In deciding who is housed and who is homeless in developing countries, planners often display muddled thinking, rejecting accommodation which is considered acceptable by its residents. While industrialised nations regard inadequate housing as almost synonymous with homelessness, this congruence may be unhelpful in developing countries in which a large proportion of households live in housing which could be defined as inadequate. From the results of a broad-based research project on homelessness in nine developing countries, this paper attempts to trace the boundaries between inadequate housing and homelessness. It argues that while some informal settlements may provide such poor accommodation that their denizens should be regarded as homeless, others clearly do not. The margins are found to be fuzzy and to vary from country to country. The most important criterion for differentiating between those who are merely inadequately housed and homeless people appears to be whether or not the place allows its occupants to be on an improving trajectory. To reflect the lack of a clear margin and the ability of some street-homeless people to improve in situ, the conceptualisation developed by UN-Habitat based on industrialised countries is modified to more nearly represent reality in developing countries.
International Development Planning Review (2006) 28 (1) 57-84