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Half of homeless shelter residents are foreigners

YMCA and Caritas share their data

Some of the migrants evicted from a Qormi cow shed ended up living in a field in Mrieħel. Photos: Matthew Mirabelli

Some of the migrants evicted from a Qormi cow shed ended up living in a field in Mrieħel. Photos: Matthew Mirabelli

When 120 migrants were evicted from a Qormi cow shed, at least a quarter of them ended up on the streets. The case threw fresh light on the social reality that is driving desperate people to sleep in fields, on beaches, in cars or stables. 

At least half of the people seeking shelter from homelessness are foreign, recent data from two main charities shows.

According to YMCA Malta, which runs a shelter for homeless people, a third of its foreign clients were EU citizens, while nearly half were migrants.

Meanwhile, a third of the men at the Dar Papa Franġisku shelter, run by Caritas, the government and the Alf Mizzi Foundation, are European and another third are African, with ages varying between 25 and 55. Additionally, while 70 per cent of the women and children hosted at its sister shelter Dar Maria Dolores are Maltese, the rest are mostly European.

The Sunday Times of Malta sought comments from the two NGOs after 120 migrants were evicted from a Qormi cow shed and at least a quarter of them ended up on the streets.

Some found shelter with friends, but others begged the man running the bed-rental business at the farm to be allowed back.

A daily concern

Being unable to host homeless people who cannot find employment
or keep up with a high rent is a daily occurrence for YMCA Malta.

“When we are full up, we refer clients to the national agency Appoġġ, but some cases are referred back to us after a few weeks,” the CEO of YMCA, Anthony Camilleri, said.

“When we question where this person slept during those weeks when we could not host them, we are told that most sleep in cars, vacant houses or worse still, out on the streets or on beaches.”

Not having a job and high rent are the main difficulties that drive people into seeking shelter, he noted.

The number of referrals to YMCA increased between 2016 and 2017, and according to data provided for the first six months of this year, 2018 will be a repeat of last year.

Between January and June of this year, 191 homeless cases were referred to the YMCA and the NGO provided a total of 4,480 bed nights.

Throughout 2017 it had 399 referred cases and the equivalent of 8,283 bed nights. Meanwhile, the previous year, YMCA hosted 355 people, providing a total of 7,061 bed nights.

When looking at this year’s figures, more than half of the 191 people hosted between January and June were foreign. A third of the non-Maltese service-users were EU citizens, while nearly half were migrants.

Overall, the ages varied: There were 24 children, six clients aged over 60, and the majority (64 out of 191 people) were aged between 25 and 39.

When it comes to adults, men outnumbered women, with data showing that 46 were female residents, while 123 were male.

Video: Sarah CarabottVideo: Sarah Carabott

Homeless shelter facilities

YMCA used to run two shelters – one for homeless people and another for unattended minors.  The latter had to be closed down due to lack of funds and support and the NGO moved its premises to a new location where it shelters 30 individuals, families and children on a daily basis. 

The shelter runs two main programmes, including a residential one based on a maximum of 18-month stay. Meanwhile, its emergency admission programme targets people who become stranded and homeless during the night and have nowhere to go.  

Every client is assigned a key-worker who supports them with a care programme, a review is held once a month and service-users are also provided with counselling or psychotherapy.

The shelter requires staff and volunteers 24/7, so that those who are unemployed can stay there throughout the day. The care programme is in fact based on a set of life-skills and clients have to follow a schedule that includes house-chores, psychotherapy and craft sessions.

We are told that most sleep in cars, vacant houses or worse still, out on the streets or beaches

Meanwhile, data also shows that a third of the men at Dar Papa Franġisku shelter, run by Fondazzjoni Dar il-Hena, are European and another third are African, with ages varying between 25 and 55.

Some 70 per cent of the women and children hosted at its sister shelter Dar Maria Dolores are Maltese, while the rest are mostly European. The ages of the service-users there are between 20 and 50.

A spokeswoman for Caritas Malta, which runs the shelters, said that there have been times – although rare – when the places were full up. In such cases, the charity tried to refer people to other shelters, but it transpired that these too were full.

One particularly cold winter, the foundation’s shelters provided temporary beds so that no one would have to sleep outdoors in extreme weather conditions.

Caritas runs three shelters within Fondazzjoni Dar il-Hena, a project set up by Caritas Malta, the government and the Alfred Mizzi Foundation.

Dar Papa Franġisku and Dar Maria Dolores are emergency shelters, where a person can have a meal, shower, wash their clothes and sleep. While meals are served to anyone who turns up at these shelters, the number of beds are limited, so a spot has to be reserved at 6pm for that particular night.

People can stay there for a maximum of six weeks, while a third shelter, called Reach, provides residential services.

Those hosted at Reach are people who remain homeless after six weeks. At the shelter they are helped to find some stability – they can stay there for eight months, and Caritas empowers them in a bid to help them secure employment and gain independence.

Keeping up

What are the main difficulties that drive people into seeking shelter?

The Maltese who seek shelter usually end up homeless as they cannot keep up on their current income. There are also people who are dealing with mental health issues and have no family support, or are struggling with some addiction and end up without any resources.

Meanwhile, people who move to Malta and seek shelter are usually fleeing conflict or unemployment. Most of the time, although they do secure employment, it takes a while for them to cash their first pay-check and get back on their feet, so they seek refuge at a shelter which helps them deal with basic human needs. Most of these people originate from East Europe.

Anyone who would like to help out YMCA can get in touch at their head office, 178, Merchants Street, Valletta, on 2767 4278 or info@ymcahomeless.org, or their Facebook page called YMCA Valletta.

Caritas Malta can meanwhile be reached at 5, Lion Street, Floriana, or on 2590 6600. Log onto https://caritasmalta.org/ for more information or to make a donation.

Caritas calls for rental law reform without delay

New Caritas director Anthony Gatt is calling on society to ensure that everyone can afford basic necessities.

He expressed concern that economic development was widening the gap between the well-off and those who could not keep up with the expenses.

Increased rent prices were weighing down heavily on those with low income, and this included the elderly, those depending on non-contributory benefits, exploited foreigners and those dealing with a personal crisis such as separation.

Meanwhile, there are some elderly who are not yet homeless, but are living in continuous fear that their rent will go up drastically.

Mr Gatt called for a regulatory framework when it comes to the rental sector and urged the government to address abuse, such as in cases where landlords increased the rent for tenants who qualified for a subsidy.

“Having a decent and affordable place where you can live is a right, not a commodity,” he said, adding that he looked forward to the end-result of pledged investment in social housing.

Caritas is calling for a rental law reform without delay, which would regularise, where possible, abuse, and create some balance between landlords’ rights and obligations and the tenants’ peace of mind.

He commended the Church’s efforts as a pioneer within the social sector, and the government’s and private sector’s collaboration to alleviate the precarious conditions of homeless people.

Caritas has always been a voice for the socially excluded and throughout Mgr Victor Grech’s tenure it ran an observatory known as poverty watch, while over the past few years it launched research on ‘A minimum budget for a decent living’, he added.

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