Local authorities are keen to work together at EU level, especially in these times of recession where vulnerability to homelessness is increasing and sustainable solutions are crucial. European policy and research tools (namely common definitions and understanding) now make it possible for local authorities to exchange practical information using a "common language". FEANTSA, European federation of national organisations working with homeless people, is funded by the European Commission to develop research and policy tools aimed at facilitating cooperation between homeless service providers, and is supporting the development of HABITACT so that local policy-makers can also benefit from European cooperation.
The current political/institutional context is such that homelessness is a key priority on the EU social inclusion agenda. Homelessness and housing exclusion were a top priority in 2009 for social affairs ministries in the 27 EU countries. The European Commission is promoting research in this area (on policy approaches, on statistics), coordinates national homeless policies and facilitates transnational exchanges on homelessness. Several decisions/documents highlight the increasing need for strategic EU cooperation on homelessness:
In 2008, the European Parliament adopted a Written Declaration on ending street homelessness, asking EU countries to agree on an EU-wide commitment to end street homelessness by 2015 and calling on the European Commission to develop a European framework definition of homelessness, gather comparable and reliable statistical data, and provide annual updates on action taken and progress made in EU Member States towards ending homelessness.
In March 2010, the European Commission and the Council of ministers adopted the 2010 Joint Report on social protection & social inclusion, an annual Joint Report which reviews the main trends in social protection and social inclusion across the EU. The Report calls upon Member States to develop integrated homelessness strategies, putting forward elements for effective strategies.
In June 2010, the European Council (i.e. all 27 Heads of state and government) adopted the new Europe 2020 strategy which sets out priorities for the next decade including five EU headline targets which will constitute shared objectives guiding the action of Member States and the Union as regards promoting employment; improving the conditions for innovation, research and development; meeting climate change and energy objectives; improving education levels and promoting social inclusion in particular through the reduction of poverty. The poverty target is defined as the following: "..promoting social inclusion, in particular through the reduction of poverty, by aiming to lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and exclusion." The EU poverty target is the first in the history of the European Union, and should help to keep up the EU political momentum on poverty over the next decade. See European Council conclusions.
In October 2010 the Committee of the Regions adopted an opinion on combating homelessness. In this opinion the CoR is calling on the European Union to develop an European homelessness strategy. Moreover, the CoR is asking the EU to support European local authorities in their fight against homelessness in the framework of the EPAP (European Platform against Poverty, Europe2020). The European Year 2010 for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion has been a special one - it marked the beginning of a decade for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion (Europe2020). Tackling poverty and homelessness are a top priority for the EU and its institutions, including the future EPAP.
In November 2010 the European Commission published the 5th report on economic, social and territorial cohesion. This report sets out some of the European Commission's key ideas for the reform of EU cohesion policy and the use of the EU structural funds. It refers to the new EU poverty target to lift at least 20 million people out of poverty by 2020, and mentions examples of how countries have used the structural funds to target “vulnerable groups”, including homeless people.
In December 2010 the first European Consensus Conference on Homelessness was held in Brussels. It was an innovative policy process seeking to establish common understandings on fundamental questions about homelessness in order to provide a basis for future policy progress. The conference was an initiative of the Belgian Presidency of the EU Council, co-organised with the European Commission. FEANTSA (the European Federation of Organisations Working with the Homeless) coordinated the process, in which the French Government was a key partner. The policy recommendations call for a clear European framework on homelessness.
In December 2010 the European Parliament adopted the Written Declaration 61 on an EU homelessness strategy with a total of 391 signatures. The initiative had been launched in September 2010 by five Members of European Parliament (MEPs), who continue their work on the issue. The Written Declaration sends a clear message to the European Commission to develop a European framework which can support the development of national/regional/local homeless strategies.
In December 2010, the European Commission published a communication on the European Platform against Poverty (EPAP).
The EPAP, which is part of the Europe2020-strategy, was launched in January 2011 and is supposed to serve as framework for future anti-poverty policies of the EU. Homelessness is one of the key priorities of the EPAP, and several concrete actions (e. g. an EU voluntary quality framework for homeless services and follow up of the conclusions of the Consensus Conference) have been included. Read more here.
In September 2011, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution calling for an EU homelessness strategy. With this Resolution (B7-0475/2011), adopted by a large majority, the European Parliament sends out a strong political message that homelessness is an urgent issue, on which the EU must step up its co-ordination and support of Member States’ policies. This requires building on previous work at EU-level in order to deliver an ambitious, integrated, European homelessness strategy that can make concrete progress in the fight against homelessness.
In October 2011, the European Economic and Social Committee issued an own-initiative opinion on homelessness, the key points of which are: the European Union should allocate more resources under the Structural Funds to tackling the issue of homelessness, with a particular focus on building permanent housing; the European Union and the Member States should bear in mind that policies to combat homelessness must be based on the right to affordable, adequate housing; the EU 2020 strategy's inclusive growth dimension must incorporate discussion on wealth redistribution; Eurostat should promote common definitions, indices and indicators on homelessness at EU level and harmonise statistics; the European Commission should set up a European agency on homelessness; the European Commission should develop an ambitious strategy on the issue of homelessness and support the Member States in developing effective national strategies.
In December 2011, the European Commission published its Annual Growth Survey 2012 highlighting key priorities for investment. The survey calls for the EU and Member States to focus on five priorities: pursuing differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation; restoring normal lending to the economy; promoting growth and competitiveness; tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis; and modernising public administration. Homelessness is referred to under “protecting the vulnerable” as part of tackling the social consequences of the crisis.
In June 2012, the European Commission published its EU Employment and Social Situation Quarterly Review - which gives special focus to South-North mobility, homelessness, material deprivation, social protection expenditure and longer-term trends in EU labour markets - the labour market and social situation in the EU have continued to be unfavourable overall and shows signs of polarisation. It says that homelessness has grown across the EU as many people experienced a sudden job loss or income drop in the recession. Young people and foreign nationals have been disproportionately affected.
In June 2012, in its Conclusions on "Responding to demographic challenges through enhanced participation in the labour market and society by all", the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs (EPSCO) Council of the European Union (bringing together Social Affairs Ministers from all EU Member States), invites the Member States and the European Commission to “develop and promote adequate schemes for persons who are homeless”.