Housing is a universally acknowledged human right, yet even before the pandemic, homelessness was on the rise across Europe. The Covid-19 crisis made the situation worse: families including single mothers with children; young people; minorities such as Roma, EU mobile citizens (EU citizens living in another member state) and migrants are reaching out to cities in unprecedented numbers.
After the 2008 financial crisis, budget cuts hit the vulnerable hardest. Today’s recovery, said Rachel Streefland, Deputy Mayor for Wellbeing, Asylum and Integration in Utrecht, must provide “a more long-term solution.”
She outlined the potential of “national strategies as part of EU homelessness plans,” but warned against the peril of leaving cities out of drafting and implementing them.
Municipalities are indeed playing a key role by supporting the creation and work of the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness. Speaking to EU ministers yesterday, Streefland welcomed the platform’s priorities: to monitor homelessness and strengthen analytical work and data collection, to exchange good practices and to promote the use of EU funding for inclusion.
European resources to eliminate homelessness must be made available where needed the most: in cities. If the national and the European institutions coordinate their efforts with the local level, cities can achieve the ambitious goal of eradicating homelessness by 2030, Streefland remarked.
“In our cities,” the Utrecht Deputy Mayor declared “we provide innovative solutions. Many have developed local strategies to combat homelessness that work across sectors because there are often larger challenges of social inclusion to be considered.”
Solutions based on individual needs are often the most successful since social inclusion goes beyond housing. One of those initiatives is Lisbon’s Homeless Planning and Intervention Centre, which gathers 28 partners to implement the local homelessness plan.
In Nantes, solidarity projects are well known. The holistic ‘five bridges’ approach takes place in the city’s heart, fighting urban poverty and exclusion thanks to jobs, housing, health, cohabitation and empowerment services.
Utrecht has recently developed 200 homes for homeless people following the Housing First principles. The strategy addresses the main issue, the lack of housing, and encourages residents to prevent fallbacks.
But often a tight housing market limits possibilities to adopt housing-led approaches. To counter this, cities are mobilising unoccupied private apartments for people at risk of homelessness.
Florence works on this type of initiative to deal with the lack of affordable and social housing that many cities across Europe experience. “Our fight against homelessness is also a fight against increasing housing shortages across Europe,” explained Streefland. “Our cities want to join forces with you to realise affordable housing and mixed housing facilities in order to put a roof above everyone’s head.”
While all of the above is important to support those in need, prevention is also crucial in ending homelessness. In Antwerp, Ghent, Palermo, Ljubljana and Leipzig, mediation services help people avoid eviction.
Bilbao provides immediate rehousing when alternatives to expulsion have failed, and Utrecht offers long-term solutions to prevent indebtedness. In Poznan, the most vulnerable people are prioritised when accessing social housing.
As part of the French Presidency of the European Union, Lyon metropole also hosted an event on homelessness this morning. The French city stands out in the struggle against homelessness developing affordable housing based on social diversity and improving the quality of the existing stock.
“I really believe that the time is now to turn the tide on homelessness in Europe, and as Eurocities, we are committed to putting the objectives of this platform into real actions on the ground,” concluded Streefland yesterday. “Our citizens count on us. So let’s make sure we leave no one behind.”
Along with Eurocities, over 200 municipalities have expressed their commitment to the Lisbon declaration to work towards ending homelessness by 2030. Many local authorities have also committed to renovating the social housing stock and recycling vacant housing. The Eurocities Social Affairs Forum has identified the fight against homelessness as one of its key priorities.