EU funds should target housing needs to end homelessness says Italian fio.PSD president Avonto

Rome 12 October 2019 – “The EU needs to change its policies towards homelessness allocating existing funds on housing and long term solutions leading people sleeping rough or in temporary accommodations to exit their condition of poverty”.

Cristina Avonto, president of fio.PSD ,  Italian Federation of Organizations for homeless people, explains us how EU funds need to address structural long term needs as a priority to tackle growing homelessness.

In Italy people sleeping rough or in temporary shelters are over 50.000 (figures 2015) Trend: growing.

“We carried out with the Italian Institute of National Statistics – ISTAT – the Ministry for Social Policies and Caritas, a national census of homeless which counted over 50.000 people. Italy has been the only EU country to do this so far. But this is from 2015 so we are scheduling the upgrade”. The figures counted those living on the streets or in the night shelter services.

Meanwhile a fio.PSD recent study “shows an ongoing trend of growing numbers of homeless people increasingly diversified: while in the previous statistics (2013 and 2015) rough sleepers were mostly the same individuals, this meant to us that emergency policies keeping rough sleepers in dormitories or railway stations, results into the chronicity of their condition. Today we are instead trying to apply policies leading people to exit homelessness like the ‘housing first’ funded by the Ministry for Social Policies, providing permanent accommodation, not in temporary shelters, where homeless can re-start their lives and integrate into the society”.

As member of FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless) and part of its directive, on 15th and 16th October fio.PSD’s president Avonto and other representatives are meeting the cross-party group on poverty in Brussels in connection to the conference ‘The reality of poverty in Europe’ organised by European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN), calling MEPs to put in place effective policies to tackle the issue: in EU 113 mln people live in condition of poverty included those who are at risk of poverty and social exclusion while over 700.000 are sleeping roughly or permanently long term homeless. 

Ahead of the conference fio.PSD will talk with “the Italian MEPs Pierfrancesco Majorino who gave us big support in the past when he was former welfare councillor in Milan, Brando Benifei, Patrizia Toja, Pietro Bartolo”.

“The core of the topic to face today is that EU Parliament and Commission see poverty exclusively in connections to the need of satisfaction of basic consumable goods”.

“In the previous legislature EU destined many funds to food and clothes. People do not need this, they need support for their social re-integration – explains Cristina Avonto – We need to free these funds from their allocation to the satisfaction of basic consumable goods; we live in a world of circular economy where these are recyclable: let’s use this and instead let’s use the funds to hit the main target of housing to save people from this inhuman conditions.”

Building new houses?

For Avonto this is not the way forward: “I oppose the exploitation of areas just for building, while boroughs fall into decay and are depopulating when could instead become vibrant centres for community building”.

Rome and Milan the Italian capitals of homelessness

“Rome and Milan are the two Italian capitals of homelessness with nearly one third of the total 50.000 split between the two cities, according to ISTAT. Anyway we think they are many more than the figure released because of the high numbers of hidden ones we haven’t been able to detect because in Rome, on top of those sleeping in dormitories, there are many living in insecure and unstable accommodations or squatting in occupied estates.

Will #HomelessZero Campaign
 go forward?

The campaign which featured Richard Gere as testimonial had an international impact. “Homeless people end being invisible to others, I recall when Richard Gere told me how tough is feeling on your own skin what being invisible means. Our campaign #HomelessZero will go forward thanks to the huge feedback and sensibilisation”. The actor championed commitment to tacking homelessness putting himself on the frontline of the fight against homelessness with the docu-movie ‘Invisibles’ where, disguised as homeless walked in New York City with a hidden camera witnessing people’s indifference to poverty and rough sleepers.

According to ‘Istat survey on homeless, fio.PSD and developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy and Italian Caritas, are 50.724 homeless people estimated to be in Italy 2015. These people live in extreme poverty or in a condition of deep discomfort associated first of all to the lack of a house.

The observed sample is composed of people who, according to ETHOS classification (ItalianFrenchEnglish), living on the streets or in the night shelter services.

The 2/3 homelessness declares to be registered at birth, and to have a residence in an Italian town. The average profile of homeless people has accounted for most of men (85,7%), 4 on 10 are Italian, 4 on 10 are chronic or living on the streets for more than 4 years, more than half are immigrants from other countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Albania, Romania), They have an average age of about 44 years and live mainly in the regions of Northern Italy (56%).

The women represent 14% homelessness (6.239), but follow the details and more characterised by the breaking of family relations walks of life as the main cause of homelessness (Read the study on Homeless Women) “Homelessness” is not synonymous with “welfarism”. Only the 3% say they receive subsidies by municipalities or by other public entities

The 62% of homeless instead has a monthly income from work (though low and irregular) with average monthly earnings between 100 and 499 euro, while the 30 % lives on collette. The 17% It has no source of income.

Only the 14% people are not able to respond to the interview, because of problems associated with physical or mental disabilities, substance addiction or alcohol, or to the limited knowledge of the Italian language: this “portrait” instead is the most often reported by media showing non real and updated images of the real ongoing phenomenon in order to satisfy commonly shared views of homeless as people non able to integrate in the society or physically and mentally sick and therefore non victims of social injustice, but responsible for their unfortunate destiny.

The population of the homeless has rather many shades. The cause and the factors of vulnerability look alike (loss of job, of health, family are breaking events prevailing Istat reports). But their previous living conditions show that two-thirds of homeless people had a home. The major risk factors are the impossibility of paying the rent up to the eviction, the difficulty to cope with high rents, low wages.