Speech by Commissioner Schmit at the high-level conference to launch the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Dear Ana, dear Ministers, dear President of the Employment Committee, dear MEPs, dear Mr Leterme,

Dear friends,

This morning I remember the discussion in the European Parliament where the idea was born; and the op-ed where, a year ago, together with Ana and Mr Leterme, we underlined the importance of combatting homelessness.,

A month ago, EU institutions, Member States, social partners and the civil society met at the Porto Social Summit to commit to a Europe that protects and provides equal opportunities and decent work for all.

In Porto, we have collectively engaged in lifting at least 15 million people out of poverty or social exclusion by 2030. This engagement in combating poverty and inequalities is central to our European aspirations and values. The promise of shared prosperity for all has been at the heart of the European project since its very beginning.

We know the road is not easy. But we are engaged to take it. When we say leaving no one behind, we mean leaving no one behind.

As a continent we have enjoyed overall economic, technological and social progress. Many millions have been lifted out of poverty; employment rates have improved; younger generations have much more access to education than their parents did.

But in the last 15 years, Europe also suffered two big shocks: the financial crisis and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Our economies and our social resilience have been put to a real test.

And the sobering truth is that some have been left behind.

This is the paradox of our times: in 2021, we have at our disposal many technologies that allow us for example to move to passive houses, with very low or no energy consumption. But we have failed to promote a simple achievement: providing affordable housing to all.

The figures don’t lie:

  • 10% of households in the EU spend more than 40% of their income on housing costs;
  • More than 15% live in overcrowded conditions;
  • Nearly 14% in damp conditions.

These are clearly the consequences of rising house and rent prices.

Disadvantaged social groups are being particularly affected, many of whom find it difficult to afford quality houses, even more so in areas that are close to jobs.

But the most shocking and unacceptable of all figures is the growing number of people without a home. Our friends from FEANTSA –  thank you for your work for bringing the topic high on the agenda. FEANTSA, through their remarkable work, tell us that in every given night in Europe, there are more than 700,000 people sleeping on the streets. In the last decade, the number of homeless persons has increased by 70%.

We are talking about people who do not have an address. People who cannot have a bank account and cannot get a job. People who, during the pandemic, were invited to “stay home”, but had simply no home to stay in, and had their life endangered outside.

Access to affordable housing is a basic human need and a central dimension of well-being. This is well reflected in Principle 19 of the European Pillar of Social Rights. It is our common duty to turn this principle into as a reality.

The European Union can play a key role, because the issue we face is national, local and has taken a European dimension.

And today, as we launch the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness together with the Portuguese Presidency, we intensify our action.

We are affirming loud and clear that providing to everyone a roof is not charity. It is social justice. And social justice is the task of public authorities and governments, which are represented today at this conference, whether here in Lisbon or joining us virtually.

So, let me briefly go through what this Platform will be about.

First of all, this Platform is about learning from one another.

We all know that homelessness has multiple causes and requires more than just a shelter for a couple of nights.

Our Finnish friends can show us that having “the name on the door” is a first key step. “Housing First”, as they named it. They can also testify how essential it is to have broad policies of affordable housing which generate a stock of social housing available to welcome homeless people and minimum income benefits which will help them to pay their rents. 

Mr Medina, Mayor of Lisbon, can share how homeless people successfully collaborate with restaurants in a neighbourhood of this city, how they learn skills and receive health and psychological support.

Combatting homelessness needs to be tackled from different angles: youth policies, income, social housing, social security, labour law and integration. Cities, regions or Member States have approached the issue from many angles. We need a place to share our experience – to know what works and do it

And this Platform will be this place.

Secondly, the Platform will allow to define how to best use existing financial resources in the fight against homelessness.

With the Recovery and Resilience Facility, Member States have a unique opportunity to ensure the recovery is a social recovery. Inclusive and fair for everyone.

We advised Member States to invest in social housing and housing renovation, which can open perspectives for homeless people, or those affected by energy poverty.

Housing and assistance for the homeless people will also be areas of investment with the new Multiannual Financial Framework, under the European Social Fund Plus and the European Regional Development Fund.

The next generation of operational programmes is currently being negotiated. This is the right moment to plan investments.

The InvestEU social window also covers the financing of social infrastructure, including social housing and housing for the homeless people. 

The European Investment Bank and the Commission are at an advanced stage of negotiation for InvestEU and I am very pleased that our teams are jointly looking at ways to optimise the use of the EU guarantee. This will eventually allow us to introduce a public sector social investment product, facilitating social investments including those addressing homelessness. 

This Platform will be instrumental not only to Member States but also regional and local authorities, municipalities, social housing providers and promotional banks to identify needs, seek advice and mobilise the necessary funding to provide housing solutions and accompanying services to the homeless.

Thirdly, the Platform will be tasked to improve the collection of data and evidence to inform our decisions. The civil society is already doing a lot in the field, but they cannot do it alone.

Better collection of data has also been a long-standing demand of the European Parliament and I am happy to see we will now give an answer to it. Better information will allow us to make better policies and draw political attention to this issue.

This Platform is not a “platform of the Commission”. It is a platform from all of us, for all of us.

To ensure that homelessness finally belongs to the past, we will need the contribution of EU institutions and Member States, from the Ministers present today to the thousands of mayors in our regions.

We will also need all the experience of Mr Yves Leterme, currently goodwill ambassador on the combat of homelessness, and who kindly accepted to chair the Steering Board of the Platform. His energy and engagement will be a crucial contribution to make this project a true success.

With the support of the Commission services, Mr. Leterme will lead the work of the platform, defining a concrete roadmap of activities and making sure we keep a strong link with capitals. I want to thank him already now.

And of course we will need the federations and civil society organisations which have put the issue of homelessness high on the agenda. I am thinking of the Social Platform, FEANTSA, Housing Europe, EUROCITIES and other national associations. You are doing a remarkable and essential job, and I am glad we will be able to count on you to make this Platform a success.

Dear friends,

Before concluding, let me add that this Platform is one of the many steps we are taking to fight poverty.

One euro spent in prevention, combating poverty at its roots, will save us thousands of euros in remedial action. It is investment in people, in their hopes and talents.

To do so, we have already put forward a Child Guarantee initiative to break the cycle of poverty from childhood and I can also mention our Youth Employment Initiative to help young people develop skills and get jobs – they are particularly affected  the pandemic; and they are the ones most at risk of losing their jobs and incomes. They are the ones having the biggest difficulties to a find affordable housing.

Next to these, we will soon launch the Affordable Housing Initiative to renovate 100 neighbourhoods around Europe, and make housing more affordable. Homelessness is often the result of high housing costs related to rent and energy consumption.

Finally, we will also present next year a proposal for a Council Recommendation on minimum income and bring forward analysis on the barriers that people face to access essential services – services that are often the only help homeless people can rely on.

All this might sound ambitious but we have a unique opportunity to put into reality what we have committed to do in Porto. It is achievable if we decide so

Restoring dignity is at the core of European values. Let’s do it. Let’s deliver!

Thank you all for your attention – and for your commitment.

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