People who do not have a roof over their heads still find barriers to apply for social housing, because having a fixed address is one of the requirements, a new study has highlighted.

The research, commissioned by YMCA Malta, carried out a quantitative analysis of contemporary homelessness in Malta, with the aim of better understanding the challenges faced by people who find themselves in a situation where they have nowhere to live.

While the Housing Authority acknowledges that homeless people should be given priority for housing, the application nonetheless requires service users to list their current address for the application to be processed.

“As people experiencing homelessness generally do not have access to a current address, this creates a barrier for them to be able to apply for social housing,” the study said.

This also often encourages people to enter shelters to gain an address, thus promoting dependency when not always necessary.

Also, users experiencing domestic violence and in dire need of social housing may be put in harm’s way if the perpetrator becomes aware of their intentions to leave the home.

“While experiencing homelessness, the amount of personal belongings the person can carry with them is limited. The situation becomes even more problematic as a person experiencing homelessness or rooflessness often moves from one place to another, leaving them with minimal stability,” it continues.

While in this state of survival, without one’s basic fundamental needs being met, lengthy procedures for renewing housing applications may be far from possible.

The report proposed that the requirement of a current address be removed from social housing applications and be allowed to proceed as ‘homeless’ while giving the same option to human traffic and domestic violence cases. Users should also be given the option of listing a PO Box or the address of a friend or a social worker instead.

Not having a fixed address creates a number of barriers for unhoused people, including not being able to apply for social security benefits, being unable to apply for an ID card – and therefore being unable to vote – as well as not being able to apply for jobs.

Many homeless people in Malta try to improve their situation by themselves without becoming dependent on the state or without the upheaval of moving into a shelter, the report said.

“However, without moving into a long-term shelter, an individual or family who is homeless have no way of gaining access to these services.”

The top-cited (36.5%) reason for homelessness is financial problems

The study also stressed that a national definition of homelessness is needed to better enable services and professionals to help the people experiencing it but also to be able to quantify how many people are struggling with homelessness and what solutions are needed.

This, they said, should be expanded to include people who do not have a roof over their heads, as well as those experiencing ‘hidden’ homelessness, like couch surfing, living with family or friends, living in uninhabitable buildings, squatting, living in garages, cars, hostels, or living in inadequate or overcrowded housing.

Majority of people in shelter are Maltese

While attempting to quantify the current population of homeless shelters in Malta, 14 organisations participated in the data collection, recording the number of people making use of a shelter between January 17 and February 14, 2022.

One participating shelter recorded a total of 178 individuals and 58 accompanying children during this period, with an additional 11 people who were accounted for but did not make use of the shelter’s services, with ages of clients ranging between 17 and 67.

Of these, 55.6% were men, with an average age of 31.1 years, while 44.4% were women, with an average age of 40.5 years old. The majority (52 people) were between the ages of 25 and 34, while 48 people were over the age of 45, 39 people were between the ages of 35 and 44, and 37 people were 25 years old and under.

The majority of the people in the shelter (52%) said they were Maltese by nationality, followed by 6.7% from Sudan, 5.6% from Libya, 5.1% from Somalia and 5.1% from Nigeria.

Across the general population of the shelter, the top-cited (36.5%) reason for homelessness is financial problems, followed by mental health issues (24.7%) and domestic violence (23.6%).

However, when split by gender, 50.6% of women cite domestic violence as the most frequent reason for homelessness while 26.3% of men say their homelessness is most often caused by financial problems.

“Even though homelessness is on the increase, Malta still does not have official statistics showing how many individuals and families are homeless,” YMCA Malta CEO Anthony Camilleri said.

“The official numbers, to date, do not portray the real situation… Many people living in Malta still do not believe that there are people who experience homelessness in Malta.”

YMCA recommended further research on homelessness to implement change in the local and national policy frameworks, to assist increase-capacity building of other organisations working in the social sector and place homelessness on the national agenda.

“A serious debate on a national level about the issues homeless individuals are facing is a must and, if not tackled, it is a peril to the society of tomorrow.”

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