Last week, the consultation commission on the "sustainable solution to the situation of homeless people in the Brussels Capital Region" published its recommendations. The 97 recommendations* of the commission are certainly too numerous, a bit unbalanced and sometimes unnecessary, perhaps a childhood disease of this process. However, the direction they take is clear and in line with the suggestions of the sector: access to housing, prevention, access to rights, administrative simplification, etc. All things that we as Street Nurses, together with other organisations, have been pushing forward for a long time.
It was the second theme to be discussed by such a committee, which consists of citizens (the majority) appointed by lot and members of parliament. Assisted by experts, they debate at length before making recommendations. The exercise is refreshing from a democratic point of view and is in line with the current demand for more citizen participation.
The theme was chosen in response to a petition supported by more than 1,000 citizens. This is a good indication of the importance that Brussels society attaches to the issue of homelessness.
Homelessness is still easily dismissed as a matter of fate ("there have always been homeless people and there always will be") and as an individual coincidence. However, there is a growing awareness that the problem is the result of political choices and policies that have been pursued for decades. That is why we, as Street Nurses, have long been calling for an end to homelessness and for the creation of a system that prevents all citizens from becoming homeless.
Especially now, in the context of a pandemic and the recent floods, everyone is even more aware of the fragility of their situation and experiences the need for solidarity for a cohesive and more resilient society.
Four of the 97 recommendations seem particularly important to us and would be best put into practice as soon as possible:
- With regard to housing, Recommendation 32 calls for "granting preferential rights on waiting lists for social housing to the homeless (...)". Like women who are victims of domestic violence, homeless people should be eligible for social housing quotas. Those without a roof are given priority, which seems obvious to us in order to put an end to acute homelessness quickly.
- As for prevention for people at high risk of homelessness, recommendation 63 calls for the strengthening of "effective facilities to support the reintegration of ex-prisoners". Reintegration requires housing and housing should be an integral part of reintegration.
- Regarding access to rights, Recommendation 68 suggests "individualising social rights by eliminating the effects of cohabitation on the amounts received, in particular by recognising co-tenancy". Solidarity between people in precarious situations could thus contribute much more to a solution.
- As for administrative complexity, several recommendations call for homogenisation of rules and procedures throughout the region and for local access to information on rights. A recommendation we fully endorse, since administrative complexity significantly hampers the ability to find solutions quickly.
If this democratic exercise is not to remain a catalogue of good intentions, it must also be followed up. The Consultative Commission process provides for a follow-up of the recommendations after six months of adoption, an opportunity to take stock of concrete progress made on them.
We hope that our policymakers will start doing this soon.
*All of the committee's recommendations can be found here: http://www.weblex.irisnet.be/data/arccc/doc/2020-21/107846/images.pdf
Illustration: Pierre Lecrenier