Study reports 20,000 homeless people in Flanders and clear link with health issues

A census of homeless people by the King Baudouin Foundation shows that there were almost 20,000 homeless people in Flanders at the end of 2023, with a significant increase in Ghent. The study also shows a clear link between homelessness and health problems.

The King Baudouin Foundation supported research teams from KU Leuven and UCLouvain to count homeless people in Antwerp, Ghent and Leuven, in the fourth study of its kind. Projections from the three cities indicate that there are 19,479 homeless people in the whole of Flanders, including 5,946 children. The sharp increase in Ghent is particularly striking: from less than 2,000 homeless people in 2020 to almost 2,500 in 2023. The number of children increased by more than 50 per cent.

More than two-thirds of rough sleepers have health problems, the study shows. Mental health problems (29.2 per cent) and addiction (28.7 per cent) are the most common issues.

Adapted housing

"The figures show the need for adapted housing for people with health problems, such as the Housing First project," said researcher Koen Hermans of KU Leuven. The project provides sustainable housing for people struggling with mental health or addiction problems. "The strong growth in Ghent is related to the increase in the number of homeless people with mental or addiction problems. This group has increased by more than half."

"The strong growth is related to the increase of homeless people with mental or addiction problems. This group increased by more than half"

Ghent is not the only place where many of the homeless population are struggling with addiction or mental health problems. "This is partly due to the trend towards shorter and shorter stays in psychiatric hospitals," says Hermans. "In itself this is not a problem, because a long-term stay in an institution is not an ideal solution, but then there has to be counselling and follow-up. There is too little of that."

Local authorities are calling for more coordinated government support. "Our efforts remain a drop in the ocean if there is no cooperation between the different levels," says Leuven councillor Bieke Verlinden, responsible for care and welfare. The Flemish government needs to put much more effort into its housing policy to get people off the streets, several members of Flemish socialist party Vooruit said on Wednesday.



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