“We stick together – we live as one single family.” 

These were the words of Hortense, who lives in Benin with her husband and children. A lived experience expert, Hortense is one of the estimated one billion people living in slums or informal settlements worldwide. Recognised as a form of homelessness by the Institute of Global Homelessness, slums are often characterised by overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure and lack of access to basic services. Yet, as Hortense noted, there is a strong sense of community in her local area – fostered with support from Vincentian projects. 

Hortense was speaking via video link at Famvin Homeless Alliance’s 2024 conference, ‘Vincentian Action in Slums,’ which I attended in Manila last week. The conference brought together 65 lived experience experts and practitioners from across the global Vincentian family to share solutions for communities living in slums worldwide.  

Throughout the three-day conference, Hortense’s words about the strength of her community stuck with me. During round tables, we heard from projects as far afield as Brazil, Benin and the Philippines. People with lived experience of slums shared their insights via video link, whilst Vincentian family representatives of each project spoke in person. Hearing from them, it was clear that effective solutions to slum-dwelling need to go far beyond simply providing adequate housing. For long-term, sustainable change in slums, there is a need to build strong bonds with the residents living there. 

Solutions must respond to the specific needs of each local area. Working directly with communities gives rise to innovative solutions, including specific ways to access employment or education opportunities. Hortense spoke about how, as beneficiaries of the Servantes de l’Amour Rédempteur du Christ (SARC) project, residents have been given bicycles so that their children can access school. SARC has also supported her to open her own small business. 

At one round table, ‘regional and local responses to slum dwelling and insights from the experts with lived experience,’ I was privileged to hear directly from those involved in the Bamboo Housing project. The project is in Bagong Silangan, one of the most densely populated areas in Quezon City, Manila. Bamboo Housing provides access to decent, safe shelter and encourages a resilient and self-sustaining community.  

Celeste ‘Intoy’ Rosete, from the Vincentian Foundation (VMSDFI), which runs the project in partnership with Hilti Foundation and Base Bahay, emphasised the need to build caring communities in slums. Jocelyn, a beneficiary who now volunteers at the project, described Planting for Productivity, a project where people grow food and attend Zumba classes together. The project creates a sustainable food source for the local area whilst also providing an opportunity for social bonding. By building strong bonds, residents are empowered to bring about change for themselves.  

On the final day, delegates were welcomed to the Bamboo Housing project. The visit was an opportunity to see the project’s disaster-resilient housing made of bamboo, an indigenous material, and even visit the garden that Jocelyn had spoken so passionately about. 

Seeing this life-changing work first-hand was testament to how taking local action can add up to wider global change. We know we can end homelessness, in all its forms, but we can’t do it alone. Every project makes a difference, and sharing learnings is key to implementing innovative solutions worldwide.  

As Mark McGreevy, Famvin Homeless Alliance Coordinator and Depaul Group President, summed up: “Through collaborative efforts, let us envision a future where slum dwellers wake up to safer homes, have access to clean water, send their children to thriving schools, and find meaningful employment. May our collective endeavours during this conference pave the way for transformative change that resonates in the daily lives of those who need it the most. 

Laura Hillier, Senior Programme Officer, Depaul International 

Find out more about the conference on Famvin Homeless Alliance’s social media channels:

X: @famvinalliance  

Facebook: Famvin Homeless Alliance 

LinkedIn: Famvin Homeless Alliance