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At least 895,000 people are homeless in Europe as unfit housing conditions persist, new report says

At least 895,000 people are estimated to be homeless in Europe, according to a new report.
At least 895,000 people are estimated to be homeless in Europe, according to a new report. Copyright Francisco Seco/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Francisco Seco/Copyright 2020 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Isabel Marques da Silva
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At least 895,000 people in Europe were homeless last year, a new report has found, shedding light on a trend made worse by Russia's war on Ukraine.

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Germany registered 84,500 rough sleepers in 2022 while Spain recorded more than 28,500.

The findings were compiled by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA) and the Fondation Abbé Pierre in their new report titled "Poor Housing in Europe," released on Tuesday.

The study raises the alarm about how unfit housing conditions, such as overcrowding, mould, dampness, exposure to pollution and poor sanitation, affect the poorest segments of the population, exacerbating poverty and perpetuating social exclusion.

"Every night in Europe, a population comparable to that of a city like Marseille or Turin is homeless," the organisations said in a joint editorial. "Turning the tide will require unprecedented political efforts and bold structural measures."

The lack of comprehensive data collected through a common methodology makes it difficult to get an accurate picture of homelessness in the European Union, the organisations warn. Their estimate of 895,000 homeless people was obtained using data made available by national and local authorities.

"It is an increase of 30% compared to the last time that we did this estimate in 2018, and in the 10 years leading up to that it had already increased by 70%. So this is a structurally growing problem in the European Union," Ruth Owen, FEANTSA's deputy director, told Euronews in an interview.

The report gives a few snapshots of some of the main cities in Europe. Barcelona, in Spain, registered 1,063 rough sleepers in 2022, representing a 19% increase in just one year. In the French capital, Paris, 69% of the city's 2,598 homeless people have been living in that condition for more than one year.

Homelessness does not exclusively define people who lack a regular place to sleep but also those who are forced to resort to emergency accommodation. An example of worsening conditions was seen in Dublin, Ireland, where 8,376 people lived in such public services – a 31% increase rate in one year.

The deteriorating situation across the continent is being blamed on Russia's decision to attempt a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and its multiple ripple effects, which include record-breaking energy prices and persistently high inflation.

The economic repercussions, Owen explained, was felt by both homeless people and the social services that assist them on a daily basis.

"The fact that the cost-of-living crisis, that inflation was concentrated on essential things, like energy and food, meant that the poorest households were hit the hardest," Owen said. "Also, the services working to help homeless people were very strongly hit by inflation, and especially by the increase in energy prices".

A new platform's promises

Homelessness is a problem that precedes the Kremlin's revisionist war and has become deeply entrenched in the majority of European countries, which, despite being among the world's wealthiest, are unable to effectively tackle the problem.

Upon the initiative of Portugal's socialist government, the European Union created the European Platform on Combating Homelessness in June 2021 with the goal of eradicating the phenomenon by 2030. The platform has put in place a working group to mobilise funds provided by the European Commission and the Council of Europe and support policy programmes for social inclusivity.

Owen believes the platform helped make homelessness a social policy priority at the EU level but that concrete results are yet to materialise.

"We need to see the European Union turn this new platform, which is a great new step, into a real forum for progress, working on things like better data on homelessness and mobilising EU funding to tackle homelessness," Owen said.

"A lot can be achieved in terms of policy exchange and learning what works from countries that have been more successful in tackling homelessness."

Things are moving slowly, though.

According to the report, only three of 27 EU member states have made tangible progress in tackling homelessness and achieved a "slight drop" in the number of rough sleepers: Finland, Denmark and Austria.

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These countries apply a so-called "Housing First" strategy, which consists of providing housing as a first step before supporting with access to health and education services.

Next year, the European Platform on Combating Homelessness, currently chaired by former Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, is set to launch a series of activities in several cities across Europe to improve the quality of research, including a pilot project for counting homeless people based on a common methodology.

Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, will also start collecting data.

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