Coronavirus: Charities welcome European Parliament’s homeless initiative

A leading homeless advocacy group in Brussels has given a cautious welcome to assorted practical help offered by the European Parliament for people in need during the pandemic.

Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

04 May 2020

The European Parliament has given one of its buildings in Brussels to a charity in order to provide sanctuary for scores of homeless women.

The incidence of domestic violence has spiralled in many countries, including Belgium, since the start of the Coronavirus lockdown and some of those who have been housed in the building are thought to be at risk of abuse.

Freek Spinnewijn, director of FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless, welcomed the initiative, telling The Parliament Magazine, “FEANTSA is an advocacy organisation but we hope and think that the fact that the Parliament hosting a women’s shelter is a sign of its political commitment”.


Spinnewijn added, “I guess the homeless women will be happy that they have a secure place to stay. But remember, a shelter is not a solution to women’s homelessness, or any other form of homelessness. These women need to be rehoused with support.”

However, he cautioned that the women’s shelter, on Square de Meeus, in the EU district of Brussels, should realistically only be considered a ‘sticking plaster’ for a problem with deep rooted causes.

“The European Parliament can play an important role by continuing to insist, with the European Commission, to develop an EU action plan on homelessness” Freek Spinnewijn, director of FEANTSA

He said “However, that does not mean that it is not an important initiative to overcome the crisis. That said, opening more shelters cannot be considered an alternative to supported housing solutions.”

FEANTSA is the only European NGO focusing exclusively on the fight against homelessness and has over 130 member organisations from 30 countries, including all EU Member States.

According to Spinnewijn, FEANTSA is not providing any direct services to homeless people but the organisation welcomes the initiative of the Parliament to make space available for a shelter for homeless women as it helps grassroots organisations.

He noted that “in the past, the Parliament has been a supporter of the homeless cause in its political work”, however he believes that “the Coronavirus crisis presents an opportunity to scale up the ambitions of the European Union on the homelessness issue.”

Spinnewijn said, “Practical help from EU institutions is always welcome, but political leadership on the issue of homelessness at EU level is what is going to have lasting impact”.

He added, “Homelessness is generally viewed as an undeserving cause. There are few policymakers who want to profile themselves on the issue of homelessness.

The current crisis can help to promote political will and turn that limited political will available into action. And here the European Parliament can play an important role by continuing to insist, with the European Commission, to develop an EU action plan on homelessness.”

“At these difficult moments, the institutions have a duty to show solidarity and help those who face social exclusion in the cities where we work” David Sassoli, European Parliament President

He believes that EU Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit “is open to doing more, but will need to be encouraged by the European Parliament.”

Parliament’s kitchens have been specially reopened to prepare and distribute more than 1000 meals a day, feeding homeless, those in need and health workers engaged in tackling the COVID-19 emergency.

Meanwhile, the Parliament’s drivers, usually employed to ferry members of parliament around, are now deployed on other tasks for the needy, including delivering food to - and transporting - doctors, nurses and social workers between their homes and the hospitals of Brussels capital region.

European Parliament President David Sassoli, who visited the kitchens on 15 April in a show of support, described the initiative as “a good example of the Parliament’s public spirit.”

An estimated 500 meals have been distributed each day in collaboration with four Brussels-based associations: Restò du Coeur Saint Gilles, Douche FLUX, Croix Rouge and CPAS Ixelles. The day to day running of the temporary homeless shelter in Parliament’s “Kohl” building is being overseen by the Brussels crisis management organisation Samusocial.

Its spokesperson also welcomed the parliament’s “generosity”, telling saying, “The building it has offered is a big help.” According to Sassoli, the Kohl building is hosting up to 100 vulnerable women, with the Italian MEP saying that, “At these difficult moments, the European Union’s institutions have a duty to show solidarity and help for those who face social exclusion in the cities where we work.”

Sassoli added, “I would like to express my deep thanks to the work done by Samusocial Brussels, who are committed every day to housing the homeless, and are collaborating with us on this important initiative”.

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