Jules van Dam spreekt in Brussel over het woningtekort en sociale huur in Nederland

22 maart 2019

Als je kijkt naar het aantal en prijs van sociale huurwoningen doet Nederland het Europees gezien slecht, zo blijkt uit een recent rapport van Feantsa (European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless). Jules van Dam sprak in Brussel zijn Europese collega’s toe over de nederlandse situatie.

Dutch comment on the fourth overview of housing exclusion in Europe

My name is Jules van Dam, representative of the Netherlands in Feantsa. In my daily life I’m a director of an organization for help, support, shelters and debt management for homeless people in Utrecht in the Netherlands. In is called The Tussenvoorziening. In English the name would be ‘The Intermediate Provision’. That is what we do.

The fourth overview on housing exclusion in Europe shows that the number of homeless people in Europe is rising, the situation on social housing is worsening and in general, that the gap between rich and poor, between the haves and the have nots is growing. In Europe, between the countries in Europe and also in the Netherlands.

The situation is bad, and the situation is worsening. There’s a lack of shelters, a lack of places in shelters, a lack of services in shelters, a lack of everything. Emergency accommodation mostly consists of night shelters. A system which keeps you homeless for most of the day. Not only physically, but also mentally. You stay in a survival mood. Busy with questions where you’re going to eat, to sleep in the night, how you’re going to get the means for your day to day subsistence. Most people don’t have the energy to make a plan how they are going to get out of this miserable situation.

In some countries the idea is that the emergency accommodation shouldn’t be too luxurious. As if people are getting homeless to profit from the luxury of night shelters. It works in the opposite way. If the situation of homeless people and the emergency accommodation stay this bad we will have homeless people on the streets of Europe for years to come. And that is a political choice. We tolerate the situation in which a lot of people are living in the streets. That is shameful and stupid. We deny them the right to basic conditions and we don’t give them the possibility to contribute to our societies. That is a political choice.

In Holland we still have a lot of homeless people, but they are not living on the streets anymore by the thousands, like 20 years ago. A simple political statement was enough to start it of; ‘no one belongs to the streets’ was the slogan. A political statement and some money. Some, not a trainload. Especially if you realize that a lot of people on the streets were people with an learning disability or psychiatric patients. They started as psychiatric patients, or they became patients, after living on the streets. Patients whom we denied basic right to treatment and shelters.

So, are we doing it well in Holland? No, definitely not. I’m proud that we have less people living on the streets than other rich European countries. But we are doing very bad on the social housing situation:

  • In only 6 countries in Europe poor people are spending a larger proportion of their income on housing
  • Poor people in Holland have to spend more than 40% of their income on housing. Which means they hardly have any reserve for emergency situations. Again, only 6 countries in Europe are doing this worse.
  • Young people, under 24, have to pay on average 63% of their income to housing costs. No wonder that the number of young homeless is rising in Holland. In only 2 countries in Europe the figures are worse.

And so on and so on.

The number of social houses has decreased sharply in the last 10 years in Holland. People have to wait 10 years or more for an affordable house in Amsterdam, Utrecht or one of the other big cities. People have to wait for months, sometimes years in shelters before they are entitled to an affordable house. Years in which they cost the society money and in which they are not really able to better their lives.

The Dutch federation of shelters has calculated that we need 10.000 houses extra to house the main part of the homeless who are able to live independently. Some cities make plans to really fill in these housing needs. 1000 in Amsterdam, 500 in Utrecht. Unfortunately they are mainly still plans. Like a former secretary of state said:  ‘all these talks are just bullshit and you can’t live in bullshit.’

A bad social housing situation in Holland, more homeless people and less people on the streets, how is that possible? Where do they stay? Well, we know of course  the situation of young homeless who are hopping from sofa to sofa, the so-called ‘couch surfers’. We also see this situation more and more with adult homeless. After a divorce, one of the partners keeps the house and the other is unable to find an affordable house or a room. This partner lives for a couple of months or years with his network, until they are sick and tired of him and tell him he is not welcome anymore.

Then he addresses himself to our front door and a new homeless person is born. With a worn down network, and enough psychological, psychiatric or addiction problems to be occupied for years. If only we could have helped him a couple of years sooner. If only there would have been more social housing.

I am fortunate enough to live in a city where we are really making plans to end these situations. The Utrecht deputy major of social affairs, Maarten van Ooijen, made a statement recently for the Eurocities, the so called Utrecht pledge.

The basic idea is that we have to move from surviving to living. This is translated in a new strategy:

  • Prevent homelessness, also for young people
  • Make new 24 hour shelters, with professional guidance for homeless people.
  • Give homeless people tailor made assistance
  • Further guidance for former homeless people who found a place to live in our neighbourhoods.

Another pledge is coming for enough social housing, also and especially for homeless people.

We are working to make this pledge come true. I would hope we can also make a  pledge like this on the European level. We should make the pledge and we should also make it come true.

Because, like I said before; ‘you can’t live in bullshit’.

Het rapport over de Europese situatie rond dakloosheid en huisvesting vind je hier.