Of the 947 municipalities that exist in Catalonia, only 21 have data that measure the number of people living on the street. From these figures, we know that, at least in Catalonia, there are more than 1,700 rough sleepers. These twenty municipalities are home to 46% of the total population of Catalonia. In this regard, the Action framework for tackling homelessness in Catalonia 2022-2025 has put the number of people living rough in 2016 at 2,347.
If we look at the metropolitan area of Barcelona, we know that more than 1,400 people live in the streets. The data belongs to 14 of the 37 metropolitan municipalities, representing 76% of the population of the metropolitan area, according to our own data, data from different municipalities and data from the Institute of Regional and Metropolitan Studies of Barcelona (IERMB).
The right to privacy, to rest, to mobility, to enjoy spaces and social and cultural resources, in public space, in hygiene, in physical integrity, in keeping in a safe place and in a stable way one’s belongings and documentation… These are some of the rights that, at a municipal level, are not easily accessible to people living on the street.
Achieving #nobodysleepingonthestreet cannot be done only from the local level because there are structural reasons that go beyond that, but addressing the problem from each municipality and region is the first step. One of the goals of all administrations should be to end homelessness, each in its own sphere of competence, but with a common look: that everyone should have access to a home.
We have listed below a series of proposals for all Catalan municipalities and regions.
Attending to people from the municipality itself.
It is necessary to ensure from the local level that all residents who do not have a home can be helped in the same municipality and territory where they live. Each municipality must be able to recognize and identify the people who live and suffer from homelessness, people who may be users of its services and who, as neighbors, are susceptible to being registered. This is included in the Action Framework for tackling homelessness in Catalonia 2022-2025, which indicates that the social services team should know the territory where each homeless person lives, as well as having a professional reference to help them.
In this sense, in order to facilitate caring and assisting people before it is too late, we propose that each municipality should have information and prevention mechanisms.
Comply with the law and facilitate the census from each municipality.
All Catalan municipalities should take care of homeless people sleeping on their streets. It may happen that the person, despite living for some time in a particular municipality, is not registered, but this should not be a problem to receive social care. At present, all Catalan municipalities are required by law to register their neighbors, whether they have a home or not; not doing so violates the rights of individuals and the law. However, according to data from the Action Framework for tackling homelessness in Catalonia 2022-2025, only 12% of Catalan municipalities claim to register all people who request it.
We propose that Social Services should be involved from the beginning and should accompany homeless people in the registration, to facilitate the process and help them to be accredited. As they live on the street, it is easy to lose the documentation, and especially in the case of migrants, it is sometimes difficult to recover it.
Know how many people are sleeping on the street in the municipality to measure the problem.
Knowing how many people are homeless in a specific territory is essential information for the design of policies adjusted to reality. There are several ways of sizing the difficulties depending on the size of the municipality: promoting nightly counts in the municipalities; going out regularly during the day with teams of social agents and/or the local police to meet the people living on the street; using the resources and information of other actors in the municipality such as social entities, libraries, basic health areas and hospital emergency services, etc. It is necessary to measure transparently and without making the data public.
To begin with, we propose focusing on Catalan municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants, since they host more than 70% of the Catalan population. It would be a first step to dimension the problem.
Open decent residential spaces in each municipality so that hundreds of people stop sleeping on the street.
The bill that social organizations and academia have developed and that is currently being worked on in the Parliament of Catalonia considers a basic pillar in order to address homelessness to have decent residential spaces and spaces for emergency overnight stays in the Catalan municipalities. We are talking about accommodations open all year round, located in each territory, and that would allow helping from the proximity of each person.
Smaller or medium-sized municipalities could begin by setting up small, low-demand night-time spaces, offering the homeless person other useful services during the day that offer protection and rest areas. The goal of these low-demand nighttime spaces is to offer a safe place to spend the night and to adapt to the needs of people (women and LGTBIQ+ people, people with addictions and/or mental health problems, people with pets, etc.).
If your municipality is small or medium-sized, we propose you to directly offer people housing. These are more economical options than opening large facilities and we at Arrels have found that they work. These alternatives would replace other temporary actions that are currently implemented in some Catalan municipalities, in situations of extreme cold or extreme weather conditions that only last a few days.
Modify coexistence ordinances to guarantee the rights of homeless people.
Bylaws related to citizen coexistence should exclude from their prohibitions and penalties people living on the street and understand that the fact of not having a home and sufficient public resources makes it impossible to comply with the regulations.
In Tarragona, the ordinance prohibits washing and relieving oneself in public spaces, sleeping, littering public furniture and picking up objects from the garbage, among others. In Girona, homeless people are prohibited from washing themselves in fountains, camping, drinking alcohol in the street and making unintended use of urban furniture. The cases of these two Catalan municipalities, alongside with Barcelona, are collected by Caritas in a report on the content and consequences of municipal ordinances in the Spanish State carried out in 2021 and shared with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and on the Right to Adequate Housing.
We insist on the need to address homelessness from a social perspective and not from the coexistence regulations of each municipality. This issue is also included with concern in the bill to address homelessness that is being worked on in the Parliament of Catalonia.
Do not criminalize people living on the street from municipal services.
Municipal services —such as cleaning and security services— should be better adjusted to the reality of homeless people, have more tools for their interventions in public spaces and actively coordinate with existing resources in municipalities and regional councils to guide people. Common practices such as throwing away belongings or making the person move from place to place violate rights. More coordination is needed with social entities and services to provide a view of homelessness from social care.
In this sense, we ask the municipal services of each city and town in Catalonia not to criminalize people who live on the street and to avoid practices such as throwing people who sleep on the street out of their place of rest, throwing away their belongings or putting hostile architectural elements in public buildings.