The number of people who are homeless in Malta is on the rise, YMCA Malta CEO Anthony Camilleri has warned.
In the foreword to a report titled ‘Contemporary Homelessness in Malta: Quantitative Research’, published by the NGO on Friday, Camilleri said that currently available official numbers on homelessness do not reflect the reality.
“Even though homelessness is on the increase, Malta still does not have official statistics showing how many individuals and families are homeless. The official numbers, to date, do not portray the real situation,” he said.
He added that in fact, many people living in Malta still do not believe that there are people who experience homelessness. A debate on the topic needs to emerge in public discourse, before it becomes “a peril to the society of tomorrow,” Camilleri cautioned.
This is not the first time that Camilleri has been vocal about official numbers not reflecting reality. In 2018, in a report by the Times of Malta, the CEO had also highlighted that the numbers reported by authorities are different to the numbers being witnessed on the ground.
A study by the European Social Policy Network in 2020 had also observed an “increasing trend in homelessness situations” in Malta. It had pointed towards a “lag in investment in social housing during the 2013-2017 legislature”, the “sudden rise in rents, not accompanied by a parallel increase in State pensions and salaries” and the “entitlement to social housing never being reviewed and persons allocated social housing continue to live there indefinitely and for successive generations,” as contributors to homelessness in Malta.
Majority of homeless shelter residents are Maltese
Throughout the data collection period of the research, the overall occupancy rate of participating shelters was over 80% – with more than half of these shelters operating at full capacity.
The research also found that the majority of people residing in the shelters were Maltese (52.2%). Just over a quarter (26.4%) originally came from countries in Central and Northern Africa, and the remaining residents came from an array of countries including India, Morocco, Bulgaria, Serbia and Italy. The average age of individuals recorded in the research was 37.5.
Residents and frequenters of the shelters were calculated between 17 January and 14 February 2022 with the aim of quantifying homelessness in contemporary Malta, by providing a ‘snapshot’ of the number of residents across local homeless shelters during a specific period.
The findings demonstrated that one participating shelter saw a total number of 178 individuals and 58 accompanying children in residence. Besides these cases, there were an additional 11 cases of roofless individuals who did not make use of the shelter facilities.
Meanwhile, the research also found that the leading cause of homelessness for the majority of residents (36.5%) is ‘financial problems’, followed by ‘mental and psychological health’ (24.7%) and ‘domestic violence’ (23.6%). For females,‘domestic violence’ is the leading cause of homelessness, while, in the case of males, ’financial problems’ (26.3%) is the leading cause.
In its report, the YMCA also recommended a number of proposals that authorities could implement to improve the situation for those who are homeless in Malta.
These include creating an alternative address (to that of the homeless shelter) for homeless individuals to use when applying for jobs, excluding information about vulnerable people at risk of violence from the Electoral Registry that’s available online and prioritising this specific client group when it comes to allocating social housing. They also recommended not making it obligatory to provide an address from social housing applications (which may be risky in cases such as ones were domestic violence victims are trying to leave their homes), and instead allowing the word ‘homeless’ to be used.
The report also called out for a national definition of ‘homelessness’. “Persons who are homeless my experience chronic, transitionl or episodic homelessness and therefore time frame should not be a prerequisite to considering someone to be homeless,” it concluded.