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Shelter: addressing homelessness

In 1986, stakeholders from around the world came together in Ottawa, Canada, for the First International Conference on Health Promotion. Emerging from this conference was a charter for action to achieve Health for All, which identified eight fundamental conditions and resources for health (the ‘prerequisites for health’). In December, we are reviewing these eight prerequisites – and discuss what they mean 28 years later. In this, the 2nd blog, we consider the principle of ‘Shelter’.

The Ottawa Principles declare shelter to be a fundamental condition and resource for health. Shelter is typically defined as ‘something that covers or affords protection’. The definition does not suggest permanent refuge, but, for many, even temporary access to shelter is non-existent.

Globally, estimates of the world homeless population are 1 billion, with up to 100 million street children. In the economically developed world, homelessness often has other problems associated with it, from drug abuse to mental health issues. Access to shelter is arguably inextricably linked with the health and wellbeing of each individual. The average age of death for a homeless person in the UK is 47. That is 30 years lower than the general population.

Homelessness is a subject often revisited in the approach to the Christmas season. There is the emotional connection which can encourage donations – for many it is a time for friends and family to reunite at the family home to celebrate. But the weather can bring a serious health risk for all those without a home. As you may remember, the UK was in the grips of the ‘big freeze’ in 2010. It was a trying time for shelters and charities wanting to provide support to those in need. At that time, the London Delivery Board aimed to end rough sleeping in London by 2012. But rough sleeping in London has increased by 25% since to 2012. Homelessness is as prevalent as ever.

This year, Article 13 has chosen to donate to Fareshare and Oxfam. Our work to build the perspective and advocacy for Generation Y continues, and when we consider that 52% of those seeking help with homelessness are under 25, we wanted to support Fareshare’s work in relieving food poverty.

Interesting, and perhaps counterintuitive, models are showing signs of progress. Housing First is a principle being adopted by some Western European countries and the USA. It seeks to house the homeless first and address any associated issues and problems afterwards. Whilst at face value it may look like subsidising someone’s own life choices, 85% of Housing First participants do not return to homelessness and can tackle mental illness, unemployment or addiction.

Sources: - a silent killer.pdf 

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