Street Nurses consider housing as an essential stage in helping people to reintegrate into society. Finding a decent home may already be a serious struggle for most people, but for homeless and rehoused patients, many more obstacles are piling up.

Hélène, in charge of housing in the Liège team of Street Nurses, explains the problems facing our homeless patients.

Illustration © Pierre Lecrenier

It takes time to get off the street

At least two years of street life, physical and/or mental health problems, addiction, social isolation, discrimination… these are all problems which affect life expectancy, which reinforce each other, and make return to a “normal” life ever more difficult.

We must respect the time people need to reconstruct contacts and relationships of trust, to understand each other, to sort out rights and revenue issues with the administration… Providing people with a new home takes time, but it is possible.

Once a patient has moved in, serious risks of damage to the home cannot be excluded, because for some people, living again between four walls requires serious adaptation.

Landlords are not at ease with homeless people

The first thing real estate agents or owners demand is proof of revenue during the previous three months. To be able to supply that (and fast), you must have had an income.

The two most frequent sources of revenue are the social living wage provided by Public Centres for Social Welfare (CPAS/OCMW) and invalidity benefits for people with chronic health problems. But these revenues provoke prejudice and don’t reassure house owners. Which often blocks the next step.

The second proof of solvability most often required, is payment of rent over the past three months. Rather complicated for a person living on the street…Upon which we give up.

Homeless people are discriminated against because of their appearance

The appearance of patients, physically often marked by street life, can have an insurmountable negative effect on donors and real estate agents. In addition, homeless people don’t always have the necessary “codes of conduct” to reassure homeowners. That provokes stress, making patients sometimes stumble over their words.

To avoid all this and the patients’ disappointments, first contacts mostly happen without them. Only when all obstacles have been cleared, direct contact between the parties concerned can be established.

Housing less available for homeless people

For all these reasons, patients’ files are mostly not top of the pile. Knowing that waiting periods for a small appartement in social housing last seven to eight years (and twice as long for a home with three of four rooms), is reason enough to abandon all hope.

To which you might reply: “Yes, but social housing offices are looking after poor people.” Correct. But in Liège, and probably everywhere else, these offices are overloaded and the number of families that social workers must take care of can be up to 1,700 – and even 2,000!

Illustration Pierre Lecrenier

Becoming a “solidarity landlord” in Liège

Fortunately, there are other possibilities than those offered by the private housing market where competition around available places is fierce.

One of them is the project Devenir propriétaire solidaire, initiated by the “Plan de Cohésion” of the city of Liège, in which about ten partners cooperate in the fight against bad housing. They aim at encouraging homeowners to accommodate the most vulnerable people, in exchange of guarantees for the maintenance of their property, the payment of rent, etc.

Modular housing in Liège?

Another promising avenue is the project of placing modular homes on a site in Liège or its surroundings, following the example of Street Nurses in Brussels. First discussions started with other partners and municipal departments to elaborate the idea, which, hopefully, will develop new ways of living and fighting homelessness.

Join the Housing Action Day movement

Providing people who have lived on the street for years, with stability thanks to renewed security and relations of trust around a home – motivates us to continue our work.

Further motivation comes from the joint dynamics within the network which is committed to the fight against bad housing and severe poverty – and which demands improvements.

This year, the Housing Action Day will be organised in several Belgian cities, in particular Brussels and Liège. On Sunday 26 March 2023 we can mobilise for the right to decent housing and present our political demands! Street Nurses participates! Will you? 

Join us in the mobilisation for accessible housing!