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Homelessness in Sweden 2011

A national mapping of homelessness in Sweden has been carried out. The mapping shows that homelessness has increased in all homelessness situations. The large increase of reported homeless people mainly concerns persons who live in relatively long-term housing solutions. A positive result is that the number of people sleeping rough has decreased.

The national mapping of homelessness in Sweden has been carried out by the National Board of Health and Welfare. It was a governmental assignment. The mapping is based on data from municipalities, authorities, institutions and NGOs. The measurement period was limited to a week – 2-8 May 2011.

There is a strong desire to compare homelessness over time to monitor developments. But it faces difficulties. Changes in society between the mappings lead to the methodological choices to be done to measure how many people who are homeless or excluded from the regular housing market. One example is the definition of homelessness; another is the sources of information.

By clarifying the definition of homelessness, a broader group was reported compared to the previous national mapping, carried out in 2005. This applies particularly to people in supported accommodations provided by the social services in the municipalities. Already in the 2005 mapping the ambition was that such housing solutions would be included in the measurement, but it turned out that it then had been a substantial underestimate of the number of people who live in them. One probable reason for this was that the part of the definition provided possibility for different interpretations.

The definition of homelessness in 2011 has now been clarified so that these kind of long-term housing solutions and institutional care have been separated and – as a consequence – are reported separately. This procedure has led to a greater response in terms of reporting by respondents. Also for other homeless situations some clarifications have been made, but these do not affect the results significantly. Thus, there are factors that complicate comparisons of results between the mappings in 2005 and 2011. However, it is possible to see the direction in which the development has gone.

The mapping shows that homelessness has increased in all homelessness situations since the mapping 2005. However, fewer people were sleeping rough during the measurement week compared to 2005. This can be seen as a sign that one of the objectives in the Government's Homelessness Strategy 2007-2009 – that everyone shall be guaranteed a roof over his or her head – has been taken seriously.

A total of approximately 34 000 people, according to the definition formulated by the National Board of Health and Welfare, were reported as homeless or excluded from the regular housing market during the measurement week. This group includes people who live under very different conditions and have different needs for support from the community. 4 500 people were in acute homelessness, of which 280 were sleeping rough. 5 600 people received institutional care or lived in different forms of category housing. 13 900 people lived in long-term housing solutions (the secondary housing market), provided by the social services in the municipalities. 6 800 persons lived in short-term insecure housing solutions that they had organized themselves.

The large increase of reported homeless people mainly concerns persons who live in relatively long-term housing solutions, such as training flats and apartments with social contracts. In addition, statistics presented by The National Board of Housing Building and Planning show that this type of housing solutions has increased and that social services have become an increasingly large landlord for persons who are not accepted at the regular housing market. Almost half of the persons included in the mapping live in these long-term housing solutions. There are many families, which means that homelessness and insecure housing is a reality for quite a large group of children in Sweden.

One effect of the social services has become an increasingly important landlord for broader groups is that single people with severe social problems likely to stand back and get stuck in short-term accommodations. It is a challenge for local authorities to allocate resources and housing for the most vulnerable groups of homeless people.

The proportion of females in the whole group of homeless people has increased, as the proportion of people born outside Sweden. Over-representation of people born outside Sweden is even more marked compared to the previous mapping.

For the first time, the National Board of Health and Welfare made an attempt to identify homelessness among children and young people who are “in the grey area” between the family and community care. In total, about 400 children and adolescents under 18 years were reported. Family problems were presented as being the main reason behind their homelessness. A small proportion was reported to have addiction problems.

In the group of homeless people is now a lower proportion with the problems traditionally associated with homelessness, namely substance abuse and mental health problems. This is particularly evident among those born outside Sweden. However, it must be noted that substance abuse and mental health problems remain significant problems in the group as a whole.

Homelessness is a complex issue where many factors come into play. Participation in the labor market is of vital importance. The mapping shows that very few had income from a salary and were employed. Many were dependent on social assistance. Because many landlords do not accept social assistance as income, many people then also are excluded from the regular housing market. Homelessness is both an issue for the social policy and for the housing policy. Individually tailored support in housing, as well as structural changes is needed to prevent homelessness.

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