In the last few weeks I’ve met lots of impressive people in Spain – in the cities of Valencia and Barcelona to be precise. I was there to see how NGOs Rais Fundación (in Valencia) and Arrels Fundació (in Barcelona) are taking the first steps in the European End Street Homelessness Campaign by encouraging and enabling local residents to meet and find out about the lives of people who are homeless and sleeping on the cities’ streets.
The model works by getting to know each rough sleeper by name and finding out about their issues and lives with the aim of encouraging those delivering services or setting policies to prioritise providing housing and support to people with the greatest need. It is based on the 100,000 Homes Campaign in the USA, which saw 200+ communities successfully find homes for over 100,000 of the most vulnerable rough sleepers.
Many of the people I met were under 30 – some of them volunteering, some of them sleeping rough. Several of the volunteers had finished their studies and were looking for work and others were at early stages of their working life – but they were all there because they want do something positive. In truth there was sometimes little to separate the stories of the volunteers and the people sleeping rough – other than hugely significantly – whether they had a roof over their heads.
When I was in Barcelona last week I was told that 80% of 18-30 year olds in Spain live with their parents and that this figure is growing due to unemployment (currently at 45% for young people), a lack of affordable housing, rent rises or as a result of repossessions. Although there has long been a tradition in Spain of young people living with their families for longer than in the UK – where I am from – unemployment and/or a lack of housing mean that many young people have no choice but to stay at ‘home’ for longer.
In Valencia I met many young people amongst the 280+ volunteers, living at home with their parents, looking for work.
They’d heard about the HomelessMeetUp (Valencia’s name for their week-long activities in April meeting rough sleepers, hearing their stories and identifying their needs) through friends and decided they wanted to do something ….. they were keen to understand more about the people they saw sleeping out on the streets of their city but hadn’t spoken to before…and they wanted to be part of sorting things out. Over three nights teams of volunteers were led by people who knew the area (Rais staff, volunteers and peers [people with experience of homelessness themselves]) and who also knew many of the people on the streets.
Not all the volunteers or people sleeping rough that I met were ‘young people’ – in Barcelona, for example, I noticed that there was a wide age range. We are waiting for the results of the surveys regarding the people we’d met on the streets but based on what I saw, the ages of rough sleepers varied, as did their reasons for sleeping rough.
What really struck me was how fine the line can be between home and street.
If you happen to get on with your family and they happen to have space and happen to be able to afford to support you, you might be okay and not end up like so many who have no money, support, or a secure roof over their head.
But if you don’t get on – and let’s face it, not everyone does get on with their parents or are welcome within the family – perhaps there’s a fall out or your family simply can’t, don’t or won’t help out, then you might well end up homeless and sleeping on the street.
In a country where so many are dependent on the fragility of having a supportive family, the risk of a significant increase in homelessness amongst young people seems to me to be very high. The challenge for Spain and other countries is to find ways to stop this happening and to prevent what is quickly becoming a moral and health scandal.