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One quarter of registered homeless people are children reveals new census

14:00 20/03/2022

In a new survey of homeless people in Charleroi, Namur, the south of West Flanders and the region of Vilvoorde, over a quarter (26%) of those counted were children.

However, most of these children were not on the street, pointed out the King Baudouin Foundation (KBF), which supported the research conducted at the end of 2021.

Of the 3,847 homeless people identified in these towns and cities, researchers found that “for every person typically classed as ‘homeless’ because they are sleeping rough or in emergency hostel accommodation, a further two people also lack a stable home of their own”.
For this reason, more visible homelessness is simply the “tip of an iceberg”, they concluded.

“Sleeping in the streets, having to lodge with friends or family members, looking for somewhere safe to stay for the children… The issue of homelessness has numerous aspects, many of which are somewhat neglected,” it said.

The census was conducted to better inform policy responses in tackling the problem of homelessness in Belgium and Europe. “To fight this phenomenon effectively, it is essential to have clear, reliable and comparable data,” added the KBF.

It provided support for research teams (from UCLouvain CIRTES and LUCAS KU Leuven) with help from local government and collaboration with partners in the field.

This was the second consecutive year a census had taken place, after Arlon, Liège, Ghent and the province of Limburg were the focus of a survey in 2021.

The figures

In total, 3,847 homeless people were counted, a higher number than had initially been estimated: 1,159 in Charleroi; 1,146 in Namur; 1,313 in the southern part of West Flanders (SWF) and 229 in the BraVio area of Vilvoorde. These figures were higher than had initially been estimated.

Over a quarter (26%) of those counted were children: In Charleroi, 200 of the 1,159 homeless people were children. The figures for Namur were 272, for SWF 479 and 51 in the BraVio area. However, most of these children were not in the street.

The survey showed that problem is not restricted to cities. The homeless are also found in smaller towns, although the proportions are lower there (between 0.5 and 1 person per 1,000 inhabitants, compared with 6 per 1,000 inhabitants in cities).

KBF Homeless research

Housing conditions

Sleeping in unconventional places such as tents, garages, squats etc, is for many, a daily reality (Charleroi: 222 adults, 9 children; Namur: 93 adults, 11 children; SWF: 62 adults, 16 children; BraVio: 37 adults, 4 children).

The people counted in public spaces, in emergency (night and other) shelters and other housing (care homes or temporary housing) represented only around one third of everyone surveyed. This confirms the existence of the ‘hidden’ homelessness: these are mainly those who are obliged to stay with friends or family members – a phenomenon that affects women and children above all.

Profile of people without home

The research revealed important information about the profile of people classified as homeless. Between 30% and 35% of the total number were women. They mainly spend the night in temporary accomodation for the homeless, with family members or with friends, which means they less visible. Women often experience shorter periods of homelessness than men. The reason for their situation is most often linked to domestic violence or relationship problems.

Children stay mainly in care homes, temporary housing or live temporarily with friends. Even if they are not in the street, they are nevertheless living a very unstable life.

The survey conducted at the end of 2020 had already shown that approximately 20% of those living rough were young adults. Conflicts with parents or other members of the family were the most frequent among this group. Some 40% to 50% of these youngsters stayed with friends or family members. A similar picture emerged in 2021.

A rather large proportion (between 20% and 40%) of homeless people is composed of people with an immigrant background. The high proportion of people with a precarious residence status was also striking, especially in the cities.

Roughly one in four of the homeless had an institutional past. Periods spent in a psychiatric institution came first, followed by prison and youth support. The link between homelessness and health problems is of a similar order: mental health problems and drug abuse are striking (and vary between 20% and 30% of the people counted). Only a minority of the homeless had no health problem.

For more information including detailed facts and figures relating to the inventories conducted in each town and region can be found here.

The KBF, together with researchers, plans on working with new partners in Wallonia, Flanders and the German-speaking community in 2022.

Written by Sarah Crew