In Brussels we passed the mark of 200 people 

In 2013 the first project of Housing First was set up in Brussels, inspired by American projects under that name. Today, almost 10 years later, more than 200 people in our capital city benefitted from this project. Thanks to support teams and their partners in the housing sector, they again found appropriate and affordable homes of their own. Brussels Housing First is growing. More and more new projects are being set up - and, of course, we strive to strengthen this development.

Patient homme qui signe un bail locatif

Housing First – it works! The aim of this programme is to house particularly vulnerable people who cannot be helped under existing schemes; and to make sure that they stay in their homes. In Brussels, our success rate is 90%, which justifies this approach in the context of social work. In other words, with Housing First we can get people off the street and support them on the road to full recovery. Five Brussels organizations participate: Antonin Artaud, Street Nurses, Smes-B, Station Logement (DIOGENES) and Stepforward (New Samusocial). And their number keeps growing. 

This successrefutes the prejudice that it is impossible to house the most excluded people. Nevertheless, we keep hearing that they are good-for-nothings, crazy, drug addicts, violent, marginalized; that they cannot be trusted and are responsible for their own fate. So, in addition to the long list of their problems (poverty, drugs, mental disorders, prolonged social exclusion, and a life of roaming the streets), they get stigmatized with these insults. This aversion to poverty condemns these most vulnerable people without checking the cause of their decline. They all suffer seriously from their problems, but the labels attached to them hinder their recovery. And removing those labels takes a lot of time and effort…

To respond as well as possible to these situations, we, in Housing First, follow pragmatically the basic principles prescribed by Housing First Belgium. Our method is “trial and error”, putting aside our preconceptions and following only what the participants say and want – without any coercion, even if we sometimes appeal to common sense and make sure they are properly informed, as a matter of reducing risk. If there is one thing we’re convinced of, it’s this: humiliating judgements are huge obstacles on the road to recovery.

Obviously, we don’t want to treat socially excluded people in a paternalistic way, but to make sure their basic needs are covered (housing, income, health care, etc.) and to construct with them an existential network which allows them to establish new social contacts, find means of subsistence and give meaning to life. The latter aspect is also supported by the Affiliation project, a transversal initiative within all Brussels Housing First projects, which, through activities selected by the participants themselves, stresses the importance of social bonding for the recovery of vulnerable and marginalized people.

Accompanying them remains complicated because they sometimes fall back into their old situations, find it difficult to adapt and are gripped by fear – and because of the many removals, attempts cut short, failed life projects, old and often tragic experiences that unexpectedly resurface…

But we remain by their side as long as necessary.  

Ultimately, this approach can produce many positive surprises for the street dwellers, such as the realization of skills, long repressed, the rekindling of a passion, snuffed out by isolation, or family reunifications that nobody thought possible anymore. In short, everything that influences life positively becomes possible again as soon as the conditions for a dignified life are fulfilled.

The high percentage of people who stay in their home is a proof of success, but it doesn’t stand alone. If someone is accompanied in Housing First s/he is in fact being accompanied in all aspects of life, to the extent that s/he wishes that, of course. Apart from housing, we help new tenants getting an administrative status again, and an income – and we steer them to psycho-medical-social and cultural institutions, making sure that they’re properly treated there. To allow these people to be fully integrated in society again, that’s our greatest success. 

The Brussels Housing First programme is growing. 200 people – it’s just a beginning. It’s too early to claim victory because almost 5000 people are still living on the Brussels streets. Among them are undoubtedly several hundreds who are so vulnerable as to qualify for support by Housing First. But we shouldn’t forget that the housing shortage also affects our projects, only subsidized for staff costs by public authorities, while other European projects of Housing First receive support for both housing and staff. Solutions are there for the taking; they only require genuine political will. May the latter not be too long in coming. With that hope, we continue our action – encouraged by all that’s already been achieved.

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