What can cities do to fight homelessness?

21 June 2021

In the fight to eradicate homelessness, cities are front and centre; and many different approaches are being tested to prevent homelessness and to reintegrate homeless people into independent living, right across Europe.

Everyone has a right to shelter and housing. Yet even before the pandemic, homelessness was on the rise in Europe. We have seen increases in unemployment and urban poverty, creating new at-risk groups who struggle to access affordable housing, and the waiting list for people applying to social housing continues to grow.

Portuguese Presidency priority

This has been a top priority of the current Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, which has focused on implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, including through the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness.

This platform, launched today at the conference Combatting Homelessness – A priority of our Social Europe, aims to promote political dialogue on combating homelessness in order to establish common understanding, commitment and concrete progress in EU member states on fighting homelessness.

However, as pointed out by Maarten van Ooijen, Chair of Eurocities Social Affairs Forum and Deputy Mayor of Utrecht, who was invited to share the views of cities, and who signed the EU Declaration on Combatting Homelessness on behalf of Eurocities, “homelessness mainly takes place in cities,” that is to say, where most people live.

Prime pillar principal

Housing and assistance for the homeless is part of principle 19 of the European Pillar of Social Rights. In particular, the pillar establishes access to social housing or housing assistance for those in need. This includes the right of vulnerable people to appropriate assistance and protection against forced eviction, and adequate shelter and services to the homeless to promote their social inclusion.

As part of its Inclusive Cities 4 All initiative, Eurocities has collected 66 city pledges totalling municipal investments of over €15 billion towards 13 of the 20 Pillar principles, with the highest number of examples on principle 19 on housing and assistance to the homeless, marking it as a top concern for cities.

Payment and prevention project

“In Utrecht, we are currently realising an ambitious Living Lab ‘First a Home’,” said van Ooijen. The project focuses on the prevention of homelessness and will create more than 200 extra affordable places for people to live.

As a ‘human rights city’ Utrecht wants to ensure that everyone who lives in the city has shelter and is able to live a normal life. This includes actions like identifying debts in time, for example when people have missed two months of rental payment, and offering quick assistance to find a path out of indebtedness.

Professionals & processes in place

Professionals from the social housing associations quickly engage to find sustainable solutions to avoid increasing debts and the risk of losing a house and are working to ensure the dignity of their residents and reintegrate homeless people into normal living.

Another successful example comes from Lyon Metropole which provides tailor-made responses to the needs of each individual at risk of homelessness. The process is guided by the Housing First principles – putting the right to housing at the forefront of the city’s strategy to combat homelessness.

Find out about more city actions in the following video: