1. What is homelessness?
Whilst there is no universally accepted definition of homelessness, FEANTSA advocates for a broad understanding which encompasses rooflessness, houselessness and inadequate and insecure housing.
FEANTSA has developed ETHOS, the European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion, in order to provide a common framework through which to discuss homelessness. It attempts to cover all living situations which amount to homelessness or housing exclusion:
- Rooflessness (people living rough and people in emergency accommodation);
- Houselessness (people in accommodation for the homeless, in women’s shelters, in accommodation for migrants, people due to be released from institutions and people receiving long-term support due to homelessness);
- Living in insecure housing (people living in insecure tenancies, under threat of eviction or violence);
- Living in inadequate housing (living in unfit housing, non-conventional dwellings or in situations of extreme overcrowding).
ETHOS has been translated into most EU languages and is being used and accepted by more and more governments, researchers and organisations throughout Europe.
Find out more: Read more about ETHOS
2. How many people are homeless in the European Union?
Whilst there is a lack of comparable and reliable data in Europe, estimates show that there could be as many as 700,000 homeless people on any given night in the European Union. This implies that about 4.1 million people in the EU are exposed to this kind of homelessness each year for a shorter or longer period.
There is ample evidence that homelessness is currently increasing in most countries in Europe. FEANTSA publishes annual reports on housing exclusion and homelessness in Europe with the Fondation Abbé Pierre. Research by the European Observatory on Homelessness on 15 EU Member States (the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom) found increases in the number of homeless people in all countries except Finland, where the figure fell. This is supported by a 2019 European Commission study which found that 24 out of 28 MS reported rising homelessness
based on national statistics.
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3. Who experiences homelessness in Europe?
There is no “type” of person that experiences homelessness. While the predominant users of services for homeless people are middle-aged, single men, there are a growing proportion of women, families, migrants and young people becoming homeless.
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4. What impact does homelessness have on individuals and society?
Experiences of homelessness are varied and this means that homelessness can have different effects on the individuals and households who experience it. Homelessness violates fundamental rights. It can have profoundly negative consequences for individuals, as well as for society – thus reducing productive potential and wasting human capital. Even a brief experience of homelessness can impact negatively on physical and mental health, employability, social inclusion and participation in society. Longer-term, homeless people have a significantly lower life expectancy, with many dying in their forties. The financial and other costs to society of not addressing homelessness have been shown to be significant, and in some cases even to outweigh the costs of sustainable solutions.
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5. Why do people become homeless?
There are multiple pathways into homelessness. A complex interplay of structural, institutional, relationship and personal factors often contribute to someone becoming homeless. These factors are often coupled with a specific trigger event, which directly leads someone to an episode of homelessness.
Examples of structural factors include poverty, shortage of affordable housing and lack of adequate social protection; whilst institutional factors include ineffective homelessness policies (see below for good practices to end homelessness) and discharge processes from institutions such as prison, hospital or foster care. Conflict in a relationship, domestic abuse, separation and bereavements are all examples of relationship factors which can lead to homelessness. Finally, personal characteristics such as mental health problems, addiction, long-term illness, disability and low educational attainment can influence who will be more vulnerable to homelessness.
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6. What good practices exist to fight homelessness?
There is no ‘one size fits all’ policy to address homelessness. However, there is a growing evidence base about what has worked to tackle homelessness in different contexts. FEANTSA believes that policies should strive to end homelessness, as opposed to “managing” it. This requires a shift away from the current situation in most countries, where temporary accommodation is the predominant response to homelessness. It means ensuring access to adequate housing, relevant support services and investing in prevention. To this end, FEANTSA has developed a handbook on ending homelessness.
The UN and EU have asked states to develop integrated strategies to tackle homelessness. Examples of countries with ambitious and impactful strategies currently include Denmark, Ireland and Finland. FEANTSA has produced a 10 point toolkit for developing an integrated strategy to address homelessness.
The right to adequate housing should be the starting point for addressing homelessness. Policies should thus be housing-led, which means having a strong focus on preventing people from losing their homes, and helping them to access adequate housing quickly if this happens.
One example of a housing-led response to homelessness is Housing First. Housing First is widely recognised as an evidence-based practice. It has achieved unprecedented success in ending homelessness amongst people with complex needs related to mental and physical health problems and addiction. It involves providing fast access to housing with very few conditions, alongside an intensive, person-centred support package. FEANTSA is supporting the scaling up of Housing First in Europe through the Housing First Europe Hub and the Housing First Guide.
One of the most ineffective and unhelpful ways to address homelessness is through punitive and criminalizing responses. Unfortunately, this is a growing trend. Making it illegal to sleep, sit or store personal belongings in public spaces; banning begging; public health ordinances related to public activities and hygiene (e.g. public urination), regardless of whether public facilities are available; serve to further exclude homeless people. Homelessness is not being explicitly criminalized in most of Europe, but changes in social policy, policing, and controlling of public order and safety are making it more and more difficult for people experiencing homelessness in many contexts.
7. Useful resources
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