rooms or properties. In Mexico City, 40 percent of the residents live in what are called "informal" housing. In Malawi, an estimated 90 percent of the urban population lives in slum conditions.
In the United States, homelessness is estimated at between 600,000 and 2.5 million persons. Among the 200,000 homeless persons in Canada, women and children are the fastest growing group.
For census purposes, only those sleeping on the streets are generally counted as homeless, indicating that insecurity regarding shelter is even more widespread than outright homelessness.
Each nation defines homelessness differently. In developed areas, some cultures may define homelessness as the state of lacking permanent, safe housing. Those living in temporary quarters or moving from shelter to shelter are considered homeless, as well as those who live on the street. In more impoverished areas, a clear definition of homelessness may be undetermined.
The causes of homelessness are as numerous as the causes of poverty generally: unemployment and underemployment; unavailability of securable affordable housing; chronic or weakening disease; substance abuse; domestic violence; forced eviction; effects of imprisonment; abuse by government or others with power; war or armed conflict; and disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes.
In Singapore, in 1986, the BWA passed a resolution commending Baptists to study and take action on homelessness through observance of the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, a UN designation for 1987, and encouraged action to lessen this social problem.
The BWA has done much to address the problem of homelessness through the ministry of Baptist World Aid in the provision of shelters after major disasters and the resettlement of refugees and other displaced persons. It has, in various ways, such as through resolutions, urged churches to work tirelessly to alleviate the general effects of poverty that may also lead to homelessness. The demand for action has not diminished, but has only grown more urgent.