The number of working people unable to afford a roof over their head was on the rise, the head of a Valletta shelter told experts attending a conference on homelessness yesterday.

Until 2017, of the 30 people living at the YMCA shelter, 20 would be unemployed. That  has now changed: at least 20 of the residents would either have a full-time or a part-time job but could not afford to rent accommodation, CEO Anthony Camilleri told the Times of Malta.

He also witnessed a rise in the “phenomenon” of the working homeless through his work with Dar Papa Franġisku and Dar Maria Dolores, two other shelters. Both foreigners and Maltese were feeling the brunt of higher rent prices, he warned.

The issue highlighted the need for a higher minimum wage. It was impossible for those earning €762, the minimum wage, to afford an average rent of €400 or €500, Mr Camilleri said. The Times of Malta reported last week the minimum wage in Malta was well below the European Union average of €924.

Read: Malta’s minimum wage below EU average

At least 20 of the residents would either have a full-time or a part-time job

Mr Camilleri said the YMCA and other charities were turning homeless people down daily because shelters were full.

“What is common among these people is the feeling of emptiness, repression and an unclear identity,” he said.

Addressing 120 experts on the “hidden scandal” of homelessness during the conference, he encouraged social workers and the Housing Authority to make a difference.

Sociologist Ann Marie Cutajar noted there was no clear definition of homelessness in Malta. The figures usually quoted referred to those sleeping outdoors but that did not present an accurate picture, she pointed out.

Figures tabled in Parliament last year show that 27 people had been found sleeping rough between 2013 and 2017. However, charities that provide shelter to the homeless were quick to dismiss the figure, saying the data only reflected cases known to the police. In fact, Dar Papa Franġisku and Dar Maria Dolores hosted an average of 23 people daily, said a Caritas spokeswoman.

“What about the person who is informally staying with friends and family but who cannot afford a place of his/her own,” Ms Cutajar asked. “What about those who are living in ‘overshared’ apartments, with five other people,” she added.

Housing rights were also a vague issue under Maltese legislation, leading many to resort to inadequate or insecure housing, she complained.

Caritas CEO Anthony Gatt also warned that homelessness was on the rise, saying his organisation was “scrambling” to find more places for people at Dar Papa Franġisku. Mr Gatt paid tribute to late activist Charles Miceli, who had campaigned for the rights of the poor and vulnerable throughout his life. Mr Miceli had called for the regularisation of rent prices and an increase in the minimum wage, insisting that cheap labour and precarious work was prevalent on the island.

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