Shut out and abandoned by society: study visit on homeless people with multiple and complex needs


On 24-25 June 2015, the city of Nantes hosted a study visit on homeless people with multiple and complex needs, in the framework of our working group on homelessness.

The purpose of the event was to exchange experiences on working with homeless people who do not respond to the standard interventions due to a combination of various issues, including mental health illnesses, substance abuse, disabilities, and others.

The cities of Barcelona, Brighton & Hove, Brno, Gothenburg, Lisbon, Ljubljana, Nantes, Newcastle, Oslo and Vienna explored good practices and possible approaches to supporting this target group. Abassia Hakem, district deputy mayor, opened the event by stating that solidarity is the key to social cohesion in cities. Later in the day, Marie-Annick Benâtre, deputy mayor of Nantes, welcomed participants to the city hall and said that exchanges with other cities help Nantes improve their services for the homeless.

The study visit comprised three site visits. ‘La Halte de Nuit 44’ is a low threshold facility accepting homeless people who are unable to use any other temporary or emergency accommodation due to their complex problems. The second site visit was the emergency accommodation ‘24 bis’, which has a capacity of 18 places for single people in nine rooms, and aims to provide social stability in the long term. The final visit was ‘La Baggagerie’ (pictured), a secure facility for homeless people to store their belongings. Many participants were inspired by this last example and would like to work towards opening similar services in their own cities.

Dr Preben Brandt offered expert input during the study visit. In the early 90s, the Danish social psychiatrist carried out extensive research on the personal histories of homeless people. He concluded that a homeless person is often someone who has no home and is unable to take care of themselves in their community. This, according to Dr Brandt, explains why chronically homeless people are unable to make use of society’s institutions and as a result suffer multiple exclusion. Based on these observations, Dr Brandt co-founded a very unique facility, ‘Mette Marie’. It provides a space to live and belong for people with multiple problems, but without a goal of preparing them for a ‘normal’ life in society. The project is co-funded by the city of Copenhagen because it has contributed significantly to combatting chronic homelessness in the city.

Last but not least, Nantes presented a plan for its ‘5 Bridges’ project. The project is being developed in a close collaboration with the users and will merge a number of the existing homelessness services and add social housing. It will offer a range of services in one place and guarantee 24/7 reception, whereas currently users must move around the city to access different services with conflicting opening hours. The project also aims to open up and connect to the local community in order to combat prejudice about homeless people and restore their dignity. For example, it will run a social economy restaurant open to the public.

Future study visits of our working group homelessness are planned around the topics of homelessness and work, Housing First, and access to services. For more information, please contact Paulina Banas.