The latest exchange forum on local homeless strategies took place on 8-9 March in Ghent (Belgium), organised by HABITACT. On behalf of ESN there were several participants: Diane Channings, Assistant Director Housing Services Dudley Metropolitan Borough, Nele Hofman, Social Services Director at OCMW Kortrijk, Lisbeth Nilsson, Social Services Coordinator at Gothenburg City Council (each also representing their national association of social directors) and Alfonso Lara Montero from the ESN Secretariat.

To facilitate discussions between local civil servants on homeless policy making, HABITACT organises peer reviews which take a local strategy, project or approach (in this case the Ghent model) as a starting point for European exchange on local homeless policy-making. Due to the local perspective, ESN participates with directors/managers of local public social services (in charge of homeless policies).

Representatives from the City of Ghent explained the housing model in Ghent where they have mixed local and regional policies, priorities and financing, relying as partners on the local authorities – local public social welfare centre (OCMW), centres for wellbeing (CAWs), Social Housing Associations and Social Rental Agencies.

The discussion addressed the following challenges: how to make the private sector more responsible, homelessness prevention, local authorities' responsibilities in regards to housing assistance for migrants, alternative housing solutions, housing needs assessments and empty housing potential to solving homelessness.

Diane Channings stressed the importance of prevention: “Families with children with disabilities (mental health, learning disabilities), victims of abuse and the elderly are considered vulnerable, and the local Council has the statutory obligation to house them.” Her municipality provides a range of services to prevent homelessness:

  • homelessness needs assessments aiming to identify causes and plan around the person;
  • mortgage default paying initiative;mediation service between parents and young people, which helps toidentify abuse cases and address them;
  • family intervention project aimed at stepping in before eviction takes place.

All meeting documents, including podcasts of the presentations, are available in the members’ area of the HABITACT website. Hard copies of the Ghent Peer Review discussion paper can be ordered, as can the other discussion papers in the HABITACT peer review series.

ESN will participate in the next HABITACT seminar taking place in the Committee of the Regions in June 2012. This seminar will look at planning and budgeting local housing strategies and their cost-effectiveness.