Almost 1m people across Europe are homeless
The Ongoing Crisis of Homelessness in Europe
Across Europe, homelessness remains a persistent and growing crisis. A new report from the Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (Feantsa) reveals the scale of the problem, with nearly 1 million Europeans homeless each night. This staggering figure highlights the urgent need for comprehensive solutions centered on housing as a fundamental human right.
The Shocking Scale of European Homelessness
Feantsa estimates that at least 895,000 individuals experience homelessness across Europe per night. This minimum estimate reflects only the most visible forms of homelessness, including rough sleepers, those in shelters, and people staying temporarily with others due to lack of housing. It does not account for those living long-term with friends or relatives or in dangerously substandard housing.
The data encompasses official census records, local authority figures, and surveys. While exact numbers remain elusive, it is clear homelessness affects a population comparable to major European cities like Marseille or Turin.
Director Freek Spinnewijn lamented that most European governments continue to fail the homeless by simply managing the problem rather than solving it through systematic changes. Even as homelessness persists, the EU has pledged to work toward its abolition by 2030. So far, only Denmark and Finland have made demonstrable progress.
Categories and Causes of Homelessness
Homelessness takes diverse forms across Europe. The Feantsa report focuses on six primary categories:
– Rough sleepers – People sleeping outside or in public spaces without shelter. This group faces urgent health risks.
– Users of emergency/temporary accommodation – Individuals staying in shelters, hostels, or other short-term housing arrangements.
– People living in institutions – Those residing long-term in facilities like hospitals with no permanent housing arranged post-discharge.
– People living in non-conventional dwellings – Squatters and those taking up residence in sheds, garages, or mobile homes unfit for habitation.
– Homeless people living temporarily with family/friends – Individuals without a permanent living situation staying with others.
– People living under threat of eviction – Families or individuals at immediate risk of losing housing with no alternatives lined up.
The causes behind these categories vary based on local context but include poverty, unemployment, mental illness, family breakdowns, gentrification, lack of affordable housing, migration, and inequality. Housing costs have hit crisis levels in many European nations, displacing even working families.
While homelessness results from multiple factors, the lack of affordable, adequate housing remains the overarching issue. With housing treated as a commodity rather than necessity, vulnerable populations continue falling through the cracks.
Country-By-Country Data and Trends
The scale and nature of homelessness differ across European nations. According to 2020 data:
– Germany tallied over 260,000 homeless residents based on census records. Shelters are strictly temporary, pushing many onto the streets.
– Denmark saw a 10% reduction in homelessness from 2019-2022 thanks to supported housing programs. Their “housing first” model focuses on eliminating homelessness.
– Spain’s government reported over 28,500 homeless people, while civil groups estimate much higher figures in the hundreds of thousands.
– Ireland saw a 40% increase in emergency housing applicants from 2020 to 2022 as the lack of affordable housing reaches crisis proportions.
– In Bulgaria, one in eight households lack indoor plumbing. Substandard accommodation affects lower income families across eastern Europe.
– Close to 20% of housing in France is considered unfit for habitation due to disrepair, overcrowding, and lack of utilities.
While data remains spotty, the report makes clear homelessness is worsening in most European nations while only Finland and Denmark make measurable progress. Free market housing policies have failed to adequately address affordability and accessibility. For countries like Ireland with severe shortages of affordable housing, the report calls upon leaders to fix dysfunctional housing systems.
Health and Social Impacts of Homelessness
Beyond the basic violation of human dignity, homelessness takes major physical and emotional tolls. Without stable shelter, individuals face increased risks of trauma, exposure, malnutrition, epidemics, and violence. Mental illness, addiction, and chronic disease flow directly from unstable living conditions.
For children, homelessness can permanently damage education, relationships, and development. Constant stress compounds psychological problems over time. Entire generations raised in poverty, instability, and deprivation are denied equal opportunities in life before even reaching adulthood.
On a societal level, homelessness strains public resources for emergency services and shelters. Lack of housing leads to unemployment, addiction, incarceration and greater reliance on government assistance. Investing in affordable, stable housing for all would relieve these burdens while creating healthier, more just communities.
Steps Toward Ending Homelessness
While homelessness persists across most of Europe, Demark’s model proves solutions exist. Their success stems from viewing housing as a basic human need rather than just an economic matter. Key steps European nations can take include:
– Shift to a “housing first” philosophy making permanent housing the central goal rather than temporary shelters.
– Construct quality public housing available based on need, not ability to pay. Prioritize affordable options for seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, and low-income families.
– Strengthen tenant rights and eviction protections to increase housing stability. Institute rent controls.
– Enact zoning policies discouraging gentrification and displacement from urban neighborhoods.
– Fully fund and expand emergency shelters, outreach programs, and transitional housing to address short-term needs.
– Increase public assistance to cover housing costs and basic needs for those unable to work.
– Invest in accessible physical and mental healthcare to provide critical support to the homeless population.
– Collect comprehensive data on all facets of homelessness for better-informed policies.
With vision and commitment, Europe can transition away from merely containing homelessness to actively abolishing it. But it will require challenging engrained economic and social structures. Only by guaranteeing housing as a basic right, prioritizing people over profits, can these nations live up to their humanitarian ideals. There is no quick fix, but following Denmark’s model of expanded public programs centered on providing permanent housing offers hope for ending homelessness in Europe once and for all.
The situation in the UK
New research from Shelter shows at least 271,000 people are recorded as homeless in England, including 123,000 children.
Shelter’s detailed analysis of official homelessness figures and responses to a Freedom of Information request shows that one in 208 people in England are without a home. Of these, 2,400 people are sleeping rough on any given night, 15,000 people are in hostels or supported accommodation and nearly 250,000 are living in temporary accommodation – most of whom are families.
The number of people living in temporary accommodation has risen by an alarming 74% in the last 10 years – something the charity argues is driven by the chronic shortage of social homes, and an over-reliance on grossly expensive and unstable private renting.
More than two-thirds of families (68%) living in temporary accommodation have been there for over a year, showing this type of accommodation is becoming less and less “temporary” as families cannot escape homelessness due to the severe lack of affordable homes. This is a situation made even worse by the three-year freeze on housing benefit, and cost of living crisis.