Civil Society

Here's why the Homeless World Cup inspired a Netflix film

The Homeless World Cup is a global football tournament that has positively inspired the lives of millions worldwide.

The Homeless World Cup is a global football tournament that has positively inspired the lives of millions worldwide. Image: Netflix

Mel Young
President, The Homeless World Cup
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Civil Society

  • Over 100 million people are homeless worldwide, with the figure rising in many countries since the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • But homelessness is not inevitable — successful programmes worldwide demonstrate how to reduce the number of people who lack secure accommodation.
  • Among them is the Homeless World Cup, which has inspired a Netflix film.

Homelessness is a growing problem in the world. It manifests itself differently from country to country, but the common issue is exclusion — homeless people are living in a different world.

One harsh indicator of the growing rise in homelessness is the significant jump in homelessness over the past year in the United States. Several factors are driving this increase, such as rising housing costs and the end of many COVID-19 relief programmes.

The last time a global survey was attempted — by the United Nations in 2005 — an estimated 100 million people were homeless worldwide. More than 650,000 people in America lack permanent shelters. That represents the most documented homeless individuals since the inaugural report produced in 2007 and reflects a 12% increase since 2022.

With the imminent release of The Beautiful Game on Netflix on 29th March, a film inspired by the real Homeless World Cup, the issue of homelessness and how to tackle it is now the subject of much debate.

More than 650,000 people in America lack permanent shelters.
More than 650,000 people in America lack permanent shelters. Image: Statista

How homelessness happens

Brazil is one place where homelessness is on the up. The 2010s saw the country lose revenue from a decline in oil prices and compounding economic difficulties.

The ensuing economic depression plunged millions into poverty and homelessness. Exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazil started 2021 with the extreme poverty rate rising to over 12% or 27 million people, more than the population of Australia.

One in four Brazilians are either homeless or live in ‘inadequate housing’. The housing deficit is more pronounced in Rio De Janeiro, where an estimated 20% of residents live in informal shantytown favelas, lacking access to running water, sanitation, healthcare, and public education. Brazil hosted the Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro in 2010.

Addressing homelessness: A success story

In Finland, the number of homeless people has fallen sharply after the introduction of the country’s Housing First concept. Those affected by homelessness receive a small apartment and counselling without any preconditions. All of this is cheaper than accepting homelessness.

Common practice in the sector is for those affected by homelessness to look for a job and free themselves from their problems or addictions before they receive any support. Only then they get help in finding accommodation.

Housing First reverses this practice: People are provided with accommodation as a foundation. Social workers help them with applications for social benefits and support with their needs. In a new, secure home, it is easier for those affected to find a job and take care of their physical and mental health.

The result is impressive: 4 out of 5 homeless people will be able to keep their home for a considerable amount of time with Housing First and lead a more stable life.

In Finland, there is a system of collaboration, harnessing private and political good will to eradicate homelessness. As countries worldwide grapple with their own homelessness challenges, the Finnish strategy offers valuable lessons and a blueprint for other nations striving to reduce rates of homelessness.

Using sport to tackle global homelessness

Sport, too, can play a positive role in addressing homelessness. It has the power to change people's lives.

Every year, the Homeless World Cup Foundation produces a world class event, the annual Homeless World Cup tournament, which has the power to transform the lives of participants and shape attitudes towards this global issue, using the universal language of football.

It uses football as a global support network to help and inspire people struggling to make a home for themselves. It creates an environment for them in which they are empowered to change their own lives.

Each year, the Homeless World Cup Foundation’s international network of 68 member countries inspires more than 100,000 homeless people to change their lives for the better. Since the introduction of the tournament in 2003, it has positively impacted 1.2m lives — a case study in using sport’s unique global draw to address a real issue.

At the Sacramento 2023 Homeless World Cup, the Homeless World Cup Foundation hosted the first ever Cities Ending Homelessness conference, a collaboration between the Foundation and Catalyst 2030.

Cities Ending Homelessness is a network of cities, academics and social innovators committed to ending homelessness. Cities are where homelessness is most concentrated and where the greatest challenges arise-whether social, financial or political.

By understanding the causes of homelessness in each city’s unique context, Cities Ending Homelessness will match decision makers with teams of social innovators who can help them develop creative solutions, tailored to their needs. The voices of homeless people will be an integral part of the strategy.

Under Rosanne Haggerty’s leadership Community Solutions’ large-scale change initiatives include the 100,000 Homes and Built for Zero Campaigns to end homelessness, and neighbourhood partnerships that bring together residents and institutions to change the conditions that produce homelessness. Today, 100 US cities and counties collaborate through Community Solutions to achieve this goal, using new tools and habits for radically better outcomes.

While economic inequality is decreasing on a global scale, many countries are seeing increasing internal economic disparity, and globally, the gulf between rich and poor is growing fast. In this context homelessness is a key challenge. Too often, homelessness is thought of as ever-present and almost inevitable. This is not the case.

The progress made in Finland and initiatives like those happening at Community Solutions and the Cities Ending Homelessness initiative prove reducing homelessness is an achievable goal. There are many positive solutions being introduced across the globe and this positive impact is growing. These initiatives are having real impact on people around the world. Now it’s time to do more, and faster.

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