Since 2006, Street nurses have helped more than 200 people in Brussels and Liège to find a home again. As part of the campaign "Donation after donation, let's build a future for homeless people", Emilie Meessen, co-founder, and Pierre Ryckmans, physician, talk about the organisation’s commitment in caring for homeless people through housing.
From medical hygiene to housing
Since its inception in Brussels in 2006, Street Nurses has focused its work on hygiene and medical care for homeless people. Emilie: "Working on hygiene restores confidence, medical care restores the vision that the person will live longer. And when we added regular support, with a more personal follow-up, we realized that as long as people stayed on the street, the risk of death remained high. That is why we have worked intensively since 2010 to provide our patients with a home again."
Housing as an answer to the challenge of homelessness
Street work is all about creating a bond and using various means, including hygiene, to motivate our homeless patients to get off the street. Pierre: “We started housing because we saw that people on the street continued to die prematurely, even with hygienic and medical care. As soon as these people are housed again, the housing team takes over the accompaniment and starts working more intensively on health and inclusion. And that works! The snowball effect was tangible in the field, so that others also began to believe in the possibility of sustainable housing. The same effect was observed in Liège where Street Nurses has worked since 2019."
The importance of housing in the care for homeless people
Housing is the key and the starting point to solve the problems of homeless people. In a home they can regain control of their life and health, feel safe and reintegrate into society. In other words, housing saves lives.
Pierre: "So we need to find as many housing solutions as possible. But we need to know what the person really needs and act accordingly. Individual accommodation is not always the best solution. Some people will feel safer if, for example, they are housed in an institution."
Housing First: reintegration through housing, without conditions
Access to housing, without conditions, is the first step in the reintegration process. Emilie: "To increase the chances of reintegration of our patients, we started the adventure of Housing First. Our teams then accompany the patients in all aspects of their lives to make sure that they stay in those homes."
The end of homelessness is possible
Street Nurses' vision has evolved over time from simple medical treatment to a bold statement: the end of homelessness is possible. Emilie: "With a decade of experience in Housing First, we have shown that providing housing is a weapon in the fight against homelessness. But that implies that our patients must be able to access affordable, sustainable and adapted housing."