PRODEC project - Helping homeless mobile EU citizens find their way

PRODEC project - Helping homeless mobile EU citizens find their way

The number of homeless mobile EU citizens across Europe is rising every year. Many worked for years under the EU mobility framework but became homeless for a reason or another, like a family issue, a divorce or health issues. Adding to their plight is the difficulty of navigating administration systems in member states, understanding civil rights and coping with language barriers. EPIM supports with its fund “Protecting the Rights of Destitute EU mobile Citizens” (PRODEC) homeless EU citizens with, among others, frontline services that help homeless EU migrants with information on legal rights.

“Homeless mobile EU citizens often have an unclear status. In some countries, if you are not officially registered, you cannot access publicly-funded services,” says Mauro Striano, policy officer of the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA), the Brussels-based NGO leading the PRODEC project.

While the long-term goal is to end homelessness, “a solvable problem if there is the political will”, says Striano, one of PRODEC’s priorities is to keep the issue on the EU agenda. After focusing on Belgium, Germany and UK, the project’s second phase will be enlarged to include other countries where the situation is acute, like in France, The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Austria.

Recognising the need to find long-term solutions, it aims to carry out further research, create durable links between homeless service providers and lawyers and improve coordination with local authorities. To help meet these objectives, training workshops are to be evaluated in three target cities, homeless cases will be selected for strategic litigation, good practices will be shared in local seminars and information sessions are to be held at EU level.

Life on the street

Another person with first-hand experience of life on the streets is Bert De Bock, an outreach worker for 16 years, who has been employed by the Brussels homeless service Diogenes since 2008. Diogenes records show that for the first time in 2018, the proportion of European migrants it helped in Brussels (43.9%), overtook the number of Belgians (41.9%).

Diogenes collaborated with FEANTSA in the PRODEC project, it helps the destitute access vital services. “First, we try to establish a contact, talk and then try and open a network around the person,” says De Bock.

One person assisted by the street worker is 53 year-old Polish plumber, Aleksander. Living in Belgium since 10 years, he had legal residency before the breakdown of his marriage led him to start drinking and suffer severe depression. He lost his official income and became increasingly destitute, living in metro stations and becoming socially isolated. De Bock met him in hospital, “disorientated in space and time” due to the effects of alcoholism.

Aleksander had a valid E+ card and De Bock was able to pursue his case with social services in the municipality of Schaerbeek, where crucially, he still had an administrative address. “We were just in time, they were about to deregister him,” says De Bock. It meant Aleksander had some rights and after a couple of months in hospital and a homeless shelter, he had an income and stopped drinking.

“Everything came together, you cannot stop drinking when you are seen as a problem. It all starts with a good conversation and a little self-esteem and that’s what happened here. Now he is in a shelter that accompanies residents to live independently and he is in contact with his two adult sons who have legal residency in Belgium,” he says.

De Bock sees a lot of Polish migrants run into difficulties. “They work for years on the black market, but never fully legalize their situation. There is no safety net if they suffer an accident, a relationship breakdown or health problem,” says De Bock. Among the homeless in Belgium, Polish men make up a large proportion (20% of Diogenes’ public in 2018).

For De Bock, the key for Aleksander was the administrative address. “It opens up the possibility of work, money and somewhere to live; once you’re in, you’re in. We are arguing for more open access to Europeans. I can understand that you want to protect access to social security for newcomers, but for someone who has lived here for many years and who for one reason or another has lost their rights, the situation should be easier.”

Many of the people helped by Diogenes have mental health problems, which adds to the difficulty in finding the right support. “If an individual does not wish to return to his home country, then he only has the right to emergency medical care,” says De Bock, who adds that some people are too ill to travel to their home country and need the help of a lawyer to increase their access to rights.

“On the European scale, we have free circulation of people and of money and services, but not of rights,” he adds.

The need for legal rights

Originally from Italy, Mauro Striano draws on his own experience as an EU citizen who moved to Belgium under the EU freedom of movement right and his voluntary work for a homeless day center in Brussels.
He points to the lack of a clear legal framework for destitute EU migrants and the need for a holistic approach to homelessness.

Lawyers and homeless professionals are brought together in the PRODEC project to learn about each other’s work. “People are on the streets and social workers need to provide quick solutions, while lawyers do not necessarily have a knowledge of homelessness issues,” explains Striano.

To assist the process, FEANTSA has published a guide for professionals outlining EU free movement law and the rights of mobile EU citizens, along with other practical material.

“If we believe in the concept of European citizenship and free movement, we have to allow for people to fail and to find a solution out of it.”

Although it is too early to assess the full impact of the project’s funding, Striano believes there is now an increased understanding of solutions at national and EU level.


PRODEC – Protecting the Rights of Destitute EU mobile Citizens is a project led by FEANTSA.
Diogenes is a street work service for homeless people in the Brussels-Capital


Article written by King Baudouin Foundation