It is wrong to think that a homeless person is a middle-aged man who spends all days and nights in a park accompanied by a bottle of wine. Many homeless persons are young, even families, and alcohol was joined by drug addiction. And many homeless persons have a temporary roof over their heads.
10 October 2010 was the inaugural World Homeless Day. Every year on that day organisations in Slovenia prepare many events in support of homeless persons.
Visible and hidden homelessness
Definitions of homelessness vary considerably across the world but none of them is wrong. The European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion (ETHOS) distinguishes four types of homeless persons: 1) roofless people, 2) houseless people, 3) people living in insecure accommodation and 4) people living in inappropriate accommodation. The first two groups are the so-called visible (street) homelessness and the last two are the so-called hidden homelessness, which, however, often leads to visible homelessness.
How many homeless persons are there in Slovenia?
The question on the number of homeless persons in Slovenia cannot be answered. It has to be pointed out that Statistical Office does not collect data on homeless persons. Further on the data related to homeless persons in Slovenia are provided, but none of the figures represents all homeless persons and the figures include persons who are not homeless.
The Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities estimates that there are 2,760 homeless persons in Slovenia in 2017. This is a rough estimate based on programmes co-financed by the Ministry. However, these programmes do not include all homeless persons and some homeless persons use programmes of various organisations, so they are counted more than once. Counting the number of homeless persons in an individual organisation is not necessarily precise. On the one hand, no one can remember the names of all the users (homeless persons), while on the other hand, it is not appropriate to ask them for their names over and over again. That it is truly impossible to determine the exact number of homeless persons is confirmed by the figure provided by the Brezdomni do ključa society, which combines all organisations working with homeless persons. According to their estimates there were just over 6,700 homeless persons in Slovenia in 2016.
Homeless persons often have a registered residence at the Social Work Centres, even though they do not live there; permanent residence is the condition to obtain social assistance benefit in cash. The number of homeless persons registered at these centres is increasing; in the beginning of 2017 over 3,000 people were registered there. However, some homeless persons do not have a registered residence or their residence is at the address where they lived last. In addition, other persons can be registered at the address of a Social Work Centre, e.g. tenants whose landlords do not allow them to register their actual permanent residence.
Demographic and other characteristics of homeless persons in Slovenia
In surveys conducted in Slovenia between 2005 and 2014 the interviewed homeless persons were mostly men (83%), aged 17–77 years, on average 42 years. Half of them finished upper secondary school and 42% elementary school. Most of them (54%) were single and never married, followed by divorced persons (29%). On average, almost half of the interviewed homeless persons (44%) had children. Most of them (83%) had been employed in the past with just over 12 years of service on average.
Some homeless persons do not consider themselves homeless
It is difficult to define who is homeless and who is not. This is confirmed by the Kralji ulice (Street Kings) survey conducted in 2013/2014. A quarter of respondents answered that they are not homeless and that they had never been homeless, even though the survey was conducted among the users of services for homeless persons.
Reasons for being homeless
It seems obvious that when one has problems (emotional, financial) one can turn to one’s family, friends, or partner. The problem of homeless persons is that they mostly do not have a family or do not have contacts with it, and that their friends are other homeless persons, who cannot help them return to a normal life.
Homelessness often starts with the breakup of or inability to sustain social networks that stabilise our lives and provide a home. For some people homelessness starts in their childhood, which they spend in foster families, youth accommodation facilities and residential treatment institutions. For others homelessness is the result of family conflicts or abuse; frequently the reasons are mental problems, divorce or death of a close person. In all these cases the individual is left without persons who offered emotional, financial and/or material support. In the survey conducted in Slovenia in 2009, almost 60% of interviewed homeless persons responded that they do not have anyone with whom they could relax if they are under great stress and that they do not have anyone with whom they could share their deepest feelings and emotions.
Unsettled family and residential conditions, poverty, violence, mental problems, alcoholism and dependency are among the most common reasons for homelessness. Many people in Slovenia live in socially and materially adverse living conditions; this, however, does not mean that they will become homeless. On the other hand, it is a fact that before becoming homeless a large share of homeless persons was faced with such problems. This is why it is very important to monitor the data on people’s living conditions.
Monitoring the data on people’s living conditions
According to 2016 data, almost a quarter of households in Slovenia lived in bad dwelling conditions (leaking roof, damp walls/foundation, rot in window frames/floor), and 6% of households could not afford to keep their homes adequately warm.
Chart 1: Estimated number of homeless people and the at-risk-of-poverty rate, Slovenia
Sources: MDDSZ, SURS
At that time 18.4% of people in Slovenia were at risk-of-poverty or social exclusion and 13.9% of people lived below the at-risk-of-poverty threshold. There is no clear correlation between the at-risk-of-poverty rate and the number of homeless persons; however, it is clear that from the data that in 2010–2016 the at-risk-of-poverty rate and the estimated number of homeless persons were growing and falling at roughly the same time.
On 1 April 2017, 170 people were living in educational institutions. And, according to Ministry data, at the end of August almost 700 underage children were living in foster care. According to data collected by the National Institute of Public Health, the number of people hospitalised due to mental and behavioural problems has slightly declined in recent years to about 11,500 in 2015. According to the Institute, the annual consumption of pure alcohol slightly decreased to 10.5 litres per adult (aged 15+) in 2016. According to the Ministry of the Interior, in 2015 just over 1,000 underage children were victims of criminal offences within the family.
It is not redundant to point out once again that most persons living or having lived in adverse living conditions are not and never will be homeless. It is, however, also true that many homeless persons used to live in good conditions but ended up living on the street.
Go get a job!
Homeless persons often hear passers-by say that they should go get a job rather than live on the street. However, regarding the Employment Service of Slovenia figure that at the end of August 2017 there were almost 84,000 registered unemployed persons in Slovenia, it is difficult to expect that homeless persons, who are to a large extent (former) addicts, prisoners, alcoholics, can easily get a job. Some are trying to solve their financial problems by begging, some by performing undeclared work and some (particularly in Ljubljana) by selling the Kralji ulice (Street Kings) newsletter. According to the Kralji ulice society, the number of homeless persons selling this newsletter is growing; last year it was 299.
• Dekleva, Bojan, Špela Razpotnik. 2007. Brezdomstvo v Ljubljani.
• Dekleva, Bojan, Špela Razpotnik. 2009. Brezdomstvo, zdravje in dostopnost do zdravstvenih storitev.
• Dekleva, Bojan. 2015. Kdo so obiskovalci dnevnega centra društva Kralji ulice?
• Dekleva, Bojan, Maša Filipovič Hrast, Mateja Nagode, Špela Razpotnik, Simona Smolej. 2010. Ocena obsega odkritega in skritega brezdomstva v Sloveniji: zaključno poročilo študije.