Squatting and homelessness are intricately linked. Earlier it was perceived that people who squat did it by choice. It is a general perception that squatters are addicts, substance users or criminals and are shunned by the society. However, the issue of squatting as a direct result of homelessness is important. Squatting differs in every country, but the reason is the same, i.e., lack of affordable housing. In a general sense, it is considered as a residential area especially in urban settings, inhabited by the poor who don’t have access to tenured land of their own and therefore “squat” on vacant public or private land.
Imagine a person living in a dilapidated house with rubble lying around and broken doors and windows or families living in a cluster of temporary shelters cramped in a tiny space. They are identified as squatters. They have a shelter but can they be termed homeless?
In developed countries like the UK, many use squatting as a last resort. They occupy empty, abandoned or dilapidated and easy to enter structures such as disused warehouses, empty garages and factories, etc. These places may lack basic amenities like running water, sanitation and drainage, and the condition of the building might be dangerous to live. Many of these people have mental and physical health issues and are vulnerable due to illness or lack of care and face the danger of being evicted by the police as they have illegally occupied the property and in some countries, trespassing is a criminal offence.
In many developing nations, it is common to sight makeshift shelters on roadsides, or a cluster of temporary houses. A large population has migrated to the cities in search of work. Lack of financial assets and resources drive them to occupy vacant public land, marginal land parcels like railway setbacks or undesirable marshy land which is unproductive. These settlements can come up overnight by building rudimentary and temporary shelters as there is always a fear of eviction by the police. People usually choose a place which is near their workplace. For e.g., Construction workers may set up their shelters near or at the construction site. In many cities some squatter settlements have existed for several years and a person has spent his/her entire life there. Usually there is no access to clean water supply, electricity, sanitation and roads. There are different local or colloquial names for squatting in different countries like Ranchos in Venezuela, Favelas in Brazil and Jhuggi-Jhopdi or Basti in India
Squatter settlements in developing countries is an unavoidable reality. There needs to be long term solution and a change in attitude towards squatters. Instead of taking a confronting approach, many countries are focusing on an enabling approach, which will allow people to use and generate their own resources and find different solutions for housing and shelter problems. In developed countries there should be more services for the homeless and treat squatting as a housing and welfare problem rather than a criminal justice issue.
https://www.gdrc.org/uem/define-squatter.html , https://www.crisis.org.uk/media/236930/squatting_a_homelessness_issue_2011.pdf