Homelessness is on the increase in the EU, with rises recorded in most member states, as the economic crisis and austerity policies hurt the most vulnerable.
Immigrants, women, families and young people are making up a growing proportion of the homeless, while cuts in welfare, housing, health, probation services, education and training are aggravating the problem, according to a report by the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless.
The report On the Way Home? states: "For Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the UK, the crisis was identified as a key driver of increased homelessness in the past five years.
"Several of the countries most affected by the crisis, such as Greece, Portugal and Spain have experienced dramatic increases in homelessness. [Homeless] service providers in Portugal and Spain estimate increases of 25-30 per cent in the demand for homeless services since the onset of the crisis.
"In Greece, despite a lack of reliable statistical data, there are clear indications of a large and rapid increase in homelessness. Service providers estimate that Greece's homeless population also rose by 25 per cent between 2009 and 2011 and reached 20,000.
"These increases in homelessness reflect increased unemployment and loss of income which mean more people have difficulty meeting housing costs. At the same time, austerity budget cuts are diminishing capacity to respond to homelessness. For example, 61 of the 85 staff at the City of Athens Homeless Foundation were laid off in November 2010.
"A new shelter, begun in 2009 and intended to relieve congestion in the two existing hostels, has been unable to open because of the lack of staff.
"Housing benefit was suspended in 2010, partly due to the reduced inflow of social contributions which had funded the scheme. Social housing in the form of the Greek Workers' Housing Organisation has been abolished. Similar issues are observed in Spain and Portugal."
Even in Germany, following years of a downward trend, homelessness is on the rise.
This is because of a shortage of affordable housing, which is compounded by cuts in social housing funding, while poverty as a result of long-term unemployment and low-wage work are also driving up Germany's homelessness, as are inadequate social security for unemployed people, inadequate housing support for young people and a reduction in employment promotion measures.
NGO homeless service providers estimate that the number of homeless people increased by 10 per cent from 2008 to 2010.
Previous estimates by Red de Apoyo a la Integracion Sociolaboral put the number of homeless in the EU at three million.
Belgian feminists have called on MPs to reject ratification of new budgetary rules that will "aggravate inequalities between the sexes."
Belgium is due to decide on whether to sign up to the Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance, or EU fiscal compact, that came into force on January 1 this year in 12 out of the 15 eurozone countries that have transposed the EU legislation into national law.
The treaty will "complete the construction of neoliberal Europe" and lead to "unprecedented social regression," argue several dozen women politicians, journalists, academics, trade unionists and grass-roots activists in a letter to parliamentary leaders.
Belgium has weathered the crisis better than most European countries, but the economy, which has been on a steady downward slide since 2010, is expected to stagnate in 2013 and although unemployment is currently relatively low, it is set to rise with poverty starting to increase too.
Young people and women are bearing the brunt. They are most exposed to low wages and poor job protection through a growth in "flexible" work contracts and are now facing cuts to welfare and public services.
Inspired by a similar initiative in France, the Belgian feminists say the treaty, which forces member states to bring their national budgets into balance or in surplus, with penalties for transgression, will ratchet up the pressure on women.
"Women are hit hardest by austerity measures, with cuts in public services and social protection measures adding to growing difficulties they face in the labour market," they write.
"Massive public investments are essential for social protection, employment and public services to meet social and environmental needs and reduce inequalities, but the pact imposes lasting restrictions on public finances and prohibits any changes to achieve social progress.
"It is urgent to create sufficient childcare places for children and services for dependent persons, strengthening social services and and boosting health personnel and resources. Yet this treaty makes this impossible and so perpetuates austerity policies and exacerbates gender inequalities.
"We reject this treaty that condemns the future and sacrifices democracy and well-being to satisfy the financial markets.
"From a feminist perspective, we call for resistance and the construction of alternatives to austerity in Belgium and Europe, and call on you not to give your consent to this agreement."
If you appreciated this article then please consider donating to the Morning Star's Fighting Fund to ensure we can keep developing your paper.