The city of Ghent will open its winter accommodation for the homeless tomorrow, earlier than usual because of the cold spell.
While there are no official figures of homeless people in Belgium, Philippe De Craene of the Antwerp accommodation centre DAK estimates there must be 50,000. This number does not only include the "usual" homeless people that come to our minds first, but also "hidden" homeless persons who are doing coach surfing with friends and family to spend the night.
Alain Slock of the East-Flemish CAW (Centre for Welfare Work) says that "while we used to see 80 percent of men and 20 percent women in our relief centres, this figure has now shifted to 60 percent men and 40 percent women." The number of youngsters is also on the rise: 20 percent of the beds in East Flanders are taken by people under 25.
He thinks this shift is due to a number of factors, the main one being the real estate market for those seeking to rent a place. Those with a low wage are finding it more difficult to rent a place. Women are thought to be more vulnerable than men, but youngsters also belong to this vulnerable category.