Social exclusion is the consequence of a series of problems affecting an individual such as unemployment, discrimination, poor skills, low income, poor housing or lack of housing, ill health and family breakdown. When such problems combine, they can create a vicious cycle leading to the loss of one’s home.
Family homelessness has complex and multi-dimensional causes and consequences, creating deep and long-lasting problems for individual families, for the economy and for society as a whole.

We try to provide answers to the most commonly asked questions about homelessness:

  • What are the myths surrounding homeless people?
  • What causes someone to lose their home?
  • What is definition of homeless?
  • Who loses their homes?
  • What is the history of homelessness in Romania?
  • What is the situation of homeless?

What are the MYTHs surrounding homeless people?

(Click on each statement to find out more)

For many, when we think of people living on the streets without a home, it conjures up images of scruffy men standing on street corners and begging or lying on the street drunk. However, the face of this phenomenon is changing. In fact, the fastest growing segments of people losing their homes are women and families with children.

Getting a job is a challenge for most people these days, and incredibly difficult for a person living on the street. Most lack clean clothes, showers, a permanent address or a phone number. Others have a criminal background, learning disabilities and a lack of education that keeps them down. Even if they do find work, their income is often so low that it cannot sustain them. We regularly meet with mothers who have two or three part-time jobs and still do not earn enough to rent an apartment for themselves and their children.

Losing one’s home is often associated with drugs, alcohol, violence and crime. So yes, life on the streets can be perilous for both men and women. Nevertheless, very few crimes are committed against those who try to help them. At Casa Ioana, we find our beneficiaries are grateful for the opportunity and have a real willingness to move on with their lives.

Surviving on the street takes more work than people realise. Homeless men and women are often sleep-deprived, cold, wet and ill. Their minds, hearts and bodies are exhausted. Though help is available, they may have no idea where to begin to navigating the maze of social service agencies and bureaucracy. With little money, they often spend all day trying to get food and maybe an appointment before they need to search for a safe place to sleep. They do this while carrying all their possessions along with them in a bag or backpack. It is hardly an easy life.

No one starts life with the goal of losing his or her home. People lose jobs and then housing. Women run away to the street to escape domestic violence. Many people have experienced significant trauma and simply cannot cope with life. Others struggle with mental illness, depression or post-traumatic stress. Yes, poor choices can contribute to losing one’s home; however, outside circumstances strongly influence those choices.

Once a man or woman loses a job or a home, getting those things back can feel nearly impossible. Imagine trying to get a job when you have no address to put on a CV, no phone number, no shower and no clean-pressed clothes. Often, things like legal issues, criminal history, mental illness, and physical and emotional health make moving on with their lives even more difficult.

Food and shelter are essentials for life – it is a basic human right and enshrined in the Constitution. By offering shelter and sustenance, Casa Ioana and other organisations that help can start to build relationships through mutual trust and respect. It is then that we can support them to find decent paid jobs, and when they are ready, affordable housing.

Not having a place to live is not just about bricks and mortar; it is about people. People lose their homes when things go wrong in their lives. Simply providing a place to live will not heal emotional wounds, break addiction, create relational stability or establish healthy life skills. The solution is not found in just providing a home, but in addressing the issues that caused them to lose their homes in the first place. It is all about people.

Talk to the thousands of men, women and children that Casa Ioana has supported over the years and they will tell you that they never intended or expected to lose their homes. They have had good jobs, houses and families. Nevertheless, at some point, their life fell apart and they were desperate for a way back to a place they could call ‘home’.

Many people feel that there will always be people living on the streets and that it is just too big a problem to solve. This belief creates paralysis, leading to apathy and rejection that anything can be done to alleviate the pain and suffering experienced by thousands of people, including women and children.
Casa Iona believes that homelessness can be solved. The authorities have exasperated the situation by forcing people to live on the streets by cutting the services that used to keep people housed whilst at the same time, abandoning vulnerable people leaving childcare institutions and mental hospitals. As more and more people lost their homes, the authorities tried to ignore the issues causing the situation to deteriorate rapidly. Finally, the economic downturn continues to force families out of their homes in record numbers.
Casa Ioana believes that if we are ever going to end this affliction, we all need to ‘think globally and act locally’ by encouraging local solutions to a national scourge – vulnerable people, particularly women and children, being forced to live on the streets because of a woeful lack of adequate support and protection.

What causes someone to lose their home?

People lose their homes because of a complex interplay between someone’s individual circumstances and adverse ‘structural’ factors outside their direct control. These problems can build up over time until the final crisis moment when a person has to leave their home.
These structural factors include high levels of poverty, unemployment or under-unemployment, the inadequate benefits system and a lack of affordable housing.

What is the definition of homeless?

In Romania, the legal definition of someone who is ‘homeless’ is provided by Law 292/2011 on the National System of Social Assistance. The definition means that someone is ‘homeless’ if he or she is from a social category of people that includes families or individuals who, for singular or cumulated reasons (social, medical, financial, economic or juridical) or because of force majeure, live on the streets or with friends or acquaintances whilst unable to maintain rented accommodation. The definition also includes someone who is threatened with eviction, or who lives in an institution or prison and is due to be released within two months without having a place to live.’

The United Nations identifies someone without a home under two broad groups:

  • Primary homelessness (or rooflessness). This category includes persons living on the streets without a shelter that would fall within the scope of living quarters
  • Secondary homelessness. This category may include persons with no place of usual residence who move frequently between various types of accommodations (including dwellings, shelters and institutions for the homeless or other living quarters). This category includes persons living in private dwellings but reporting ‘no fixed abode’ on their census form.

FEANTSA, the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless, has developed a European Typology of Homelessness and housing exclusion (ETHOS) as a means of improving understanding and measurement of homelessness in Europe, and to provide a common “language” for transnational exchanges on homelessness. This typology was launched in 2005 and is used for different purposes – as a framework for debate, for data collection purposes, for policy purposes, monitoring purposes, and in the media.
Homelessness is perceived and tackled differently according to the country. It was developed through a review of existing definitions of homelessness and the realities of homelessness which service providers are faced with on a daily basis. ETHOS categories therefore attempt to cover all living situations which amount to different forms of homelessness across Europe:

  • rooflessness (without a shelter of any kind, sleeping rough)
  • houselessness (with a place to sleep but temporary in institutions or shelters)
  • living in insecure housing (threatened with severe exclusion due to insecure tenancies, eviction, domestic violence)
  • living in inadequate housing (in caravans on illegal campsites, in unfit housing, in extreme overcrowding)

Casa Ioana uses the ETHOS approach in its work because it confirms that homelessness is a process (rather than a static phenomenon) that affects many vulnerable households at different points in their lives.

Who loses their home?

It is hard to imagine how someone can go from having a home one day to being out on the street the next. Many people who lose their homes start out with jobs and stable residences, but then social and economic factors intervene causing a rapid change in their living situation. The two biggest factors leading to people losing their homes are poverty and the lack of affordable housing.

Losing a job happens more frequently now than a few decades ago. The decline in manufacturing jobs and an increase in temporary and part-time employment have chipped away at the foundations of what was once a more stable job market.

According to the World Bank Group, (May 2013) Romania remains the country with the highest poverty levels in the European Union with more than 30% of the population living on less than Ron 16.5 (€3.7) per day. As more people become poor, more people become increasingly at risk of losing their homes.

Another difficult area is the lack of real affordable housing. The waiting list for low-income housing through the local authorities is at least five years in Bucharest and according to the law, being without a home is NOT a priority group for social housing.

A leading cause of losing a home among women and children is domestic violence. Women with violent partners sometimes have to choose between being abused at home or leaving home with nowhere else to stay. Women who leave with their children are survivors, but even in the safety of a shelter, rebuilding, gaining stability and establishing a healthy network of relationships takes time.
Only 31% of the population contribute to the current state-controlled health insurance system leaving 14.8 million people without health cover. In 2011, funds for health care accounted for 4% of GDP, against the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average of 9%. A major health crisis can be financially ruining.

People with mental health issues such as schizophrenia and personality disorders can lose their homes because of difficulties with adapting to family life, job and society. The closure of some mental health care institutions left many former patients being released from care into unknown living situations.

Not every person who loses their homes has a substance abuse problem, but many do and become dependent on alcohol and abuse other substances. The problems related to long-term substance abuse encompasses an abuser’s entire life. Because drug abuse is illegal, it often leads to further illegal activity, meaning time in and out of prison. Abuse has a negative impact on a person’s ability to work and maintain relationships and causes chronic health problems.

The transition from youth to adulthood is difficult for many people, but for young people who have grown up in poverty, this transition can be particularly difficult. Young people who have had to spend time in local authority care are more likely to experience being without a home. Supportive youth programmes end when they reach adulthood, although many are often unprepared for the difficult decisions they have to face at that age.

Numerous issues surround poverty and create important strains on relationships. People exhaust their personal relationships in the same way that they exhaust their financial resources. By the time a person is living on the streets, or staying in a shelter, their relationships are badly damaged. A simple offer of friendship can be a meaningful starting place in helping a person to recover from being without a home. Believing in someone, encouraging and listening to them can also give them the opportunity to try to tackle problems in other areas of their life.

What is the history of homelessness in Romania?

Although many in Romania believe that the phenomena started after 1989, homelessness was evident during the communist regime. At this time, they and other ‘anti- social elements’ were dealt with under the penal code and isolated in prisons, as well as mental health and other institutions.

Casa Ioana opened the country’s first night shelter in Bucharest for older homeless men in 1997, following a request from the city’s mayor. In 2000, Casa Ioana opened another shelter in the city.

There is no national data-collection strategy on the phenomena and very little data available – only general social inclusion indicators being available at national level.

The only figures available come from a study conducted in 2004 by the Research Institute for Quality of Life and the National Institute of Statistics, which estimated that the number of roofless people in Romania at 14,000 -15,000 persons maximum, with 5,000 living in Bucharest.

According to a Romanian Ministry of Labour spokesperson for a 2013 Peer Review on homelessness in Denmark, in 2005 the Government committed to implementing a three-year national programme for the counties and municipality of Bucharest that would establish 50 shelters for homeless people. The programme was to be funded by the state and implemented through the National Interest Programme. By the end of November 2011, 55 centres had been established, however, adult services for people who had lost their homes are only being provided in 19 of the 41 counties and in only 26 cities. Remember, not all of these services provide shelter with many simply offering information and advice – it is unclear how many of these services still operate in 2014.

Between 1 January and 31 December 2011, 113,495 ‘marginalised persons’ were registered with the authorities of which:

  • 41,085 did not own or rent a place to live
  • 161,806 lived in inadequate conditions
  • 10,604 were older people without legal guardians or care givers

According to Eurostat, in 2011, 17.1 % of the EU-28 population lived in overcrowded dwellings with the highest overcrowding rates registered in Romania (54.2 %).

There is no national integration strategy for people who have lost their homes in Romania, who have always been included as a general priority in anti-poverty policies, as they are considered a vulnerable group. Following Government Decision (197/2006), a National Interest Programme (NIP) was launched with the aim of combating social exclusion through creating emergency social centres. Importantly, the Government provided a definition of ‘homelessness’ for the first time through Law 292/2011 on the National System of Social Assistance.

What is the situation of homeless people?

Being without a home is about more than not having a roof over your head. A home is not just a physical space; it also has a legal and social dimension. A home provides roots, identity, a sense of belonging and a place of emotional wellbeing. Being without a home is about the loss of all of these. It is an isolating and destructive experience and means that those who are experiencing homelessness are some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded in our society.

Effects of family homelessness

When we think about people who have lost their homes, we usually think about adults. Unfortunately, thousands of children experience homelessness alongside their parents every year, sleeping in cars, shelters, and abandoned buildings. They move around continually, resulting in school disruption and even dropout.

Families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. Many families, including children, have experienced trauma prior to losing their homes. Their homeless experience compounds the suffering, resulting in a cycle that is tragic, damaging and costly to both individuals and communities.

Research indicates that the typical family who has lost their home is headed by a single mother, usually in her late twenties. She has with her two or three young children. More than 90% of sheltered and low-income mothers have experienced physical and sexual assault over their lifespan.

Being without a home has a devastating impact on families, causing instability and insecurity. These families often lose their possessions and their jobs. They may also lose their relationships with friends and family, links to their community including relationships with family doctors and teachers. There is evidence suggesting that children living in shelters are generally younger than 12 years old and therefore in a crucial period of their development. The experience of losing one’s home and domestic violence has a serious impact on their health, education and wellbeing. These impacts include higher rates of anxiety, emotional and behavioural issues and mental illness. Parents trying to support their families without having a place to live can experience emotional and physical health issues, poor nutrition, isolation, and relationship difficulties. The experience affects the parents’ ability to provide appropriate support to their children resulting in many being taken into local authority care. The longer the episode lasts, the more difficult it is for families to regain their stability.

Impact on children’s health

Children growing up without a home are ill much more often than other children are and have higher rates of acute and chronic illnesses. Additionally, many suffer from emotional or behavioural problems, which will impede learning. These children tend to struggle with higher rates of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or withdrawal.

Children who do not have homes go hungry much more often than other children do.

Impact on education

Although the majority of children and young people without a home attend school, not all attend regularly. Those who are able to attend school have more problems learning in school. Compared with other children, they are more likely to experience developmental delays and very likely to have learning disabilities.

How can we end the phenomena?

Casa Ioana is determined to play its part and works with all stakeholders to try to end the situation where families struggle to provide for their children without a stable place to stay. While sheltering a family provides a safe haven, it is a temporary solution. It is by addressing the issues that lead to homelessness, that families have the opportunity to change their lives forever.

Through research, we learn what families need to rebound from the economic, social, medical, and mental health problems that put them on the streets. Through program evaluation, we identify strategies that work and we use this knowledge to design innovative practices.

Whether one loses their home through economic hardship, domestic violence, or physical or emotional challenges, these families lose more than their homes. They risk losing their health, safety and the ability to look after themselves and their children. Young children who have often witnessed violence in their families and who live on the streets suffer anxiety, depression and are withdrawn. At first, they may need shelter, but to build a life, they also need support.