What is Homelessness?

Homeless on bench

The United Nations identifies someone without a home under two broad groups:

•Primary homelessness (or rooflessness). This category includes persons living on the streets without a shelter that would fall within the scope of living quarters
•Secondary homelessness. This category may include persons with no place of usual residence who move frequently between various types of accommodations (including dwellings, shelters and institutions for the homeless or other living quarters). This category includes persons living in private dwellings but reporting ‘no fixed abode’ on their census form.
•living in insecure housing (threatened with severe exclusion due to insecure tenancies, eviction, domestic violence)
•living in inadequate housing (in caravans on illegal campsites, in unfit housing, in extreme overcrowding)
FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless, has developed a European Typology of Homelessness and housing exclusion (ETHOS) as a means of improving understanding and measurement of homelessness in Europe, and to provide a common “language” for transnational exchanges on homelessness. This typology was launched in 2005 and is used for different purposes – as a framework for debate, for data collection purposes, for policy purposes, monitoring purposes, and in the media.
Homelessness is perceived and tackled differently according to the country. It was developed through a review of existing definitions of homelessness and the realities of homelessness which service providers are faced with on a daily basis. ETHOS categories therefore attempt to cover all living situations which amount to different forms of homelessness across Europe:
Homelessness can be defined narrowly to include only people without a roof over their heads or it can be defined more broadly. FEANTSA argues for a broad definition of homelessness, which includes, as well as people who are roofless, people who are houseless and people who live in insecure and inadequate housing. ETHOS – European Typology on Homelessness and Housing Exclusion FEANTSA (…) Read more

Who loses their home?

It is hard to imagine how someone can go from having a home one day to being out on the street the next. Many people who lose their homes start out with jobs and stable residences, but then social and economic factors intervene causing a rapid change in their living situation. The two biggest factors leading to people losing their homes are poverty and the lack of affordable housing.

Losing a job happens more frequently now than a few decades ago. The decline in manufacturing jobs and an increase in temporary and part-time employment have chipped away at the foundations of what was once a more stable job market.

Another difficult area is the lack of real affordable housing. The waiting list for low-income housing through the local authorities is at least five years in Bucharest and according to the law, being without a home is NOT a priority group for social housing.

A leading cause of losing a home among women and children is domestic violence. Women with violent partners sometimes have to choose between being abused at home or leaving home with nowhere else to stay. Women who leave with their children are survivors, but even in the safety of a shelter, rebuilding, gaining stability and establishing a healthy network of relationships takes time.
Only 31% of the population contribute to the current state-controlled health insurance system leaving 14.8 million people without health cover. In 2011, funds for health care accounted for 4% of GDP, against the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 9%. A major health crisis can be financially ruining.

People with mental health issues such as schizophrenia and personality disorders can lose their homes because of difficulties with adapting to family life, job and society. The closure of some mental health care institutions left many former patients being released from care into unknown living situations.

Not every person who loses their homes has a substance abuse problem, but many do and become dependent on alcohol and abuse other substances. The problems related to long-term substance abuse encompasses an abuser’s entire life. Because drug abuse is illegal, it often leads to further illegal activity, meaning time in and out of prison. Abuse has a negative impact on a person’s ability to work and maintain relationships and causes chronic health problems.

The transition from youth to adulthood is difficult for many people, but for young people who have grown up in poverty, this transition can be particularly difficult. Young people who have had to spend time in local authority care are more likely to experience being without a home. Supportive youth programmes end when they reach adulthood, although many are often unprepared for the difficult decisions they have to face at that age.

Numerous issues surround poverty and create important strains on relationships. People exhaust their personal relationships in the same way that they exhaust their financial resources. By the time a person is living on the streets, or staying in a shelter, their relationships are badly damaged. A simple offer of friendship can be a meaningful starting place in helping a person to recover from being without a home. Believing in someone, encouraging and listening to them can also give them the opportunity to try to tackle problems in other areas of their life.

Myth: People who have lost their homes are lazy.
Surviving on the street takes more work than people realise. Homeless men and women are often sleep-deprived, cold, wet and ill. Their minds, hearts and bodies are exhausted. Though help is available, they may have no idea where to begin to navigating the maze of social service agencies and bureaucracy. With little money, they often spend all day trying to get food and maybe an appointment before they need to search for a safe place to sleep. They do this while carrying all their possessions along with them in a bag or backpack. It is hardly an easy life.

Myth: Some people chose to be homeless.

No one starts life with the goal of losing his or her home. People lose jobs and then housing. Women run away to the street to escape domestic violence. Many people have experienced significant trauma and simply cannot cope with life. Others struggle with mental illness, depression or post-traumatic stress. Yes, poor choices can contribute to losing one’s home; however, outside circumstances strongly influence those choices.

MYTH: If people without a home wanted to, they could recover themselves. V
Once a man or woman loses a job or a home, getting those things back can feel nearly impossible. Imagine trying to get a job when you have no address to put on a CV, no phone number, no shower and no clean-pressed clothes. Often, things like legal issues, criminal history, mental illness, and physical and emotional health make moving on with their lives even more difficult.

Myth: Most homeless people are middle-aged men.
For many, when we think of people living on the streets without a home, it conjures up images of scruffy men standing on street corners and begging or lying on the street drunk. However, the face of this phenomenon is changing. In fact, the fastest growing segments of people losing their homes are women and families with children.

MYTH: People who live on the streets are dangerous.
Losing one’s home is often associated with drugs, alcohol, violence and crime. So yes, life on the streets can be perilous for both men and women. Nevertheless, very few crimes are committed against those who try to help them. At Casa Ioana, we find our beneficiaries are grateful for the opportunity and have a real willingness to move on with their lives.

MYTH: Providing food and shelter only encourages people to stay on the streets.
Food and shelter are essentials for life – it is a basic human right and enshrined in the Constitution. By offering shelter and sustenance, Casa Ioana and other organisations that help can start to build relationships through mutual trust and respect. It is then that we can support them to find decent paid jobs, and when they are ready, affordable housing.

MYTH: If we provide sufficient affordable housing, everyone will have a place to live.
Not having a place to live is not just about bricks and mortar; it is about people. People lose their homes when things go wrong in their lives. Simply providing a place to live will not heal emotional wounds, break addiction, create relational stability or establish healthy life skills. The solution is not found in just providing a home, but in addressing the issues that caused them to lose their homes in the first place. It is all about people.

MYTH: It could never happen to me.
Talk to the thousands of men, women and children that Casa Ioana has supported over the years and they will tell you that they never intended or expected to lose their homes. They have had good jobs, houses and families. Nevertheless, at some point, their life fell apart and they were desperate for a way back to a place they could call ‘home’

MYTH: There will always be people living on the streets.
Many people feel that there will always be people living on the streets and that it is just too big a problem to solve. This belief creates paralysis, leading to apathy and rejection that anything can be done to alleviate the pain and suffering experienced by thousands of people, including women and children.
Casa Iona believes that homelessness can be solved. The authorities have exasperated the situation by forcing people to live on the streets by cutting the services that used to keep people housed whilst at the same time, abandoning vulnerable people leaving childcare institutions and mental hospitals. As more and more people lost their homes, the authorities tried to ignore the issues causing the situation to deteriorate rapidly. Finally, the economic downturn continues to force families out of their homes in record numbers.
Casa Ioana believes that if we are ever going to end this affliction, we all need to ‘think globally and act locally’ by encouraging local solutions to a national scourge – vulnerable people, particularly women and children, being forced to live on the streets because of a woeful lack of adequate support and protection.

What is the situation of homeless people?
Being without a home is about more than not having a roof over your head. A home is not just a physical space; it also has a legal and social dimension. A home provides roots, identity, a sense of belonging and a place of emotional wellbeing. Being without a home is about the loss of all of these. It is an isolating and destructive experience and means that those who are experiencing homelessness are some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded in our society.

Effects of family homelessness

When we think about people who have lost their homes, we usually think about adults. Unfortunately, thousands of children experience homelessness alongside their parents every year, sleeping in cars, shelters, and abandoned buildings. They move around continually, resulting in school disruption and even dropout.

Families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. Many families, including children, have experienced trauma prior to losing their homes. Their homeless experience compounds the suffering, resulting in a cycle that is tragic, damaging and costly to both individuals and communities.

Research indicates that the typical family who has lost their home is headed by a single mother, usually in her late twenties. She has with her two or three young children. More than 90% of sheltered and low-income mothers have experienced physical and sexual assault over their lifespan.

Being without a home has a devastating impact on families, causing instability and insecurity. These families often lose their possessions and their jobs. They may also lose their relationships with friends and family, links to their community including relationships with family doctors and teachers. There is evidence suggesting that children living in shelters are generally younger than 12 years old and therefore in a crucial period of their development. The experience of losing one’s home and domestic violence has a serious impact on their health, education and wellbeing. These impacts include higher rates of anxiety, emotional and behavioural issues and mental illness. Parents trying to support their families without having a place to live can experience emotional and physical health issues, poor nutrition, isolation, and relationship difficulties. The experience affects the parents’ ability to provide appropriate support to their children resulting in many being taken into local authority care. The longer the episode lasts, the more difficult it is for families to regain their stability.

Impact on children’s health

Children growing up without a home are ill much more often than other children are and have higher rates of acute and chronic illnesses. Additionally, many suffer from emotional or behavioural problems, which will impede learning. These children tend to struggle with higher rates of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or withdrawal.

Children who do not have homes go hungry much more often than other children do.

Impact on education

Although the majority of children and young people without a home attend school, not all attend regularly. Those who are able to attend school have more problems learning in school. Compared with other children, they are more likely to experience developmental delays and very likely to have learning disabilities.

Source: Casa Iona, Romania

What Solutions to Homelessness Exist?

Through research, we learn what families need to rebound from the economic, social, medical, and mental health problems that put them on the streets. Through program evaluation, we identify strategies that work and we use this knowledge to design innovative practices.

Whether one loses their home through economic hardship, domestic violence, or physical or emotional challenges, families lose more than their homes. They risk losing their health, safety and the ability to look after themselves and their children. Young children who have often witnessed violence in their families and who live on the streets suffer anxiety, depression and are withdrawn. At first, they may need shelter, but to build a life, they also need support.
Not having a place to live is not just about bricks and mortar; it is about people. People lose their homes when things go wrong in their lives. Simply providing a place to live will not heal emotional wounds, break addiction, create relational stability or establish healthy life skills. The solution is not found in just providing a home, but in addressing the issues that caused them to lose their homes in the first place. It is all about people.
The central message of FEANTSA’s ’Ending Homelessness’ campaign and its work is that homelessness can and should be ended. The campaign material includes a handbook with examples of how this can be done following five goals. FEANTSA believes that homelessness can only be addressed if integrated homelessness strategies are in place. With this in mind, it has compiled a toolkit for developing a homelessness strategy and collects examples of existing homelessness strategies for reference.