When quarantine started, in March, hotels in Brussels have opened their doors to offer a total of 820 rooms to host the homeless people. Meanwhile, those infrastructures have closed and as off today, only 92 rooms are available (according to Bruss’help).
To “Infirmiers de rue” it is a big regret.
While the second wave is coming back, we are in urgent need to find new accommodations for those people. We need to be effective and work hard to solve 2 problems. One being the pandemic and two being the homelessness. The crisis creates an opportunity to move forwards, but it must be taken advantage of.
In view of the coming winter, 990 places for classic emergency shelter are available at the SAMU SOCIAL. Moreover, 140 places have been created by various other structures with the support of the Brussels Region. Some will be available for a short or longer term. Some are real accommodations for periods as long as 5 years! This is good news. But, we must be able to do more. We must take advantage of the crises which is putting the hotel sector in difficulty to contribute to solve on the long term the problematic of homelessness.
As far as we are concerned, we estimate that hotels opening their doors, is a very good way to host the homeless people during the crisis. It is even better than the classic emergency accommodations. Homeless people can there be really isolated in small groups, or even individually. It is quieter and offers more privacy than in emergency accommodation, which is usually overcrowded and unsafe. It also means that it is much easier to work towards reintegration and sustainable re-housing where traditional emergency accommodation is much less suitable.
As of today, the hosting capacity for the homeless people is still too low in comparison with the reel needs. We are still far from finding the optimal solution for all those people that have to survive on our streets. With other organizations in the sector we keep insisting on the hotel room provisioning system to be fully reactivated and extended. The current crisis in the hotel sector, in which thousands of rooms remain empty, creates a unique opportunity for this. And the hotel sector can only benefit from it as well.
Using the hotels will not solve all the problems related to sustainable housing. Nevertheless, the conditions are way better to reach our goal than if the people had to stay on the streets or in a classic emergency shelter. We observe on our everyday work that the advantages are numerous.
If we make the necessary resources available today - financial support for hotels, time and help from the CPAS, cooperation with support organizations, and access to sufficient housing, we can kill three birds with one stone: reduce the Covid crisis by removing people from public spaces, avoid a number of bankruptcies in the hotel sector, and reduce homelessness by re-housing some of the homeless people. We would then have turned the crisis into a real opportunity!
Dr. Pierre Ryckmans
Medical coordinator Infirmiers de rue