Homeless occupy empty housing complex in Brussels to escape cold
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Homeless occupy empty housing complex in Brussels to escape cold

© Matthew Woitunski, Wikimedia

A social housing complex in the Woluwe-Saint-Lambert neighborhood is currently being occupied by homeless people seeking shelter from the freezing temperatures.

Brussels, which has the highest number of homeless people in all of Belgium, has been struggling to find enough space in its existing shelters to protect the vulnerable population from the cold.

The city claimed it would keep the three largest train stations in the capital open 24h a day for the homeless, but then walked this back to just one station after only one night.

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Laurent d’Ursel, the founder of a union for the homeless, told Bruzz that there are under ten people currently taking shelter in the unused complex in Brussels, including a woman and her two children, plus a few others who were evicted from their apartments.

“The priority is to provide a roof,” d’Ursel said. “The situation is urgent due to the cold.”

Aid organisations including Doctors Without Borders are calling on cities to open unused housing to the homeless during these freezing days, but some are worried that the occupation of the complex in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert is “irresponsible,” given the building’s condition.

“Inside, these buildings are really rotten,” an employee of the social housing company told Bruzz. “There are bugs in the buildings, and foxes too. The woodwork is so rotten that you could sink through the floor.”

The building is supposed to be renovated by the end of the year, but that work hasn’t yet begun.

Its location is being kept under wraps, so as not to attract more attention. An agreement on the occupation of the building has not yet been reached with Mayor Olivier Maingain (Défi).

Helen Lyons
The Brussels Times