Housing is the solution to homelessness. And, conveniently, the right to decent housing is laid down in the Belgian Constitution. In 2020 there were 5,000 homeless and badly housed people in Brussels, and successive crises made the situation even worse. How is that possible?
What follows is an article based on the account of Wanda Duhamel, responsible for housing at Street Nurses.
The right to feel safe in a decent home
"To be able to say 'I am home',
you don't know how good that feels."
- Luc, a patient housed by Street Nurses
In his account, Luc tells us how safe he feels after moving into a new home. The right to safety is enshrined in article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and housing is therein an important element. The right to decent housing is also established in article 23 of the Belgian Constitution.
Why then is it that more and more people are sleeping in the street? What stops these people to access these inalienable rights?
The choice of housing is essential for the durable reintegration of homeless people
The private market is often not interested in social housing; they’re located in ghetto’s lacking green spaces.
If you don’t like a social home, you can refuse, but at the cost of losing your place on the waiting list. But, with the lack of available housing in Brussels, that’s not always an option.
Even so, the choice of living conditions is very important. I defy anybody to go and live in the high-rises of Peterbos, without noise and temperature isolation, and where the “fame” of its drugs trade has spread as far as Marseille.
Social property agencies offer an alternative
To do something about the screaming lack of social housing in Brussels, we work mostly with social property agencies (SPA) with a link to the private market.
SPA’s manage homes made available by their owners. These can be owners of many homes who outsource the management to social institutions, while living somewhere else. Or big companies investing in housing, mainly in return for fiscal advantages.
But an SPA does not calculate the rent, unlike for social housing, on the basis of personal income. At an income of around 1,100 EUR, the rent for a social home can be around 200 EUR, without charges. At an SPA, it can be as much as 500 EUR.
Undocumented people have little to no access to housing
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains some other important provisions: the right to freedom of movement (article 13), the right to asylum (article 14) and the right to an adequate standard of living, including housing (article 25). And not to forget article 1: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
However, without papers and an income, in Belgium you are not entitled to a home…at least not one that’s durable, legal, protected, regulated.
LHomeless people and undocumented people without hope of a positive outcome of asylum and regularisation procedures then join the list (far too long already) of deaths on the street.
Join the Housing Action Day movement
To end homelessness, everybody should have access to a home. Join Housing Action Day 2023 on 26 March to insist on the following demands:
- Immediate reduction of rents
- Immediate stop to expulsions; regulate all concerned
- More social housing and alternatives to the private market