Learn about homelessness in Egypt, including its stats, causes, effects and mitigation efforts.
Although it’s the largest economy in North Africa and the second largest on the 54-country continent, Egypt has the second largest cases of homelessness in Africa, after Nigeria and the third largest in the world.
Homelessness in Egypt stands slightly above 10% of the country’s total population, which shows the situation is sprawling and needs urgent attention.
Homelessness in Egypt
According to the Minister of Social Solidarity, Nevine al-Qabbaj, homeless people in Egypt include (1) individuals who have no homes, (2) individuals who work in governorates where they do not have homes, (3) individuals who have disagreements with their families and are on the street temporarily (4) individuals that are mentally ill and (5) individuals that are beggars.
With 12,000,000 homeless cases, what Egypt has is an extreme housing crisis, affecting adults and not sparing children. Children’s homelessness in Egypt is comparatively unusual, alarming and deserves a holistic attention of its own. Egypt may have the worst cases of ‘child’ homelessness in the world, boasting about three million homeless children, according to the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
Homelessness in Egypt is influenced by various factors, including poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, domestic conflict and the country’s economic challenges. The problem tends to be more pronounced in major cities like Cairo and Alexandria, where large populations meet limited resources. The problem is also severe in Giza, Qalioubiya, Menoufiya, Sharqiya, Suez, Beni Swief, Minya and Assiut.
Egypt’s unhoused people live in cemeteries, public streets, deserted places, shanty towns and informal settlements. Scenes of elderly homeless people sleeping on pavements are no longer rare. At night and after the traffic, numbers of citizens and children in raggedy clothing sleep under the bridges and in front of garages and shops.
On living in the cemeteries, the last official statistics on the population of cemeteries in Egypt, issued in November 2017 by the Central Agency for Mobilisation and Statistics, revealed that five million citizens live in cemeteries in 25 governorates.
These people living without accommodation in Egypt are either begging for money or doing menial jobs, for livelihood. Bare-footed children running between cars begging for money or food have become a familiar sight. And, in the cemeteries, the houseless take care of tombs, dig new graves, and/or sell flowers to visitors, who are there to pay respect to the dead.
While on one hand people sleeping without homes in Egypt are exposed to various dangers including human and natural, on the other hand, they get little or no sympathy or solidarity from the general public, and not enough support from the government.
While according to a study prepared by the Egyptian Centre for the Right to Housing, 15.5 million Egyptians live in slums (more than three million families), there are only 5.8 million vacant housing units, in contrast.
Effects & Challenges of Homelessness in Egypt
Homelessness in Egypt has numerous negative effects on individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole.
Like the US, Nigeria and other places, Egyptian homeless are exposed to various horror, human and natural. Specifically, they experience freezing cold winter, hunger, kidnapping, indiscriminate theft, rape, hunger, panic and depression.
Record shows that Egypt has experienced a flood that caused the deaths of some homeless people. The pictures of the victims were shared by many.
Other negative effects of homelessness in Egypt include family disintegration, separation and neglect, absence of role models in the home for homeless kids, poor healthcare and poor health risks, poor access to education, unemployment, desperation leading to criminal activities on the part of the homeless and experiences of severe cruelty.
The exposure to harsh weather conditions, unsanitary living conditions, limited access to healthcare and harsh social realities result in health risks in homeless people. This can lead to increased rates of infectious diseases, malnutrition, and mental health issues, including mental health issues. See psychological effects of homelessness.
Egypt’s rough sleepers are at a higher risk of experiencing violence, abuse, and exploitation, compared to the general public. They hardly get sympathy or help due to social stigma and discrimination. This further isolates them from society and limits their opportunities for reintegration.
Causes of Homelessness in Egypt
Like other countries, homelessness in Egypt is caused primarily by poverty. This is in consonance with the words of Somaiia al-Alfi, director of the street children unit at the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood. Other causes include domestic conflict, the lack of affordable housing, unemployment, mental health issues, substance abuse, poorly planned migration, forced eviction, et cetera.
Egypt’s poverty rate stands at 30% causing many Egyptians to struggle to afford housing and basic necessities, consequently making them vulnerable to becoming homeless. Because of poverty, some children inevitably abandon their poor, sick or mentally unstable elderly parents, leading them to choose a life in the streets.
Egypt’s economy has been negatively impacted, over the years, by various circumstances. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its second year, has pushed up food and energy prices worldwide, adding another layer to Egypt’s economic crisis. Soaring inflation, a severely weakened currency and other problems have followed decades of government mismanagement and broader disruptions, starting with the turmoil from the 2011 Arab Spring popular uprising, then years of militant attacks, followed by the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
Mohamed Abdallah’s cause of homelessness is relevant, with regards to poverty in Egypt. He narrates it thus: “I had an accident while I was working as an electrician. I fell, I broke my hip and I couldn’t work anymore. My sons took my apartment and everything I had, and they left me. They left me to live on the streets.”
Further on the causes of Egypt’s homelessness, the Egyptian government has the history of the demolishing houses, causing hundreds to become homeless, due, again, to poverty and lack of affordable housing.
The Tendency to Expel Christians
On claims of offence against Islam, and with a lack of government preventive measures, on one hand, and the support of religious figures, on the other, many Islamic fanatics, in communal efforts, push their agenda to cleanse their villages and towns of Christians. These victims having scratched out a meagre living in these villages all their lives, are left to face homelessness, deprived of their previous sources of income and stripped of their savings.
Government’s Effort to End Homelessness in Egypt
The Egyptian government and various non-governmental organizations work to address homelessness by providing shelters, social services, et cetera. Notwithstanding, the government’s efforts have been inadequate, as the country’s homeless cases are in millions, while the government’s impact has been in mere thousands. Thus, the problem persists, and additional efforts are needed to comprehensively tackle the root causes of homelessness in the Egypt.
Records show that over the years, the Egyptian government has launched several initiatives to support victims, adults and children, by providing them with shelters, food, blankets, rehabilitation, education, et cetera.
The government has done work through different specialists to rehabilitate Egypt’s homeless children and seniors and afterwards send them back to their families or children care centres. However, homeless individuals with criminal records are not allowed into the shelters. Secondly, some homeless people are mentally damaged or unruly, and so, after being removed from the streets, wander back into homelessness, and back to begging for their livelihood.
Further as mentioned earlier, the government’s effort is not significant. For example, in 2023, the Ministry of Social Solidarity revealed that it runs meagre … 21 retirement houses for the homeless; 51 facilities for rescued children; 435 orphanages; and 43 facilities for homeless children. This, for emphasis, is a country where the rate of homelessness is around 12 million.
Responding to the significantly poor reach of the governemnt’s efforts, Samir Abdel Fattah, a professor of social psychology at Ain Shams University, pointed out that neglecting to deal with the demands of the homeless and their marginalization would have the effect of a time bomb which explodes: “The revolution will take place and the poor will take revenge on the rich and the government that allowed them to do so.”
Non-Governmental Organizations Supporting Homeless Individuals in Egypt
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have been actively supporting homeless people in Egypt. These organizations work to provide essential services, assistance, and advocacy for individuals experiencing homelessness.
The following are some NGOs that have been involved in supporting homeless persons in Egypt: Resala, Alashanek Ya Balady Association (AYB), Egyptian Food Bank, Misr El Kheir Foundation, Life Makers Foundation, Maadi Community Foundation, St. Andrew’s Refugee Services (StARS), Tawasol, Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), and Caritas Egypt.
See Our Poem for the Homeless: Same Night
Conclusion on Egypt’s Rough Sleepers
Homelessness in Egypt is severe and needs urgent and overarching solutions by the government. Addressing it will not only be useful to the unhoused but also to the broader community, particularly when it comes to economic implications such as increased public health expenditures, strain on emergency services, and decreased productivity.
While many NGOs in Egypt are addressing homelessness, children get more attention with the older victims getting little to none, which means their fate is mostly death…
Addressing homelessness in Egypt requires a comprehensive approach, which includes providing affordable housing, enhancing education and employment opportunities, strengthening social safety nets, improving mental health services, and addressing poverty. While obliterating homelessness would be ideal, addressing the menace requires continuous efforts and resources.
Collaboration between government agencies, NGOs, and community organizations is crucial to develop sustainable solutions that help individuals and families find stable housing and reintegrate into society.
Lastly, the measures to be taken and their extent may vary based on factors such as the overall economic situation, political stability, the availability of resources, and willingness of the homeless to be helped as well as the incumbent leader’s interests.
Learn about homelessness in the US