“People who have been living on the street for a long time are unable to get used to living in a house.” “People with substance abuse problems do not want to live in a house.” “The more time living on the street, the less likely a person is to adapt to living in a house.”
These and other myths about homeless people have been debunked by scientific evidence from the Housing First model, called 'Moradia Primeiro' in Brazil, and were presented during the two-day European Union-Brazil International Seminar on Housing for the Homeless on December 3rd and 4th, in Brasília.
The event was organized by the Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights (MMFDH) and the European Union Delegation to Brazil (DELBRA) within the scope of a project supported by the Sector Dialogues. One of the pioneering researchers in the study on the Housing First methodology in Europe, Professor José Ornelas, from the University Institute (ISPA) and the Association for the Study of Psychosocial Integration (AEIPS) in Portugal, attended the event alongside other specialists from Spain and Chile.
Ornelas said that, differently from what has been believed for many years, “the situation of homeless people in cities is not the hard part. The tough is getting policy makers to understand and make research and evidence-based decisions”.
“Scientific evidence shows that the Housing First model is the fastest, most cost-effective solution, with extraordinary results that have been studied by several universities. Among the results are greater community integration, greater well-being and personal satisfaction, reduced symptoms of mental illness and smaller levels of chemical and alcohol dependency. It is not just a house, it is a house that can transform and enable the total rehab of someone who used to be homeless”, said the professor.
At the opening of the seminar, DELBRA representative Costanzo Fisogni spoke about the EU's initiatives to address the issue of homelessness. “Housing is not just a social need, it is an essential human right. This is highly connected to social cohesion, a very important concept to the EU. The financial crisis that hit the world in 2007 and 2008 had a significant impact on our society. The homelessness phenomenon was carefully looked into by both the European Commission and the individual Member States. So much so that in 2010 we established the Europe 2020 Agenda, which among other themes aims to lift 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and social exclusion ”, he pointed out.
Portuguese expert Teresa Duarte was hired by the Sector Dialogues to carry out a study on the Housing First experience in Europe, where both the European Commission and the individual member state countries adopt the model as part of the strategies of programs created to tackle homelessness. The expert explained there is a number of costs arising from dealing with people living on the streets that are often unaccounted for - with health, food, the legal system, street teams, publictoitlets, etc. “Therefore, a lot of money is being spent and the key issue still has not been solved, as people remain on the streets. Housing First allows these resources to be used in a much more effective way to solve this problem, giving people what they really want, a home. ”
According to Teresa, the main focus of the Housing First model is to provide immediate access to housing, opposite to other welfare aid methodologies in which there are several stages before the person can get a house. "In order to be allowed to stay in a community shelter, for example, people cannot abuse substances. Often, people do not want to stay in these places because they do not feel safe. This perpetuates the myth that people do not want to get out of the streets, that they prefer the freedom of the streets. In fact, what we hear from people is that by getting a house, they regain their freedom, the freedom to decide when to sleep, when to wake up, what to eat and how to live. On the street, people are conditioned to survival only, that is not freedom. What people do not want is to go to shared spaces."
This is also true when analysing the Brazilian reality according to expert Marina Moretto, who conducted a survey on the history of public policies aimed at the homeless population in the country. "People who were assisted by programs that took them off the streets report that they began to feel calmer, safer, less discriminated against, and more hopeful about their lives".
According to Marina, more research needs to be done in Brazil on the subject. "It is important to implement pilot projects so that we can assess the impacts of Housing First. We do not need to wait until we have lots of resources to assist a large number of people. We can start with little. We already allocate a lot of resources towards homeless people. What we need is to direct them in order to be more effective".
Karinna Soto, from Chile's Ministry of Social Development and Family, stressed the importance of adapting the Housing First model to the Latin American reality. "We are different from Europeans and Americans. The methodology here needs to have another flavour, another beat. Here people want to live together, they want to be close to their neighbours, they want to listen to music and go out dancing and have a really active community life. That's why the program here has a great focus on social and community integration, and not just on life inside the new house".
According to Karinna, 30 people are assisted by Housing First in Chile, but the program should reach 300 homes soon. "We are also supporting its implementation in other neighbouring countries, like Uruguay," she said.
Vanesa Cenjor del Rey, from the Hogar Sí Foundation, spoke about Spanish experience with Housing First. The methodology, which is applied by the foundation through the Habitat program, has been successfully implemented and provides individual housing and professional support to individuals based on their needs and demands.
"Neither the support nor the stay in the house are conditioned to the previous objectives of this social intervention. The person is the one who determines his/her objectives and the extent of support necessary to reach them. The program requires some commitments though, such as accepting regular visits from a professional and having good neighbourhood relations," said Vanesa.
The seminar also debated the experience of Brazilian municipalities with the Moradia Primeiro program . Tomás Gomes, from the National Human Rights Institute for Homelessness (INRUA), spoke about the project which is currently being implemented in Curitiba. Natan Katz, professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, presented the Porto Alegre City Hall program, which gives housing to the homeless.
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