Why is access to adequate housing and eradicating homelessness currently one of the most crucial urban challenges in Europe?
Housing is a fundamental and basic human need. Those without a home are more likely to face reduced life expectancy, health problems, discrimination, isolation and barriers to access to basic public services and benefits. Unfortunately, homelessness levels have risen in most parts of Europe during the last decade. It is believed that the financial crisis of 2008-2009 has aggravated the situation.
At the same time, the profile of homeless people is also diversifying, with more young people and children, migrants, Roma and other disadvantaged minorities, women and families increasingly at risk. Together with those that lack access to affordable and/or adequate housing, they represent a growing group of people vulnerable to severe poverty and exclusion. Moreover, if the challenge of tackling homeless (and access to affordable and safe housing) is not met, high social costs are expected.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected homelessness?
First of all, the pandemic has put a spotlight on homelessness. The implementation of “stay at home” orders immediately made it clear that there are people who have no place to go to. The situation also stressed the inequalities in living conditions, with some families cramped in small unsafe apartments without access to (private) outdoor spaces.
One effect of the pandemic that we as JRC assume and investigate, is that the increased visibility of the homelessness population, paired with the need to provide emergency shelter, has improved information about the number of people living on the streets – including their profiles. In general, this is a difficult estimate to make.
The same assumption goes for the provision of COVID-19 vaccinations, which could serve as a way of estimating the homelessness population of a given territory in a structured manner.
Therefore, in terms of data availability, we expect the pandemic to have strengthened this, although of course, there are still many limitations to tackle. Anyway, the main benefit of having more data is that it lays the foundation for the design and implementation of better policies.