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Document 52011IE1592

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The problem of homelessness’ (own-initiative opinion)

OJ C 24, 28.1.2012, p. 35–39 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

28.1.2012   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 24/35


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on ‘The problem of homelessness’ (own-initiative opinion)

2012/C 24/07

Rapporteur: Mr LUCAN

On 20 January 2011, the European Economic and Social Committee decided, under Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, to draw up an own-initiative opinion on the

Problem of homelessness.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 28 September 2011.

At its 475th plenary session, held on 26 and 27 October 2011 (meeting of 27 October), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 98 votes with 6 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC wishes to make the following recommendations:

1.1.1

The European Union should allocate more resources under the Structural Funds (ESF and ERDF in particular) to tackling the issue of homelessness, with a particular focus on building permanent housing.

1.1.2

The European Union and the Member States should bear in mind that policies to combat homelessness must be based on complete respect for human rights, which include the right to affordable, adequate housing. The EESC believes that homelessness is not a pre-existing situation: it is the result of political and economic choices. The EU 2020 strategy's inclusive growth dimension must incorporate discussion on wealth redistribution, with this discussion beginning immediately owing to the crisis currently hitting the EU.

1.1.3

The European legal framework for an ambitious social housing policy is in place (treaties, charters and international texts). Furthermore, the EU could coordinate efforts to encourage Member States to ratify the revised European Social Charter (1). The European Commission, European Parliament and EU Agency for Fundamental Rights should draw up an annual report containing an assessment of how Article 34 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on the right to housing assistance is being implemented in the Member States.

1.1.4

Eurostat should promote common definitions, indices and indicators in order to help understand the complexity and specific characteristics of homelessness at EU level and to harmonise statistics. The EESC supports the adoption of the ETHOS typology launched by FEANTSA to define homelessness at EU level.

1.1.5

The European Commission should develop an ambitious strategy on the issue of homelessness and support the Member States in developing effective national strategies, in accordance with the guidelines proposed in the 2010 Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion and taking account of the recommendations made by the jury of the European Consensus Conference on Homelessness. A major housing policy in Europe would fall within the scope of the major work projects generating jobs and well-being, which continue to be two of the goals of the European treaties.

1.1.6

Bearing in mind that the Europe 2020 strategy aims to secure smart, sustainable and at the same time inclusive growth, the EESC proposes that the EU should monitor this periodically and factor the relationship between the price of housing on the housing market and Europeans' access to buying or renting, depending on their income, into the policy-shaping process.

1.1.7

The EU should help Member States to take the following into account in their inclusion policies: eradicating deaths caused by living on the streets; personal dignity; multiple causality; prevention; empowering and encouraging participation by recipients through social contracts/tenancy agreements; European standards of cost-efficiency for housing and social services; building permanent housing, subsidised flats and prevention centres in every town (2); and an approach promoting swift access to permanent housing.

1.1.8

The European Commission should set up a European agency on homelessness.

1.1.9

The Member States should implement efficient anti-crisis strategies with a focus on an optimal cost-efficiency ratio, consultation and promotion of public-private partnerships, and building up the housing stock given that, with the crisis, prices on the housing market have fallen considerably.

2.   Background and general comments regarding the problem of homelessness in the EU

2.1

Homelessness was a key field of action for the 2010 European year (3).

2.2

Homelessness was mentioned for the first time as a priority in the 2005 Joint Report on Social Protection and Social Inclusion. In 2007, the European Commission published a study entitled ‘Measurement of Homelessness at European Union Level’ (4).

2.3

Combating the problem of homelessness has become a priority as it is a key aspect of the EU strategy on social protection and social inclusion.

2.4

Through the EU strategy on social protection and social inclusion (also known as the Open Method of Coordination in the social domain), the EU coordinates and encourages national measures and the development of policies to combat poverty and social exclusion through a reporting mechanism, common indicators and final policy conclusions adopted by the European Commission in cooperation with the Council of Ministers of the EU.

2.5

The European Parliament has adopted a number of major initiatives on the problem of homelessness, including a written declaration on ending street homelessness which was adopted in 2008 (5). The declaration calls on the Council to agree to an EU-wide commitment to end street homelessness by 2015. A further cross-party written declaration on the need for an EU strategy on the problem of homelessness was initiated by five MEPs on 6 September 2010 and adopted in December 2010. The EESC believes that European funds (ESF and ERDF) must be allocated if these ambitious goals are to be met.

2.6

In late 2009, the EU Network of Independent Experts on Social Inclusion submitted a report (6) on homelessness and housing exclusion in the Member States. The report called for the problem of homelessness to be made an integral part of the Open Method of Coordination in the social domain, and for it to be built on and pursued after 2010.

2.7

On 17 June 2010, the European Council adopted the new Europe 2020 strategy. By 2020, the EU wants to eliminate the danger of poverty and exclusion for at least 20 million people. The European Commission's 2020 proposal includes a European platform for combating poverty in order ‘to define and implement measures addressing the specific circumstances of groups at particular risk such as […] the homeless (7).

2.8

In October 2010, the Committee of the Regions issued an opinion on ‘Combating homelessness’ which argued that the EU needed to work harder to combat this problem. The Committee of the Regions proposes promoting the ETHOS typology at European level, setting up a European agency to coordinate and support the fight against homelessness, promoting prevention measures and involving the regions.

2.9

The 2010 Joint Report by the European Commission and the Council on Social Protection and Social Inclusion (8) calls on the Member States to develop strategies with a focus on prevention, moving towards permanent solutions (subsidised and permanent housing), a ‘housing first’ approach which can be accompanied by additional social services, and improved governance.

2.10

The most important recommendations made in 2010 on homelessness are set out in the conclusions of the Consensus Conference (9) held at the end of the 2010 European Year against Poverty and Social Exclusion, at the initiative of the European Commission and with the support of the Belgian presidency of the EU.

2.11

In 2011, Eurostat (10) published the report on ‘Housing Conditions in Europe in 2009’, pointing out that 30 million people in the EU suffer both lack of space and poor housing conditions.

3.   The right to housing

3.1

Homelessness can constitute a direct violation of human rights as set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (11).

3.2

Article 34 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights states that: ‘(3) In order to combat social exclusion and poverty, the Union recognises and respects the right to social and housing assistance so as to ensure a decent existence for all those who lack sufficient resources […]’.

3.3

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees the right to adequate living conditions which include housing and medical and social care. Article 25(1) states that ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services’.

3.4

Article 31 of the Council of Europe's revised Social Charter (12) states that every citizen has the right to housing, and calls on the parties to ensure that the signatories undertake to promote access to housing of an adequate standard, to prevent and reduce homelessness and to make the price of housing accessible to those without adequate resources.

3.5

The right to housing is enshrined in many national constitutions of the Member States. Adequate housing is a need and a right. The EESC recommends that all Member States should help each and every person who has this right under current national legislation to have access to housing. The EESC calls on the Member States and civil society to monitor this process. The existence of this legal right is a good basis for initiating and developing effective policies to combat homelessness.

4.   Social exclusion and poverty brought about by housing deprivation

4.1

Eurostat (13) has stated that 30 million people in the EU suffer both lack of space and poor housing conditions. In 2009, 6 % of the EU population suffered from severe housing deprivation. 12.2 % of people in the EU live in housing with high running costs compared to their income.

4.2

Homeless people living on the streets are the most visible and extreme form of poverty and exclusion. The problem of homelessness can encompass a range of other circumstances, such as people living in emergency, temporary or transitional accommodation, people living temporarily with family or friends, people who must leave an institution and do not have any form of housing, people threatened with eviction or people with inadequate or insecure accommodation.

4.3

Access to housing of an acceptable standard can be considered a basic human need.

4.4

Housing deprivation is defined by inadequate facilities, with the benchmarks being dwellings with a collapsing roof and without a bath/shower and toilet, or accommodation which is too dark.

4.5

Some Member States which joined the EU after 2004 have indicated that a large part of their population is faced with severe housing deprivation, particularly in Romania, Poland, Bulgaria and the Baltic States (14).

4.6

In many countries, poverty is linked to the high cost of housing: 67 % of Europeans consider that good quality housing is far too expensive. This view is particularly widespread in the Czech Republic and Cyprus (89 %), Luxembourg, Malta (86 %) and Slovakia (84 %).

4.7

One in six Europeans says that it is difficult to cover the daily running costs of housing (15). In the EU, 26 % of people consider that good quality housing is too expensive in our society. It is the fourth reason in EU society which best explains ‘Why are people poor?’.

5.   Definitions of homelessness

5.1

There is no common functional definition at EU level of homelessness; the definition of homelessness varies widely between Member States. Homelessness is a complex and dynamic process, with different routes in and out for different individuals or groups.

5.2

There are different types and target groups of homeless people such as: single men living on the streets; children and teenagers living on the streets; young people who leave orphanages; single mothers living on the streets; people with health problems such as alcoholism or addiction; people with mental or psychiatric problems; elderly people who are homeless; families living on the streets; homeless people from ethnic minorities such as Roma or people with a nomadic lifestyle; immigrants who are homeless; asylum seekers (refugees) who are homeless; second-generation children living on the streets whose parents are homeless.

5.3

FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless) has developed a typology on homelessness and housing exclusion called ETHOS. According to this typology, having a home can be understood as:

—   physical domain: having an adequate dwelling (or space) over which a person and his/her family can exercise exclusive possession;

—   legal domain: having a title (deed) of property;

—   social domain: being able to maintain privacy and enjoying relations.

5.4

This leads to the four main concepts of Rooflessness, Houselessness, Insecure Housing and Inadequate Housing, all of which can be taken to indicate the absence of a home. ETHOS therefore classifies people who are homeless according to their living or ‘home’ situation. These conceptual categories are divided into 13 operational categories that can be used for different policy purposes such as mapping the problem of homelessness, and developing, monitoring and evaluating these policies (16).

6.   Statistics, indices and indicators

6.1

At EU level, there is no single method for collecting data on homeless people from national statistics offices or other official sources of statistics in the EU Member States.

6.2

The ETHOS model with its conceptual categories can be used to produce statistics, to map people who are homeless, to assess recipients' needs and local and organisational resources, and to develop, monitor and assess policies.

6.3

Studies and research into homelessness at EU level are needed to understand its causes and structure, and to plan policies and coordinate and implement strategies. The EESC calls on Eurostat (through the EU-SILC (17) data collection system) and the European programmes which have provided funds for the inclusion of homeless people to present an evaluation covering the last five to ten years and giving an overview of trends in homelessness at EU level.

7.   Vulnerability and risk factors of housing exclusion. Causality

7.1

The causes of homelessness are often complex and interrelated. Such situations are the result of a combination of factors.

7.2

There are different types of vulnerability factors which must be addressed in order to prevent and solve the problem of homelessness:

—   structural: the economy, immigration, citizenship, the housing market;

—   institutional: the main social services, the benefits mechanism, institutional procedures;

—   relationships: family status, situation of relations (for example, divorce);

—   personal: disability, education, addiction, age, situation of immigrants;

—   discrimination and/or lack of legal status: can affect immigrants and certain ethnic minorities such as Roma communities in particular.

8.   Social or emergency services and strategies to promote access to housing

8.1

There is a range of support services for homeless people, both residential and non-residential. Promoting public-private partnerships is a key factor in implementing strategies to promote access to housing. Permanent housing and emergency social and medical services, as well as the promotion of partnerships, are very important in substantially reducing the number of deaths among homeless people, particularly in winter and summer, as in some countries a number of homeless people die on the streets during every very cold or very hot season.

8.2

The EESC recommends disseminating innovative models and guides to good practice at national and European levels, so as to promote innovative and interactive methodologies at those levels, whereby permanent housing and the necessary additional services are the first option. The Open Method of Coordination can be extremely helpful as regards promoting effective policies to integrate homeless people into society.

8.3

The EESC recommends developing various services and promoting minimum standards for all social services for homeless people so that they respond to the full range of needs of homeless people:

direct social action: social and legal assistance in obtaining housing, temporary shelters, social houses and flats, support and care networks and multipurpose centres;

specialised services (homeless people with HIV or special needs, etc.);

counselling, legal advice and vocational and professional training;

business training for homeless people, and social economy;

monitoring and support (community care);

family-oriented, social and cultural campaigns and prevention programmes.

8.4

The EESC suggests implementing integrated strategies which can be used to establish adequate and additional services in every domain corresponding to the panoply of recipients' needs, particularly social housing. With a view to preventing deaths among homeless people, the EESC suggests that it is necessary to promote legislation requiring that at least one counselling centre and one emergency centre be set up for homeless people in every region, geared to the number of people living on the streets. The EESC highlights the importance of finding permanent solutions for integrating disadvantaged people by building shelters and permanent housing and establishing additional social services, particularly with a view to maintaining supportive family relationships (between parents and children, etc.) and as far as possible returning children to their families when the children have been taken from their parents owing to poverty and difficult living conditions.

8.5

The EESC recommends that Member States give priority to developing medium- and long-term prevention strategies.

8.6

Services for homeless people must not be used systematically to make up for the inconsistencies of immigration policies and the lack of specialised services for immigrants.

9.   Specific comments

9.1

Homelessness can lead to human degradation, discrimination based on social position (belonging to a disadvantaged group) and sometimes even death (particularly in very cold or hot periods of the year). The EESC considers that homelessness can constitute a direct violation of human rights as set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (Articles 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 21 and 34) (18), and in the revised European Social Charter and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

9.2

The social integration of homeless people is a complex and difficult process. The EESC calls on the European Commission to develop an ambitious strategy to support the Member States in eradicating the social issue of homelessness by developing effective national strategies. These strategies must focus on common definitions and on causes, actions and impact. The EESC calls on the European Commission to prepare an urgently needed campaign to raise awareness about homelessness. The EESC recommends that European policies and strategies be shaped together with organisations delivering social services, homeless people, public authorities and the scientific and research community.

9.3

The EESC recommends that the European Commission should encourage Member States to allocate specific funds and budgets in the future for financing or co-financing programmes for homeless people (including ESF and ERDF). The EESC believes that ESF and ERDF funding for the period 2014-2020 should be increased and that the approach should be complementary. It also recommends that the Member States should include strategies on homelessness [with reference to Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006] and measures to reduce the harmful effects of the economic crisis on access to housing in their national operational programmes.

9.4

The EESC calls for the promotion of European policies to curb any trend towards speculation in the housing market. The EESC recommends that when analysing European and national social policies, the relationship between the net value of a monthly salary and the price of housing should be monitored. The EESC considers that access to decent housing must be proportionate to the relationship between a month's mortgage repayment or rent plus daily expenses, and the net value of a salary earned by a person living in the EU.

9.5

The EESC points out that the scale of homelessness in some countries is on the rise. A few decades ago homelessness affected mainly adult males, but now this issue has become broader and more acute in many EU Member States: there are increasing numbers of homeless women, there are families living on the streets, there are young people and children who are homeless and living on the streets, there are employees who have lost their homes after being unable to keep up with repayments in the wake of the housing and economic crisis, and there are increasing numbers of homeless immigrants or ethnic communities. Unfortunately homelessness is out of control in some areas, as proven by the fact that there are second-generation children living on the streets whose parents are homeless.

Brussels, 27 October 2011.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Staffan NILSSON


(1)  Revised ESC: the Council of Europe's European Social Charter of 1961; the revised version, as amended by the 1995 protocol, includes the right to housing among basic social rights; only 14 of the 43 states which have subscribed to this charter have ratified it in their national legislation.

(2)  The Finnish model Housing first has shown that there is a EUR 14 000 saving for each recipient of assistance.

(3)  www.2010againstpoverty.eu.

(4)  http://ec.europa.eu/employment_social/social_inclusion/docs/2007/study_homelessness_en.pdf.

(5)  See appendix.

(6)  http://www.peer-review-social-inclusion.eu/network-of-independent-experts/2009/homelessness-and-housing-exclusion.

(7)  http://eurlex.europa.eu/Notice.do?mode=dbl&lang=en&ihmlang=en&lng1=en,fr&lng2=bg,cs,da,de,el,en,es,et,fi,fr,hu,it,lt,lv,mt,nl,pl,pt,ro,sk,sl,sv,&val=509103:cs&page=.

(8)  http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/10/st06/st06500.en10.pdf.

(9)  http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=637&langId=en&eventsId=315&furtherEvents=yes.

(10)  http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/product_details/publication?p_product_code=KS-SF-11-004.

(11)  Article 6 TEU ‘The Union recognises the rights, freedoms and principles set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (…), which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties’.

(12)  http://conventions.coe.int/treaty/en/treaties/html/163.htm.

(13)  http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/product_details/publication?p_product_code=KS-SF-11-004.

(14)  Eurobarometer.

(15)  According to the new Eurobarometer survey on poverty and social exclusion, MEMO/09/480/27.10.2009.

(16)  The ETHOS typology is appended to the report. Also see http://www.feantsa.org/files/freshstart/Toolkits/Ethos/Leaflet/EN.pdf.

(17)  http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/microdata/eu_silc.

(18)  European Union, 2010/ISBN 979-92-824-2588-6; / p. 391-403. See also point 3.2 of the opinion.


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