Conference Towards an EU framework against homelessness based on the principle of Housing First - Closing Remarks

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Dear guests,

It is my pleasure to welcome you today, to this timely discussion on how to eradicate homelessness in the EU. Over the last decades, our continent has made remarkable economic, technological and social advances. Employment rates have increased; millions have been lifted out of poverty; EU citizens are more educated than ever before. But we also suffered two major crises in the last couple of years: the COVID-19 pandemic and now the conflict in Ukraine. This put a strain on our economies and our social resilience. As a result, it is undeniable that some have been left behind.

The figures don't lie: according to Eurostat, 4 in 100 EU citizens say they have been homeless at least once in their lifetime. These figures continue to be on the rise in all Member States. Over the last decade, the number of people who are in this situation has grown by a 70% - a truly frightening development. Rising energy poverty, stemming from the pandemic and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, also risks increasing homelessness rates in the EU. The lack of affordable housing and growing energy, food and other essential costs are forcing people into unacceptable choices. This leads to indebtedness and, at worst, eviction.

As we will hear today, the profile of homeless people is evolving too. We see mobile EU citizen and those in vulnerable situations increasingly facing homelessness. Children are also affected, which is an unacceptable violation of children's rights!

The issues of homelessness and housing exclusion are not new for the EESC. In addition to our own-initiative opinion on homelessness, we issued an own-initiative opinion on fighting poverty, calling on all Member States to adopt their own strategy to reduce poverty. Moreover, the EESC counts now 2 opinions urging the EU Commission to launch a European Directive on Minimum Income. After two initial strong opinions on the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR), in which housing and assistance to homeless people are enshrined, we presented two others on the social pillar implementation.

Given the current geopolitical situation, in the last two years, we have been working extensively on sustainable and affordable housing, including energy efficiency issues. For our opinion on Universal access to housing that is decent, sustainable and affordable over the long term, we cooperated with the European Parliament's rapporteur, Kim Van Sparrentak, who compiled a report on access to decent and affordable housing for all. The opinion calls on the Commission to launch a European action plan on housing, including a comprehensive set of measures that are easy for people to understand. This would help Member States, regions and cities in Europe to sustainably boost the supply of social and affordable housing and effectively combat homelessness.

This July, we also co-organised a high-level conference with the Latvian Ministry of Economics to discuss the challenges of and solutions to building sustainable and affordable housing. The outcomes of the conference confirmed that partnerships between government and relevant industries, social partners and civil society are crucial when it comes to housing. The role of civil society organisations, and particularly consumer organisations, local communities and actors on the ground, is key to promote an affordable housing policy. These should involve all stakeholders, relevant population groups and policy-makers at local, national and EU level.

In view of its role, the EESC is best placed to incorporate the voice of organised civil society organisations in the EU action against homelessness. We represent millions of businesses, workers, and other NGOs. Their knowledge and experience on the ground are paramount to design policies that are really inclusive. For this reason, the EESC remains committed to the objective identified one year ago during the Porto Social Summit. We need to work towards a Union free from poverty and social exclusion. We hope that this conference will bring us one step closer to this goal.

Thank you again for your attention and I look forward to the enriching discussion.

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Conference Towards an EU framework against homelessness