The State of Street Homelessness in Ulaanbaatar
The issue of homelessness is a complex one, driven by a multitude of factors, including poverty, lack of affordable housing, mental illness, addiction, and more. But what about the situation of the homeless population in Ulaanbaatar?
A new research report by the Asian Development Bank is shedding light on the difficult conditions faced by this marginalized community, and the findings are both distressing and illuminating.
According to research conducted by the Capital City Social Welfare Department and recently issued Asian Development Bank’s report, there were 1,375 street homeless people living in Ulaanbaatar city as of December 2020.
Of these individuals, 79 percent were male, and more than half were aged between 18-45 years old, with around 40 percent being aged between 46-59.
Approximately half of the street homeless had been homeless for 1-5 years, with 24 percent for 6-9 years and 2 percent for more than 10 years. Nearly 80 percent of the street homeless had residential address registration in one of the Ulaanbaatar districts.
In a world where globalization has made it easier to move from one place to another, the story of the homeless population in Ulaanbaatar is a reminder that mobility does not always equal progress.
The city has almost doubled in size over the last decade and is now home to roughly half of Mongolia's total population.
Over two-thirds of the street, the homeless population in the city migrated there without registering for residency, which has only exacerbated their struggles.
These individuals are often uneducated, with a literacy rate that is 6.6 points lower than the national average. A large number of them have also suffered from broken families, with half of them being divorced or separated, and few having any contact with their children.
But it is not just the demographic profile of these individuals that is concerning, it's the harsh reality of their day-to-day existence.
The average street homeless person has been living on the streets for nearly a decade, with many having no stable place to call home even before they became homeless. In the warm seasons, they often take shelter in apartment stairways and entrance areas, while in the cold they are forced to rely on temporary shelters. Access to even the most basic necessities, such as clean water, is a constant struggle, with most having to beg for it from various sources.
Their physical and mental health is also in a dire state, with a staggering 74.8% suffering from physical pain and a high level of disability among them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to their difficulties, with over 11% of them having contracted the virus, and a significant number unable to access healthcare due to a lack of documents and discrimination.
The employment and income situation of the homeless population is equally bleak, with an alarmingly low employment participation rate, and an unemployment rate that is double the national average. Informal employment is prevalent, and their average income is significantly lower than the national average.
The pathways that lead people to street homelessness are complex, but one thing is clear: the current system is not working.
For example, the plan to redevelop ger areas (where more than half of the city lives in under-served districts with no access to central heating) with new apartment complexes and connect the ger districts to the gas supply failed in the 2010s. Because of the ill-conceived ger redevelopment program, some people were left homeless and a few faced forced evictions.
Temporary shelters may provide some respite, but they are far from a solution, and many are left to rely on waste food from restaurants and charity from non-governmental organizations to survive.
The situation of the homeless population in Ulaanbaatar is a wake-up call for all of us as the absence of clear rules, effective consultation and monitoring may make residents vulnerable to human rights violations, particularly the right to adequate housing.
Amar Adiya is Editor-in-Chief of Mongolia Weekly, an English newsletter on political analysis and business intelligence every week. He is also a regional director at Washington-based strategic advisory firm BowerGroupAsia and helps Fortune 500 companies understand and shape policies in the Asia Pacific region.