As temperatures dip below freezing, sleeping on the streets becomes potentially life-threatening, even without factoring in the myriad other hazards of homelessness. In an effort to raise awareness about the problem, Infirmières de Rue ('Street Nurses' in English) is inviting Brussels and Liège residents to spend a night on the streets.
In Brussels, figures for homelessness are on the rise and have been estimated to number over 5000 – among them an alarming number of children, often unaccompanied migrants. However, numbers are hard to measure and others expect the figures to be much higher.
At any rate, there is a clear and pressing need to find more permanent housing solutions for homeless people, with a spokesperson for the organisation stating that "The problem is not the lack of winter shelters but the low rate of those in emergency shelters moving to permanent housing."
The campaign poster shows a scrap of cardboard with the label 'Padeböl mattress: €0.10' – an ironic take on an Ikea advert that highlights the plight of rough sleepers and the fundraising initiative that asks residents to leave their own mattresses for the night of 17-18 December.
Permanent solutions rather than temporary 'fixes'
Infirmières de Rue, a not-for-profit association established 15 years ago, has already managed to find accommodation for 140 individuals who had been living on the streets, even some who had been there for a number of years. They stress the need for lasting, rather than last-minute, solutions to the problem of homelessness.
Often, particularly at this time of year, there are temporary measures taken with support from local councils to help the homeless through the coldest months. Instead, the association insists that, with the necessary funding and awareness of citizens groups and authorities, the issue can be tackled in a durable way rather than addressed as a matter of "crisis management".
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To make this a reality, social security must be reinforced to help those with familial, economic, or health issues. In addition, there needs to be a political will to create more affordable housing for the most precarious members of society.
However, until these structural changes are made, associations such as Infirmières de Rue remain a lifeline to those on the streets but depend on financial support from individual donors, as well as regional and private sponsors.
For those wishing to find out more about the campaign, or to make a donation, visit the website here.