Now is the time to adopt a policy to end homelessness in Brussels

may 2019
Between 2008 and 2016, the number of homeless people doubled from around 2,000 to almost 4,000. As in most major European cities, the number of homeless people in Brussels is constantly increasing. Street Nurses NPO regrets the lack of ambition of the policies to fight against this phenomenon. Discover our carte blanche!

Convergence of points of view of the different actors in the field

For two years, the homeless sector in Brussels has been entering a dynamic phase of practical and political mobilisation. There has been an increase in street activities, in search for housing, in relocation programs, Housing First programs, better collaboration in the field, better interpellation policies: a successful mobilization of all the associations and institutions, with the aim of ending homelessness in Brussels.

It has become the new focus now: the workers of the whole sector – or a large majority at least - are convinced that the end of homelessness is possible in Brussels. Everyone talks about it, everyone sees it as an objective, everyone dreams of a time when the main focus will be to accompany more fragile people in a housing solution that suits them, and allow them to live a more fulfilling life.

A situation that continues to worsen.

On the downside, the numbers are not good, and do not move in the right direction. Indeed, according to the official census reports done between 2008 and 2016, the number of homeless people has doubled from about 2000 to nearly 4000. As in most major European cities, the number of homeless people continues to increase in Brussels. The work of the organisations on the ground seems to have no effect on this phenomenon.

The lack of ambition of the adopted policies

The major obstacle to any improvement of the situation is that the public authorities, and the policies as a whole, have not followed the change of vision of the sector: the end of homelessness is still not a declared political objective, nor is it part of the plans for the future legislature. They still seem to believe that such an objective would be an impossible dream to fulfil, and a waste of time.
As a result of this lack of vision and commitment, despite the Region's substantial investment in Housing First programs, as in the other two regions of the country, the resources remain focused mainly on emergency shelter, especially in winter, whereas, to be efficient, it would require a lot more investment in the long term: housing with social rent, support in housing, and prevention. These are well-proven investments, for example in countries where homelessness has fallen sharply, such as Finland, as pillars of a policy to end homelessness.
Moreover, the vision of the end of homelessness is also not sufficiently shared among the general public, who would like to believe it but who still thinks that it is unrealistic, or that it is excessively costly.
A change of vision or nothing

Nobody can do end homelessness alone: neither a single organization, nor even all the organizations combined in this sector, even if their means have considerably increased.
What the associations have proved, however, is that it is possible to get any person who is homeless, off of the street.
What is missing now is a shift of vision for the whole of Society: a more global commitment and belief that the end of homelessness is possible, that we can, sustainably, organize a city where everyone can find a housing solution adapted to his/her condition.

By Dr. Pierre Ryckmans, co-coordinator of Street Nurses ASBL, March 2019

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