Cold wave: Brussels homeless people refusing shelter may be arrested
Tuesday, 09 February 2021
The cold weather in Belgium, and the cold nights predicted for the upcoming days in particular, prompted Etterbeek mayor Vincent De Wolf to take special measures to protect the homeless at night.
These measures could potentially go as far as the administrative arrest of those who refuse a warm shelter.
An emergency shelter was set up in Etterbeek, in collaboration with the president of the Public Centres for Social Welfare (PCSW), Arnaud Van Praet, to complement the existing night shelter.
The centre’s size makes it easier to respect the physical distances in relation to the current health situation.
By virtue of a police order issued by the mayor, any homeless person in Etterbeek is obliged to find refuge within the system deployed by the municipality in order to be protected there, from Monday evening at 8:00 PM.
In the event of refusal, people may be taken there, whether they agree or not. In force at least until 15 February, the ordinance stipulates that as soon as the person is taken in, the intervention of a doctor must be required by the police in order to assess the state of health of the homeless person and the risk to his or her safety if, due to the weather conditions at the time, he or she were to return to the open air.
Unless the doctor’s opinion is favourable, the homeless person must be detained until the next morning.
This measure was ordered “because of the certain risk, due to the current climatic conditions, to the safety of the homeless person,” De Wolf said.
“Night-time temperatures as low as -10° until Monday 15 February, according to the Royal Meteorological Institute, with temperatures sometimes felt even lower, seriously increase the risk of hypothermia and death.”
During the winter of February 2018, the mayor of Etterbeek had already adopted a similar measure.
De Wolf is backing the ordinance based on municipal law and the law on the police function, which, in his view, places the mayor of a municipality and the police services under an obligation to ensure public safety and to provide assistance to anyone in danger.