The number of foreign women requesting help from homeless shelters in Malta has soared in the last year.

More than a quarter of female residents at Dar Maria Dolores in Birkirkara were non-Maltese, Caritas had reported in 2018. That figure has risen to half, according to home manager Ian Galea.

Dar Tereza Spinelli, another homeless shelter for women and children located in Valletta, also confirmed that half of its residents were foreign, according to general manager Anthony Debattista.

Dar Maria Dolores, which assists women and children, is one of three shelters jointly administered by Caritas, the government, and Alf. Mizzi and Sons.

The other two are Dar Papa Franġisku in Birkirkara offering temporary housing to men and Reach Residential Home, which offers longer-term accommodation.

80% of male clients in Dar Papa Franġisku are foreign nationals

Eight out of 10 of those utilising the services at Dar Maria Dolores and Dar Papa Franġisku, which opened in 2016, were Maltese, Mr Galea explained. Since then, a major shift has been seen with the scales tipping heavily towards foreigners, he explained.

For these last two years, 80 per cent of male clients at Dar Papa Franġisku in Birkirkara have been foreign, he added.

“Family issues like separation, mental health problems, addiction and general financial difficulties are some of the reasons people turn up here,” he said.  Low-income earners generally tended to make use of the shelter after a separation or an argument with housemates, leaving them very vulnerable.

Mr Galea could not attribute the influx to any particular trend.

The remarkable increase in foreigners moving to Malta in the last few years hoping to find a job and then falling through the social net and facing exploitation is believed to have exacerbated the problem.

Dar Maria Dolores offers eight beds on a first-come-first-served basis. People start queuing up for a bed in a dormitory at 5pm, after which they are given a hot meal and access to showers. By 9am the next morning they are asked to leave. “The idea,” explained the house manager, “is that once a person walks through the doors, we start helping them make a plan to get back on their feet.”

The shelter works closely with the social welfare agency Appoġġ and Mount Carmel Hospital. If they do not find a place by the time the six weeks is up, they are referred to a longer-term shelter from which they are given further support according to their circumstances.

RELATED STORIES

Skyrocketing rental prices have also had an impact on the number of people at the shelters, Mr Galea said.

“It is a problem when clients get back on their feet, saved enough money to start renting again, and generally cannot find affordable housing. This is where they get stuck.”