In January, the Alpine town of Davos will once again play host to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, the famed gathering of the global business and political elite.
3,000 participants from around the world will descend on the Swiss ski resort to discuss how to tackle the climate crisis by creating a more sustainable and inclusive economy and other easily solvable issues.
On their way back to their steeply-priced accommodation (a room during the forum can set you back $ 10,000 per night), attendees may notice the sleeping bags of Homeless Entrepreneur, a Spain-based charity that is organizing a sleepout in Davos in the days of the forum.
For the initiative, the activists will spend a freezing night outdoors—winter night temperatures in the area regularly drop well below zero—with the aim of raising awareness of the growing problem of homelessness in OECD countries.
According to the organizers, sharing this kind of experience can go a long way in connecting the elites with one of the most vulnerable groups in society, fostering new policies and structural changes. That's why Homeless Entrepreneur is sending more than 100 personalized invites to politicians and businesspeople, hoping they will join the event—or at least drop by for a coffee.
As well as organizing sleepouts, the charity helps homeless people re-enter the workforce thanks to a three-step method they developed. First off, the homeless person who wants to get a job is assigned a coordinator and nine managers that will tutor them in areas ranging from health and housing to finance and legal. Then, they become tutor themselves, making the process scalable. And finally, once they reached independence and found housing, they can continue helping the charity or go on with their lives.
A policy that should be considered at Davos
Due to diverging counting methods and the lack of clear definitions, data on homelessness are difficult to compare. Nevertheless, a 2017 OECD report shows that it remains a critical issue in most member states. In the U.K., for example, the number of rough sleepers (a small fraction of the total homelessness population) has more than doubled between 2010 and 2016. According to the research, an upward trend can be noticed also in Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Homelessness rates in the United States remain high but they’re decreasing.
At the other end of the spectrum, Finland is usually regarded as an example of a successful approach to the problem. The number of homeless people in the country halved between 1990 and 2014 mainly thanks to the introduction of the Housing First scheme in 2007. The nation-wide policy works on the principle that having permanent accommodation is the first step in sorting out the problems that led to homelessness. Instead of having to go through shelters, hostels and temporary housing, people who are homeless in Finland are given an apartment from the start. If needed, the local government covers the rent.
“All this costs money,” wrote Juha Kaakinen, chief executive of a foundation that works for Housing First. “But there is ample evidence from many countries that shows it is always more cost-effective to aim to end homelessness instead of simply trying to manage it. Investment in ending homelessness always pays back, to say nothing of the human and ethical reasons.”