In his book “Down and Out in Paris and London”(published 1933), George Orwell sketched a documentary picture of itinerant homelessness where the underlying causes and effects, many might argue, are little changed some 80 years on. In the URBACT Tribune Heidrun Feigelfeld returned to a feature of this theme in her article “Lost Job – Lost Home / Lost Home – Lost Job”. The economic, and therefore social crisis is surely aggravating the situation on the ground. However despite concerted and valuable (sometimes cynical – hosing down pavements in London to prevent rough sleepers) national and local, even transnational efforts, the most honest assessment is that this problem has never truly left us. Our attention is perhaps most focused on the scale and gravity of the situation as we pass through our busy city railway stations.
Yesterday with support of the EU PROGRESS programme (social innovation), the countries of Luxembourg, Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Poland and France, together with the respective railway companies, launched a trans-national project to improve the conditions and accompaniment of homeless people in EU stations. A team has been assembled to exchange international expertise and experience to address the social component as well as management issues, where traditionally railway authorities have in the past only intervened in attempting to contain or displace the problem. The European Commission allocates 350,000€ to the project with each of the involved member states contributing 260,000€.
Follow this on the FEANTSA website where there is also information on reports from recent university studies from Liège and Antwerp which suggest that the demographic profile of homeless people is changing. The term “Homeless” is becoming more and more associated with young people, people with mental or physical problems and including whole families with children as well as single females.
If indeed the shortage of affordable housing and inadequately low incomes are at the source of the problem, it will be interesting to see if such an initiative can indeed engender a more compassionate and inclusive response to at least one specific manifestation of the impact. Read also “Homelessness and Exclusion: Regulating public space in European Cities”, J. Doherty et al, 2008 – where examination of the words regulation, discipline and deterrence remind us of the other side of the coin in dealing with this issue.
URBACT Thematic Pole Manager