The number of homeless people in Brussels continues to rise. Volunteer organizations in the city do what they can to make life a little easier for people in need. However, as more and more young children tend to live on the streets some think that the situation has gone way too far.
Every Tuesday and Friday inside the Salvation Army Church, the organization Serve the City Brussels distributes freshly made lunch packages to people in need. Everybody is welcome, and the help is very appreciated. On each occasion, around 150 people come and collect a meal. The non-governmental and non-profit movement is based on volunteers, offering help and support in different types of projects. Except for helping homeless people, they also serve asylum seekers and refugees, the elderly, people with disabilities, children in need and victims of abuse.
Marie Bennett has been working with Serve the City Brussels for over six years. She means that one of the goals of the organization is to get people in society to spend some time volunteering to help make a difference. “Usually, it gives people a different perspective of society once you step out and you do something voluntarily for somebody else,” Bennett said. She also wants to underline that the organization is not politically involved, but only based on the values that they have. “Whether people should be or should not be here, that’s not what this is about. It’s the fact that people are here, and they are living on the streets. As a human being, it’s very important that we care for people, despite political views.” Bennett said.
A changing profile of the homeless population
According to the European Commission report “Study on Mobility, Migration and Destitution in the European Union”, there is evidence of a growing problem of homelessness among migrants in several Member States over the last decade. Homelessness organizations are witnessing rising numbers of immigrants, particularly undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, using homeless services. One of the biggest challenges for the EU is that the profile of the homeless population has been changing and now includes more young people and children, Roma and other disadvantaged minorities. Women and families are increasingly at-risk of homelessness.
Bennett believes that the reason to this changing population is mainly because many Roma families are immigrating to Belgium at the moment. The families are often on their way to the United Kingdom to find a better life. They are not looking for asylum here, but Brussels is a great city to travel through since it is close to the coast and the British border. “It is easier to start a new life in the United Kingdom than in many other countries because you don’t need the same identity papers there to get a job and rent accommodation. You can just disappear into the society,” Bennett said.
However, it is difficult to get to the United Kingdom and loads of families will not come that far to cross the water. Bennett believes the idea of immigrating to the United Kingdom sounds easier than it actually is, and they instead end up on the streets of Brussels or other big cities close to the British border. “We haven’t really fully understood how this has ended up being like this, and on a European top-level as well they are trying to set up guidelines for how the countries should handle the Roma people. Every child is entitled to safety and should not be on the streets. We can give people food, but when it comes to homeless children, it is a too complicated problem for us as an organization to solve”: she said.
Increasing child poverty in the EU
Eurochild is a pan-European children’s rights network, with almost 200 member organizations across 35 countries in Europe. Their vision is to put children at “the heart of Europe”, which means they use the expertise they have within the membership and their advocacy base which is their secretariat in Brussels, to advocate the EU institutions. “We work on several critical issues and child poverty is one of them,”: said Prerna Humpal, spokesperson of Eurochild in Brussels. “The latest statistics show that child poverty in the EU has risen by almost 2% in 2020, which is shockingly high considering Europe as one of the most prosperous regions in the world”. To end child poverty Eurochild is working on both the EU level and national level to understand the specific nature of poverty faced by children in every country, and further to make sure the best public policies and investments are available for children to be free from poverty.
This year has been significant for children’s rights since the European Union has developed the European Child Guarantee, an initiative for children that aims to ensure that children have access to health, nutrition, housing and education. Humpal believes this is the first of its kind initiative from the EU, and an essential opportunity for children’s rights to progress. However, she means that progress depends on the action of the national level. “We are counting on the EU countries to benefit from this initiative and to make strong and effective national action plans so that they can start looking at where they can tackle child poverty in their own country context”: said Humpal.