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The number of homeless people in Western Europe is at its highest level in 50 years, with homelessness levels not seen since the end of World War II…
  • according to the European Observatory on Homelessness (2003), some 3 million people have no fixed home of their own, while a further 15 million people live in sub-standard or overcrowded accommodation. These 18 million individuals represent 5% of the total population and they include considerable numbers of women and young people;

  • despite data limitations, the latest available evidence on homelessness across Europe demonstrates a complex picture in relation to the level, trends and nature of the phenomenon. The highest recorded rates of homeless people accepting services and people sleeping rough in Western Europe are found in Germany, France and the UK, where between 4 and 12 per thousand of the population is estimated to be homeless. All other countries in the region have homelessness rates of less than 2 per thousand;

  • however, examination of the numbers of people threatened with homelessness (e.g. evictions, people about to be released from institutions, people living in temporary accommodation) suggests increasing levels of vulnerability to housing exclusion in almost all countries. This growth appears to be particularly marked in Mediterranean and Anglo-Saxon Europe. Significant decreases are reported in Germany;

  • the increasing demographic complexity and diversity of vulnerability across Europe (measured by the profile of homeless service users) reflects changing demographic structures (e.g. increase in single person households, changing role of the family) that are not adequately matched by changes in housing provision and social protection. The increase in immigration that has occurred in all EU states appears to be reflected both in a ‘new homelessness’ and in an increasing vulnerability to exclusion among second generation immigrants;

  • finally, the evidence suggests a changing geography of homelessness, that affects both rural areas and growth regions, reflecting a changing dynamic in labour market and housing market interaction and a landscape of service provision that has evolved over time and does not adequately match existing need. Homelessness is mainly perceived to be an urban problem often a concentrated in the capital or metropolitan cities. However, there is also a rural dimension of the issue. In Portugal, the major homelessness agency (AMI) reports an increase in new cases in regional centres and a decrease in the main cities. Recent research has indicated that the risk of poverty and social exclusion is greater in villages and small towns in Austria (Wiesinger, 2000).

  • The majority of households affected by homelessness in most countries are single person households rather than single parents or families with children. In the United Kingdom, for example, 62% of applications to local authorities under homeless legislation are from single persons. In Austria 75% of the (4,144) households using homeless services in Vienna were single people;

  • in the majority of countries for which figures are available the proportion of homelessness among families with children has remained static in recent years. However, some countries such as Italy and Ireland have reported an increase in homelessness among families; and in Austria the reported increase in evictions (over 45,000 in 2002) suggests an increase in the threat of homelessness for families with children;

  • single homelessness remains predominantly a male phenomenon both in relation to rough sleeping and in relation to service use. Homelessness among women is often a hidden problem and hence the true scale is difficult to estimate accurately. However, as a very rough guide around 1/5 to 1/4 of users of homeless services and around 7%-10% of street homeless are women;

  • some countries report an increase in homelessness among women. In Belgium, for example, a recent survey indicates that women represent 1/3 of homeless service users compared to less than 1/5 twenty years ago. This increase could, in part, be attributed to an increasing visibility of homelessness arising from domestic abuse. However, in a number of countries (e.g. Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands) refuge services for women experiencing domestic abuse are counted separately from homeless statistics;

  • quantitative information on age is available in only a few countries. Data from Finland (17%), France (17%), Italy (16%), Spain (20%) and Germany (22%) indicates that around 1/5 of homeless people are aged under 25 (under 27 in Italy). However, some differences between countries may be explained by the nature and purpose of service provision;

  • the pattern across Europe, in relation to foreign-born nationals and ethnic minorities using homeless services, is quite complex due to different immigration rates, asylum procedures, and proportion of repatriates (Germany, for instance, estimated 80,000 Aussiedler repatriates in 2002); In broad terms, the proportion of foreign-born nationals, both among the street homeless and among those using homeless services, is increasing to the point that in some countries they form a majority. A good, if extreme, illustration of this trend is to be found in Italy where a survey of service providers shows that 43% reported that more than 50% their service users were foreign born;

  • the proportion of non-national or non-EU citizens among service users is highest in the larger cities in each country. In the Netherlands, for example, the national monitor on homelessness showed that only 59% of homeless respondents had a Dutch nationality but that this proportion decreased in the larger cities - Amsterdam (41%), Rotterdam (46%) and the Hague (48%);

  • a number of countries, including the UK, Finland and Ireland, have introduced policies specifically targeted to reduce the levels of rough sleeping and there is evidence of some limited success in this respect. In the UK, for example, stock based estimates of the number of people sleeping rough in England have shown a year on year decrease since 1998 (from 1,850 in 1998 to 700 in 2001). However, in some countries the level of rough sleeping appears to continue to increase; in Italy for example rough sleeping increased by 25% in Bologna since 1995 and increased tenfold in Rome during the last decade;
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