As winter approaches, the non-profit Infirmiers de rue allowed Belga news agency journalists to accompany its field teams through the streets of Brussels to explain the work they do with the most vulnerable homeless people.
While the organisation considers the winter plan a good thing since the season is a particularly dangerous time for people living in the street, it points to a need to shift from this emergency approach and move towards a sustainable one that includes preventive work and earmarking considerable resources for the transition to a home.
“Society does not seem to believe people can be sustainably taken off the streets, but our work shows that it’s possible; even for the most vulnerable homeless persons,” said Koen Van den Broeck, spokesman for the non-profit, whose name translates into “Street Nurses”.
“It has been noted that over a third of our patients suffer from mental and psychiatric disorders, which calls into question our system of taking care of mental health,” added Van den Broeck. “I do not know where the problem lies in that regard, but it’s sure that generally you cannot force someone to seek help. At our level, we notice that by taking your time with someone, you can succeed in making him aware of his problem. For people authorised to spend time in hospital, it sometimes happens that nothing is planned later and then we are asked to prepare for the patients’ discharge so that we can take care of them.”
The return to normal life is beset by hurdles such as desocialisation and isolation, lack of attention for their health and the use of alcohol and drugs, challenges that worsen with time. “We progress in small steps with them and that can take months, even years,” Van den Broeck said.
On the question of reintegrating the homeless into society, he explained that when they are ready to leave the streets, efforts are made to find accommodation for them. However, while there is a supply of emergency shelters in the form of dormitories, there is a shortage of transitory lodging for vulnerable persons.
“We’re currently experimenting with small modulable prefabricated houses with the size of studios that can be installed on waste land,” Van den Broeck disclosed. “In Summer 2018, we placed two of these modules for at least two years near the Van Praet bridge. “We’re now working to develop this project by the Anderlecht Gate.”