STIB-MIVB will employ 25 staff to help unhoused people and drug users at stations
On Friday morning, the Brussels government and the STIB-MIVB public transport company disclosed concrete, tailor-made solutions for drug users and unhoused people on the Brussels public transport network. 25 full-time staff will patrol the network in teams, providing an integrated approach to the problem. 5.7 million euros will be allocated by the Brussels government for this purpose.
An additional 40 security officers will also be assigned a position on the tram and bus lines, and a new user area will be opened in the Ribaucourt or IJzer districts at the beginning of 2024. Three specific locations are currently being considered for this. Additionally, there are plans for a day and night centre where people can receive medical assistance and heated centres for unhoused people to warm up.
"The increase in crack cocaine use is incredibly worrying. People are often aggressive and disruptive to other travellers on public transport. They are also a danger to themselves because there are high voltage cables in the metro tunnels," said Brussels Mobility Minister Elke Van den Brandt (Groen).
Finding a solution
"We want our security services to work in a much more integrated way. We will set up social intervention teams that specialise in helping the unhoused and drug users," Van den Brandt confirmed. The new measures will cost around 10 million euros, according to Van den Brandt and Minister for Cleanliness and Social Action Alain Maron (Ecolo).
The project is based on similar measures in Paris, where the Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens (RATP) has been providing integrated treatment for the unhoused and drug users in the metro stations since 1994.
The aim is to have teams of two people present in more than 60 stations in Brussels on the STIB network, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They will concentrate on places where the most problems arise, such as Ribaucourt, IJzer, Anneessens and others.
The organisations that have partnered in this endeavour include Diogenes, Transit and Samusocial, all of which have great expertise in this field.
"The only way to find real answers is for security and social services to work together," says Van den Brandt. "If you only focus on security and repression, you get the effect we have often seen in Brussels: people get kicked out of the station, then come back. You are not really solving anything; at best, you are postponing the problem," the minister believes. "If you don't strengthen the social component in addition to the security component, you are not working structurally."
"I thank my coalition partners in Brussels," the Van den Brandt continued. "The entire Brussels government supports this decision in the context of difficult budget negotiations. This issue also concerns other governments."
Van den Brandt has expressed gratitude that the federal government has taken measures around the Gare du Nord and coordinated the neighbourhood. "But Brussels is bigger than just South Station. We don't just want to move the problem, which is why the railway police need to be strengthened, and the fight against drug-related crime needs to be stepped up considerably," she said. "It is essential that the federal government makes this a priority. From Brussels, we are also providing additional resources and taking measures. This is what many Brussels citizens are asking for".
©BELGA PHOTO MARTHE DELEERSNYDER