Why do we need a campaign on homelessness at EU level?

Freek 1 Guest editor: Freek Spinnewijn, FEANTSA Director

Why do we need a campaign on homelessness at EU level? Although EU member states hold the main responsibility for preventing and reducing homelessness, we should not neglect the potential for EU policy to help member states in their work. With rising levels of homelessness across much of Europe, there is a need for policymakers to act on homelessness with equity and compassion, and therefore FEANTSA has titled its campaign Be Fair, Europe – Stand up for Homeless People.

This is not an abstract declaration about the need for change, there are concrete actions that European institutions can take that really will make a difference to the lives of homeless people. FEANTSA has created a list of five actions that would have an impact in the real world. These are:

  1. Making more effective use of existing policy instruments
  2. Supporting homeless people in all relevant sectoral policies
  3. Monitoring homelessness and benchmarking progress at Member State level
  4. Defending the rights of homeless people
  5. Investing EU funds in ending homelessness

To find out what these mean in practice, see FEANTSA’s campaign manifesto.

Now there is a golden opportunity to act, with the advent of the UN 2030 Agenda, a commitment to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development worldwide, and at its heart is a pledge to leave no-one behind. This needs to mean delivering for everyone, making special efforts to reach the poorest and most vulnerable. We cannot look forward to a future without poverty when hundreds of thousands of people within the EU face homelessness every day.

When it comes to turning the commitments of the agenda into improvements felt by the European public, the EU has a huge role to play, in the same way it had in shaping the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The European Commission has said that it wants to make the SDGs and sustainability a guiding principle in its work, and preventing and tackling homelessness must be central to the EU’s response to the sustainability challenge.

Of the 17 SDGs, homelessness is particularly relevant to the following three goals, the achievement of which is simply not possible without decisive action to end homelessness.

The first is SDG1 – Eradicating poverty in all its forms – which, as the title suggests, is unquestionably linked with fight against homelessness. Extreme poverty is often treated as a non-issue in the EU, despite it being a clear reality, manifest in persistent and increasing homelessness. Whilst the global definition of $1.90 a day is not appropriate in this context, it would be misleading and wrong for the EU to focus exclusively on relative poverty, which is what the “at risk of poverty indicator” predominantly captures. This is especially true in a context of dramatic increases in homelessness in many member states, a trend that is often at odds with evolutions in relative poverty.

The second is SDG3 – Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages. Housing is a social determinant of health and homelessness is associated with ill-health and dramatically lower-than-average life expectancy.

Finally, SDG11 – Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. This goal includes providing safe, adequate housing for all. By definition this includes preventing and addressing homelessness.

Four points need to be addressed in order to meet the goals and stop leaving homeless people behind.

Firstly, member states need to develop homelessness strategies and the EU should monitor and support their progress. Homelessness should also be maintained and strengthened as a thematic priority in the EU’s social policy field, especially under the Social Rights Pillar, the European Semester, the Social Open Method of Coordination and of course, the new EU Urban Agenda, which will be a particularly important framework for addressing sustainability challenges. Initiatives such as the Skills Agenda, the Migration Agenda, the Youth Guarantee, the Disability Strategy and so on all need to specifically target homeless people. If these things aren’t done, the EU and its member states will continue to leave people behind.

Secondly, the Europe 2020 Strategy’s poverty target has failed to fully engage with the reality of extreme poverty in the EU. It’s vital that in its next ten-year plan, the EU addresses this gap. To do so, the Commission and member states should commit to ending the scandal of homelessness in the post-2020 era. This should start with a commitment to ensuring that no one need sleep rough by 2030.

Furthermore, to truly ensure no one is left behind, homeless people need to be viewed as key stakeholders by the European Commission. The Commission plans to launch a multi-stakeholder platform on the 2030 Agenda. This platform must actively reach out to include those that are currently left behind, such as the homeless. If only broader sustainability perspectives are focused on, the most vulnerable will continue to be left out.

Finally, in order to truly know where the EU and member states stand in relation to the implementation of the SDGs, indicators on homelessness and housing exclusion must be part of the Commission’s reporting of the EU’s progress towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Worryingly, Eurostat’s first overview of where the EU and member states currently stand has left homelessness and extreme poverty completely out of the picture. From 2017 onwards, the Commission will carry out more detailed regular monitoring, developing a reference indicator framework for the SDGs. As a matter of urgency, Eurostat and other Commission services need to develop a strategy for measuring extreme poverty and housing exclusion. The Sustainable Development Goals are a historic opportunity for individual member states and the EU as a whole to take positive action to prevent and tackle homelessness.

Be fair, Europe. Stand up for homeless people.