Guest editor: Robbie Stakelum, FEANTSA Policy Officer
In Europe we are confronted with rising homelessness in all EU countries, with the exception of Finland. This increase has occurred despite the political consensus that in 21st century Europe no one should be forced to sleep rough or in an emergency shelter. The Be Fair Europe – Stand Up for Homeless People campaign is asking all stakeholders, including European cities, to consider their position in combatting and ending homelessness.
The momentum to do more at local level is growing. Cities across Europe are no longer accepting the status quo of increasing homelessness and are finding innovative ways of doing more. For example, Barcelona was the first city to sign FEANTSA and Housing Rights Watch’s Homeless Bill of Rights, which provides a template for cities to consider the rights of people who are homeless, the Mayor of London has committed to supporting rough sleepers while the EU Urban Poverty Partnership, comprising 7 cities, 2 regions and 5 ministries from 10 EU countries, has called for an end to homelessness by 2030.
The difficulty for cities lies in making the shift from ‘managing’ to ‘ending’ homelessness. The ‘Shift’, as it is known, is being championed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, and requires a re-think of how to design and implement strategies to combat homelessness. Relying solely on emergency shelter is no longer adequate, as evidenced by the growing numbers of homelessness across Europe.
The City of Helsinki provides an excellent framework for any city committed to reducing and ending homelessness. In February 2018, the Housing First Europe Hub, a joint venture between FEANTSA and the Y-Foundation, with 20 members comprising cities, NGOs and ministries pioneering Housing First across Europe, held an expert seminar in Helsinki with cities.
The cities expert seminar profiled the inspirational work of the Y-Foundation and the City of Helsinki in combatting homelessness by using Housing First. Finland is the only EU country where homelessness is decreasing, and indeed has fallen steadily over a number of years. The key to the Finnish model is Housing First. The Y-Foundation has mainstreamed a simple idea: by providing housing as a first step, along with wrap-around supports, we can end homelessness. The results speak for themselves.
Over the Hub’s two-day seminar in Helsinki, officials from cities across Europe had the chance to visit Housing First apartments and see first-hand how the lives of people who had experienced homelessness had been transformed. Cities had the chance to sit down and learn from experts and leaders on Housing First, how the approach became a mainstream policy in Finland. This wasn’t just a class on the theory of Housing First, but it was about practice and how to tackle key obstacles cities typically face in implementing Housing First, such as boosting the available housing stock, finding funding resources and balancing the shift from emergency shelter to housing with wrap-around supports.
For me three things became clear over the course of the seminar:
- Cities are facing similar challenges across Europe. The contexts may change with the availability of housing and existing welfare models, but in general, cities face similar resistance in pushing the ‘shift’ from managing to ending homelessness.
- Cities are motivated. Cities are crucial to ending homelessness. Policies that contribute to homelessness, whether decided at regional, national or international level are borne out in our cities. Homelessness is pre-dominantly an urban issue and the buy-in and support of our cities is critical. We need to capitalise on the motivation of cities
- Cities are isolated. There is a whole suite of resources and knowledge available to cities interested in reducing and ending homelessness going beyond Housing First, but many aren’t aware. Indeed, many don’t have a European or even a national network to turn to for support or inspiration.
When we know that cities face similar challenges and are deeply motivated to combat and end homelessness we need to find ways to help them work together.
With all this in mind FEANTSA is establishing a Cities Bulletin. The FEANTSA Cities Bulletin will give you and your city insights about what’s happening on homelessness at the local level from across Europe, provide interesting practices, innovations and case studies in combatting homelessness and updates on events that will be of interest to cities.
To learn more about the FEANTSA Cities Bulletin and to subscribe, you can contact Robbie.email@example.com
To learn more about the Housing First Europe Hub you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org