Brussels citizens’ committee to tackle homelessness as next issue
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Brussels citizens’ committee to tackle homelessness as next issue

Credit: © Belga

The Brussels citizen’s committee tackled homelessness for its next issue, voting on 10 specific recommendations aimed at converting vacant buildings into housing options, as well as additional recommendations aimed at preventing homelessness in the first place.

One of the prevention-focused recommendations was to automatically grant social rights.

“It was impressive to see how all participants immersed themselves in the subject in such a short time and made recommendations to tackle homelessness at its core,” said Arnaud Verstraete (Groen), one of the members of parliament who also took part in the committee.

“It is now up to the parliament and the government to translate the recommendations into policy.”

The citizen committee consists of 45 randomly-selected residents of the Belgian capital (including non-Belgians) and 15 members of parliament who meet regularly on weekends to deliberate city issues.

It was formed earlier this year in April, and the 5G issue was the first one it tackled. The committee votes on which issues they cover, and chose homelessness for their second.

Many of their recommendations for addressing the homelessness crisis the city is facing involve utilising empty buildings for housing people without a roof over their head, something towards which the Brussels government has already agreed to put funding.

Around 500 people will benefit from that housing, amid increasing rates of squatting (temporary occupation of vacant buildings) that stem from a shortage of affordable housing and the migration crisis that’s hit the Belgian capital in recent years, two factors that have been made worse as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The citizens’ committee sees many possibilities to house people in empty buildings in Brussels. There was a great awareness that a roof over one’s head is essential to get one’s life back on track,” said Verstraete.

One of the recommendations proposed is that after six months, taxes should be levied on empty buildings, and after 12 months the building should be made available to a social rental agency.

The committee also voted in favour of a proposal to convert vacant office buildings into permanent or temporary modular housing more quickly.

In terms of prevention measures, debate was had over aspects including access to the labour market, strengthening of debt mediation and access to psychological assistance, for example through better reimbursement.

“When someone becomes homeless, it is often the result of a series of misfortunes,” said Verstraete.

“The citizens’ committee recognised this and made concrete proposals to offer help and support at the smallest signs, in order to prevent a waterfall towards homelessness.”

The citizens’ committee also voted in favour of the automatic granting of social rights.

“With the automatic granting of social, individualised rights, we can save people a lot of administration and the accompanying stress,” Verstraete said, adding that many people currently aren’t aware of their rights and therefore miss out on services to which they’re entitled.

The past few weekends of meetings comprised the second session of the Brussels citizens’ committee, which gathers at the Brussels Parliament.