What to expect from the European Platform on Combating Homelessness?

Cecília Pires (PhD Candidate at the University of Minho)

On 21 June of 2021, under the fourth Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union (“EU”), its Member States, European institutions, political representatives, homeless people, and civil society signed the Lisbon Declaration on the European Platform on Combating Homelessness, during the High-Level Conference on the European Platform on Combating Homelessness.

The initiative is a result of the orientation at Article 3 of the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, which predicts the urgency of European practices and policies that can promote access to not only the quality and affordable houses but also the essential services. It is aimed to guarantee the human right to adequate housing.

The primary basis of the commitment is: Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union (“TEU”), which mandates the Union to combat social exclusion and promote economic, social, and territorial cohesion; principle nº 19 of the European Pillar of Social Rights (“EPSR”), that addresses the need for action to ensure housing; housing assistance, adequate shelter and services for those in need and people experiencing homelessness; and the principles nº 1 and nº 11 of the 2030 United Nations (“UN”) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which deal, respectively, with the duty to end extreme poverty, including homelessness, and to make cities and human settlements safe, resilient and sustainable with ensuring access to all adequate, safe and affordable houses. 

The European Platform on Combating Homelessness responds to the warning that the European Parliament had already given within the scope of Resolutions 2020/2802[1] and 2019/2187[2]. According to these, more than 4 million European citizens are homeless, and the number of homeless people in EU has allegedly increased by over 70% in the last ten years. This is a problem that affects all Member States. In addition, the instruments already pointed out the urgency of the issue to the Member States to adopt a systematic framework regarding the commitment of all with sharing experiences and good practices in order to combat and reduce the phenomenon of homelessness, with a view of promoting the right of housing.

According to the Lisbon Declaration, the Platform aims to operate as a multilevel action that will involve efforts of the European Parliament, European Commission; local, regional, and national authorities; civil society; civil society organizations; and social partners are in a proactive movement to share good practices. These efficient and innovative approaches can help to introduce action plans so as to reduce and prevent homelessness and carry out the right to housing.

Therefore, there is a recognition in the sense that homelessness represents a social problem that affects people extraordinarily and negatively, and it is directly related to the difficulty of exercising other fundamental rights.

Accordingly, all the involved actors must create a dialogue, facilitate mutual learning, and share good and successful experiences. Such practices must be based on the differences between the impacted groups in communities, inclusive, person-centered, and guided by the promotion of permanent and decent housing as the primary goal to avoid unhealthy transitional housing solutions. Besides, it is necessary to focus on prevention while ensuring that transitional housing is provided only when is required. In the same way, evictions and discharged must be prevented, and no one is evicted without an offer of an appropriate housing solution.

Even though in the field of housing policies the EU does not have the competencies to exert direct influence on the policies adopted by the Member States, the Platform intends to develop a European strategy towards combatting the homelessness situation in the EU. Strategically, the Platform proposes to function as a “meeting space” where the Member States can collectively build a European policy of access to the right to housing counting with the encouragement and the support provided by the EU institutions. As a result, the EU will function as a good host without cross your competencies limits.

The use of new technologies will be essential not only to unite the stakeholders to enable mutual learning and dialogue but also to support analytical work and data collection to promote evidence-based policies and initiatives addressing homelessness, which will allow a constant review of the situation progress, of the use of European resources and the causes of homelessness. Consequently, there is a need to develop and implement, besides an action plan, a digital platform, a hub to disseminate and share initiatives, data, reports, tools, models, and frameworks with an intelligible and accessible language for all the actors involved.

In a context in which new technologies are controlled mainly by the Big Techs market, the European initiative to support a digital platform that aims to congregate efforts to concretize a social right – like the right to adequate housing -, depending on how it will be implemented, may signal a step towards a counter-hegemonic use of new technologies, since it should be based on a partnership between national, regional, and local authorities and with the civil society interested and directly involved in the fight[3] for the promotion of the right to housing acting as a protagonist.

In the era of smart cities, the market expects to move about 2 trillion dollars in 2025[4]. Moreover, smart cities are often associated with “any advanced technology to be implemented in cities to optimize the use of their resources, produce new wealth, change user behavior or promise new types of gain,”[5] so it is welcome that the utilization of new technologies, progress and innovation works beyond and outside the key of “gain” led by the private sector of Big Techs companies, and instrumentalize the use of data for the benefit of citizens and social values.

However, it will be mandatory that the Platform’s infrastructure is grounded on an independent and efficient policy that pursues autonomy and digital sovereignty[6]. The content and values to be provided for in the legislative package that will regulate the digital market in the UE will also be central, as it has a significant influence on the implementation of the right to housing, especially in the context of smart cities.

In general terms and at the first moment, the Platform can be an essential step with disruptive and progressive potential for implementing the right to adequate housing. It also expresses the interest of the UE in name of the construction of a European housing policy.

Therefore, in addition to what has been exposed, for Platform’s success, it will be imperative that the active participation of citizens is ensured and promoted in the name of collaborative and democratic governance in order to contribute to the right of housing and guarantee the public control of data. In fact, Platform’s operation may also impact on the city’s dynamics.

On top of that, other measures must be taken to combat the homelessness situation, and it will be necessary to update and enforce the concept of the right to adequate housing considering the new context of smart cities. So, it will require a substantial commitment of all the involved actors to implement city models concerned with the citizen’s rights at the expense of an eminently entrepreneurial urban model[7]

Nonetheless, from now on, it will be decisive to monitor if the seeds laid and the intentions formed in the Lisbon Declaration will be fruitful and fulfilled.

[1] European Parliament. “European Parliament resolution of 24 November 2020 on tackling homelessness rates in the EU” (November 24th, 2020). Accessed June, 30, 2021, TA MEF (europa.eu)

[2] European Parliament. “European Parliament resolution of 21 January 2021 on access to decent and affordable housing for all” (January 21st, 2021). Accessed June, 30, 2021, TA MEF (europa.eu)

[3]The text of the Lisbon Declaration employs the term “fight” when inviting stakeholders to sign the Declaration. The word fight is linked to the actions of social movements that denounce, inspect, and use a range of efforts to implement the right to housing, often confronting the state authorities themselves, since the simple formal attribution of rights is not enough for their realization. Thus, even if it is only a detail, this fact can denote the recognition of the importance of these actors, which are incredibly relevant for the construction of the European policy of access to housing.

[4]Smart Cities Frost & Sullivan Value Proposition”, Frost & Sullivan. Accessed July, 01, 2021, https://ww2.frost.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/SmartCities.pdf

[5] Morozov. E and Bria. F, A Cidade Inteligente: tecnologias urbanas e democracia. Trans., Humberto do Amaral. (São Paulo: Ubu Editora, 2019), 12.

[6] Digital sovereignty can be achieved from several initiatives and guarantees autonomy and public control of technologies in the interest of citizens, according to Morozov and Bria: the establishment of an alternative data ownership regime where states and citizens (not companies) should own the data produced and should be able to use it to improve public services and drive their public policies; reallocation of information services to open source and open standard platforms, and adoption of agile delivery solutions; control of digital platforms. Morozov. E and Bria. F, A Cidade Inteligente: tecnologias urbanas e democracia. Trans., Humberto do Amaral. (São Paulo: Ubu Editora, 2019).

[7] Regarding the category of “entrepreneurialism” developed by David Harvey. David Harvey, “From managerialism to entrepreneurialism: the transformation in urban governance in late capitalism”, Geografiska Annaler, v. 71, n. 1 (1989): 3-17, accessed September, 07, 2020, doi: 10.2307/49053.

Pictures credits: Leo_Fontes.

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