‘Housing first’ for Belgium’s homeless

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The project ‘Housing First’ comes from the United States, where the authorities calculated that the cost of a night in a home is much less than in a hospital or in prison.

Maggie De Block, Secretary of State for the Fight Against Poverty, wants to provide shelter for the homeless, as a first step in their reintegration into society. Currently, a lease is often given only when the tenant has a job, creating a vicious circle. The homeless will pay their own rent, though in practice the money comes from integration funding. In addition, members of staff from the organization simplify their return to the labour market and help to create a social network.

“The basic principle is their unconditional right to have a roof over their heads,” said Maggie De Block. “Even if you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict. In other words, there is no precondition applied to the provision of housing.”

Homeless people taking part in this pilot project, around a hundred to begin with, will not be forced to undergo therapy. They will be accompanied by a management team. A budget of 860,000 euros has been released from the National Lottery funds for this year and next year. “But I hope that the project can be sustained then,” says Koens Geens, minister responsible for the National Lottery.

The target group of this initiative consists of homeless people who have been living on the street for a long time and are faced with various problems, such as addiction and mental health issues. They will sign the lease themselves and must also take care of paying the rent. In Ghent and Antwerp, social housing will be used. In Brussels, Charleroi and Liege, they will also use private homes.

Photos: Homeless man, Joshua Sherurcij

Homeless ‘cave’, Max Ronnersjö