Author: Tom Freijsen
It is hard to deny that the lack of a roof to sleep under can act as a significant barrier to keeping a stable job, let alone finding one. It is important to stress however, that homelessness does not necessarily have causal relationship with unemployment. In fact, according to the organization Shelter more than half of the homeless community is a formal contributor to the economy (Butler 2018). In the Netherlands, new terminology has recently made an appearance: “economically homeless” (de Regt and Soelen 2019). This phrase originates from the persistent growth of Dutch people who are formally employed but are still lacking a home (de Regt and Soelen 2019).
One might ask: If they are working and at the very least earning a minimum wage, how can they not afford basic housing? The answer to this question is simple. The housing crisis has been poisoning the Netherlands for the past few years and the shortage has reached an alarming state (Spiegelaar and Vrieselaar 2020). Capital Value, a consultancy firm specialized on the Dutch housing market estimated the shortage to be at 263,000 homes in 2019 (Capital Value 2019).
What has been one of the most popular solutions? Couch surfing! These are often people who are not accustomed to structural homelessness. They are educated, are part of various friend groups and have always had a job of some sort. However, the moment their life really begins to crumble creeps steadily nearer the longer their situation is prolonged. First you may lose your job. Then, as the stigma around your position increases, you start to distance yourself from friends and close ones.
Unfortunately, authorities have found it challenging to attach numbers to the economically homeless as most of the affected do not officially report their situation. This choice may seem incomprehensible to some. However, if they were to do so, the person they were staying with could get in trouble because the dwelling does not have a required permit. In the Netherlands, one may not rent out parts of their home for more than 30 days per year without having applied for exceptions (Couzy 2018). And in larger cities such as The Hague for example, it is rare for the municipality to allow more than three people to live under the same roof if they aren’t the owners or family (van Bree 2019).
Merel, an economically homeless person in the Hague, has been hopping from one living room to the next for the past four years. However, despite the roof over her head, she did reluctantly admit that her circle of friends and family is falling apart. She is now petrified of the day she will no longer be welcome. Today her only wish is to finally have a place she can feel proud to call home, no matter how bare or basic it is (Gordijn 2019).
The number of people stuck in the same situation as Merel is only spiraling upwards. Platform 31, a Dutch statistics bureau, suggests that there are currently between 55,000 and 80,000 people temporarily residing in campsites (de Regt and Soelen 2019).
The Bottom Line
In not providing for people like Merel, the Dutch authorities fail to do their constitutional duty which states everyone is entitled to adequate housing (de Regt and Soelen 2019). And if this many employed people are struggling, let us take a second to think of those who are not as lucky to have found a job and therefore of the cumulative population who are deprived from the basic human right to live peacefully, safely and with dignity.
There is one thing which is clear: Action must be taken, quickly. This is why the Minister of the Interior, Kajsa Ollongren, declared that although it is impossible to solve such a structural problem overnight, 75,000 new homes will be built on a yearly basis in the hopes of giving those like Merel the basic human rights they deserve (Teije 2018).
Butler, P. (2018). “Shelter warns of leap in working homeless as families struggle.” The Guardian (2018). At: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/23/shelter-warns-of-leap-in-working-homeless-as-families-struggle.
Capital Value (2019). “Housing shortage in the Netherlands rises to 263,000 dwellings.” Capital Value. At: https://www.capitalvalue.nl/en/news/housing-shortage-in-the-netherlands-rises-to-263000-dwellings.
Couzy, M. (2018). “Maximale verhuurtermijn Airbnb naar 30 dagen.” AD. At: https://www.ad.nl/amsterdam/maximale-verhuurtermijn-airbnb-naar-30-dagen~ad3cd8c2/.
de Regt, K. and van Soelen, C. (2019). “Aantal Nederlanders met baan maar zonder huis blijft groeien.”RTL nieuws. At: https://www.rtlnieuws.nl/onderzoek/artikel/4775611/economisch-dakloos-thuisloos-werkenden-zonder-huis-opvang.
Gordijn, J. (2019). “Hoe dakloze jongeren in Utrecht ervoor zorgen dat niemand weet dat ze dakloos zijn.”AD . At: https://www.ad.nl/utrecht/hoe-dakloze-jongeren-in-utrecht-ervoor-zorgen-dat-niemand-weet-dat-ze-dakloos-zijn~a7e7a8d8/.
Spiegelaar L. and Vrieselaar, N. (2020). “Housing shortage will keep house prices rising in 2020 and 2021.” Dutch Housing Market Quarterly. At https://economics.rabobank.com/publications/2020/february/house-prices-rising-in-2020-and-2021/.
Teije, S. (2018) “Nationale Woonagenda moet jaarlijks tot bouw 75.000 huizen leiden.” Nu. At: https://www.nu.nl/wonen/5279372/nationale-woonagenda-moet-jaarlijks-bouw-75000-huizen-leiden.html.
van Bree, L. (2019). “Inkomenseis voor huurders in Den Haag? Hoe? Wat? Waar? Waarom?” Omroepwest. At: https://www.omroepwest.nl/nieuws/3859338/Inkomenseis-voor-huurders-in-Den-Haag-Hoe-Wat-Waar-Waarom.