Norway and Finland, pioneers in 'ending homelessness', tell us that there are three main points to focus on if we want to end homelessness one day.
1. Access to housing
This concerns as much the quantity as the price. This demands a resolute policy, over the long term (10 years or more), of construction and renovation of social housing. In Brussels, the number of homeless people is evaluated at 4,000. We can estimate that at least half, or 2000 people, would already be able to quickly integrate housing they could pay for, providing that it is a project fit for (social) purpose and the price is affordable.
Since there is a waiting list of around 40,000 people for social housing in the Brussels Region, it is essential to be able to bypass the lengthy process for people who have no place of residence, and /or are living in the street. Otherwise we will have no influence on homelessness itself. To really and significantly tackle the problem, the initial number of new homes available for homeless people should be at least 1000 per year. Then we could imagine a more regular increase pace of 250 homes per year, devoted to this specific audience.
To reduce the number of people on waiting lists for social housing, other measures must be taken in parallel. It is interesting to consider that, even at a rate of 1000 new homes per year, it would still take 20 years for the problem to be cut in half!
Furthermore, it is essential to provide support that is customised to the individuals and flexible (in duration and intensity) to ensure that they don’t lose their homes again in the future.
The end of homelessness cannot be imagined without an adequate prevention policy: to
Implement, at different levels, measures to identify, accompany, and relocate people at high risk of losing their home in the first place.
The obstacles lie, on one hand, in ensuring transversal coordination of the different services that can play a role - such as debt mediation services, youth support services, mental health services, hospitals, day centres, etc. -; and, on the other hand, in the mobilisation of the different bodies of public authorities (mainly regional and communal and municipal).
It is reasonable to assume that if 4,000 people are homeless for the time being, eventually the number will increase to 20,000 people, who will have to be accompanied, in one form or another, on an on-going manner.
3. Housing First
Housing First: it is a program that has strongly developed in the Brussels Region, and whose role is to ensure the housing reintegration of individuals for whom this objective is the most difficult to achieve. This program must continue to evolve, if only to ensure the on-going support of those already there while they need it, while integrating ay the same time new people into the program. It seems reasonable to estimate the need at a rate of 60 new housing entries a year for all Brussels programs, for the next few years.
It is only through the implementation of these measures in an appropriate and effective way that the dream of a homeless city can become a reality. For this, we need benevolent and bold politicians to initiate these measures, but also investors with a sense of social responsibility in addition to well-informed and willing citizens. It is only by joining forces that we can put an end to homelessness.
© P-Y Jortay - Infirmiers de rue 2020