To house homeless people directly from the street and shelters and to avoid that the most vulnerable people must invest 40% of their income in housing. Those are European Commission proposals that are expected to be discussed at the European Council in June. The EU set the year of 2015 as the deadline to end homelessness but there are still 3 million people in this situation.
The “main solution” to homelessness and exclusion for housing reasons are housing policies, in particular social and public housing policies. In this way the European Commission expressed recently in a report on social inclusion and protection in the EU that is going to be discussed in the European Council next June.
One of the indications made by the Commission must be particularly highlighted: to modify the FEDER funds, one of the most important structural funds of the European Union dedicated to the regions development. The purpose is none other than to act on homeless people housing with these economic resources. There is more: the aim of the Commission is to house homeless people directly from the streets or shelters, without having to subordinate this access to the participation in any socio-educational process. This is an strategy called Housing First, already used in places like the United States.
Another suggestions made by the European Commission are: to develop an integrated strategy that takes into account the prevention and quality of the social resources, such as emergency shelters and the training of Social Services' professionals; to incorporate into their policies those who, although having a job, are living in a precarious situation and are forming a new high risk group; and finally, to avoid that impoverished people must invest more than 40% of their incomes in housing.
For the Director of Arrels Fundació, Salvador Busquets, these proposals bring “new elements in the process, that would represent an important change in the way the attention and prevention policies addressed to homeless people are developed” and “it is good news” the fact that European Commission experts and organizations as Federación Europea de Organizaciones Nacionales that work for Homeless People (FEANTSA) share proposals related with housing. At logistic level, the Housing First project would be viable in Catalonia but “it is worth considering that this housing policy should come with others that guarantee economic support and for the autonomous region also”, Paco Gea adds, who is responsible for Arrels' programmes.
Spain's social investment is one of the lowest in the European Union and it would have to move forward in issues as coordination among the different administrations. Moreover, at a general level,”it raises a need: that access to housing be part of a wider strategy for access to decent housing for all at-risk populations” and where a response to other social needs be given, Paco Gea explains. Otherwise policies as Housing First could have a negative impact among the population.
Changes in the profile of homeless people
The celebration in 2010 of the European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion and the milestone of 2015 as a deadline to put an end to homelessness in the EU have shown the homeless problem on the European political agenda. But the desired situation is still far from the real situation. There are 79 million people in poverty and risk situation in the European Union: of these, three million are homeless, according to figures from the United Nations agency UN-Habitat. According to the report of the European Commission on social exclusion and protection, the exclusion in access to housing has worsened even more due to the economic crisis and the long term unemployment in which many families are, has lowered their income, increasing their vulnerability.
In this context, the profile of homeless people is changing. According to European Commission document, “the number of young homeless has increased, there are more women, more victims of family breakdown and more immigrants and asylum seekers”.The reasons are clear: structural factors in the housing market, the unemployment impact, the indebtedness, personal factors such as mental illness and addictions, family relationships shattered, legal or social discrimination to social minorities such as the gypsy people and immigrants, and the transition of being in prison or living in centres for minors to do so independently.
According to the same report, many factors are involved, being many of them structural, and have to be dealt with clear policies and not “focussing on individual reasons”, as some States tend to do.
Five objectives against homelessness
In the same way as European Commission proposal, is focused the campaign that FEANTSA has just submitted. The message they want to convey is clear: to end homelessness is possible, but it is necessary to stop investing in short-term reactive measures and to move on integrated strategies.
In particular, FEANTSA proposes five objectives:
- That no one sleeps in the street. - That no one lives in emergency shelters longer than necessary. - That no one resides in temporary accommodation more than necessary. - That no one leaves an institution without a viable alternative. - That no young ends homeless due to the transition to independent life.
Tu put into practice these objectives would mean making housing accessible and to bet on overnight stays system beyond hostels and shelters, avoiding temporality. Comprehensive strategies that not only give solutions to specific situations such as “cold-weather operations” but also involve widening the offer of tutelary or not housing, are needed.
On the premise that no one leaves an institution without having guaranteed access to housing, there are many social entities that denounce the reality of people in vulnerable situations when they leave prison, hospital or juvenile facility or detoxification centre and do not find enough support to become independent and to access housing.
“The unresolved challenges are many and we could quote more but we want to be optimistic because we believe that, despite being a a slow process, at European level are laying the foundations to stop homelessness”, the Director of Arrels, Salvador Busquets, concludes. To carry out the proposals of FEANTSA and the European Commission, we need to reach a sufficient political consensus and that governments and social actors go together, both in Europe and in our closest environment.