Data showing that 27 people were reportedly sleeping rough over the past five years is a far cry from reality, according to two main charities that provide shelter to homeless people.

The lack of data about actual homelessness reflects the sad reality that stakeholders are not really in touch with the situation of ‘rooflessness’ in Malta, according to the CEO of YMCA Malta, Anthony Camilleri.

“We are facing ‘institutionalised homelessness’ – at the moment we are hosting 30 clients at our shelter. These people are still homeless but what matters to stakeholders is that they are not out on the streets.”

According to figures tabled in Parliament, 27 people were reported sleeping outdoors between 2013 and last August. More than a third were reported in 2016 in Qormi, Valletta, Comino, Senglea, Qawra and St Paul’s Bay.

Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina also asked how many were accused of leading a vagabond life. A total of 18 were taken to court for breaking the law, some of whom were jailed or handed a fine. There were also 14 people accused of harassing people for money in public places.

We are facing institutionalised homelessness

A spokeswoman for Caritas Malta said the data reflected only cases known to the police.

In fact, the five-year data reported in Parliament is similar to the daily average hosted at Dar Papa Franġisku and Dar Maria Dolores. At these two shelters, which Caritas runs in collaboration with the State and the Alfred Mizzi Foundation, it hosts an average of 23 people every day.

Mr Camilleri said the data excluded cases of people hosted at shelters or other institutions, lived in inadequate housing, on beaches, in cars, squatted in abandoned places or wore the best clothes they could find in donation piles in order to look ‘normal’. 

“I would say it depicts one per cent of the reality. You can walk in Valletta after 9pm and spot a man sleeping on a bench next to a cardboard that reads: ‘I’m homeless’, but police officers will just walk by and nothing is done about it.

“These figures merely show that stakeholders need to step out of their business suits, get away from their fancy offices and put their hands in the mud to actually feel and experience the sad reality we are living in.”

Between January and June of this year, 191 homeless cases were referred to the YMCA and the NGO provided a total of 4,480 bed nights.

In 2017, it had 399 referred cases.

Policymakers are not yet aware that most of the referrals – in our case 80 per cent – are people who sleep rough, he said.

Caritas also believes in the need of collecting actual data of how many people live on the streets. This could be quite challenging, as such people do not really have anyone to lean on, and do not seek the support of any agency.

Apart from those hosted in shelters, homeless people – especially elderly ones – are also being kept in hospitals and referred to as ‘social cases’.

“Taking homeless people to court addresses the symptoms, not the cause. We need to seriously start treating the cause of the problem and help these people get back on their feet,” director Anthony Gatt said.

“Through Caritas, the Church recognises the need of addressing the cause – whether the result of a physical ailment, mental health or financial issues – of homelessness. These people should not be considered as criminals.”

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