New Hague homelessness policy framework turns out to be a wash: Jelena became homeless

On July 7, the municipality of The Hague launched the new “policy framework for tackling homelessness”, under the buzzing title “The Hague gives home”. The plan is full of beautiful words about social security, tailor-made solutions that transcend legislation and regulations and prevention of homelessness as the most important pillar. Less than two months later, one of the first practical examples presented itself, which immediately made it possible to test whether the policy on paper is more than a pipe dream or a shame. Flex tenant Jelena was already in danger of becoming homeless at the end of August and a month later the threat is still there.

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Jelena got into trouble due to the actions of the municipality of The Hague. Because Social Affairs officials had wrongly stopped her social assistance benefits after they branded her as a fraudster. That accusation was completely out of the blue. She could no longer afford her rent, and as a result her private landlord canceled the lease. Together with the Bond Precaire Woonvormen (BPW) The Hague, she took action to tackle this gross injustice with the two aldermen involved, Mariëlle Vavier and Martijn Balster. GroenLinks member Vavier has public health, poverty and emancipation in her portfolio, and PvdA member Balster has public housing and welfare. Together they have a major role in realizing the new policy in the field of homelessness prevention, based on the “Housing first” approach. They can initiate tailor-made solutions for Jelena that transcend legislation and regulations, as described in the policy framework. “The future focus of the new policy “is mainly towards prevention and independent living; creating slides instead of thresholds,” writes Vavier the foreword to “The Hague gives home”.

Closed door, high threshold

But after a month of struggling for housing security, Jelena is still faced with a closed door, with a very high threshold. There are no slides anywhere to be found. Both councilors do not provide a home for weeks, although the policy framework promises that The Hague should indeed provide a home. There is no customization that transcends legislation and regulations and if Jelena becomes permanently homeless next Saturday, September 23, prevention will also come too late. On August 25 organized the BPW The Hague organized a campaign at the entrance of the Hague city hall. The intention was that requirements would be handed over to the two aldermen. But Vavier and Balster didn't show up and so dropped out. Not even a week later Jelena and BPW member Nick spoke during the council meeting in city hall. Council members showed sympathy and Jelena was reminded that municipal consultants would be working on the matter. Those consultants could handle this much better than the aldermen themselves.

It is true that a benefits consultant has been working on Jelena's new social assistance application, which was granted in the first week of September. Still, that doesn't change Jelena's impending homelessness, because her lease had already been canceled and will soon expire. The benefits consultant stated that he could not do anything with Jelena's request for an urgent declaration, because that is not his field of work. On September 6, the BPW emailed councilor Balster to indicate that Jelena is apparently not yet being assisted by a housing consultant, contrary to what was suggested during the council meeting. The BPW also stated in the email that Jelena was still at risk of becoming homeless in a few weeks and insisted that someone from the municipality should sit down with Jelena to discuss her living situation. There was no response from the councilor and his staff. Several council members then contacted Balster's secretariat to ask about the state of affairs and whether the councilor would take any action to prevent Jelena's homelessness. Again there was no response. That same week the BPW published an update article about Jelena's case and the lack of customization. In the article, Alderman Balster is once again called upon to engage a housing consultant. And to physically sit down with Jelena to prevent her homelessness. Again there was no response.

housing crisis

There are now only a few days left before Jelena becomes permanently homeless next Saturday. Yesterday, a housing consultant from the municipality finally contacted her. The official told her that she had to look for a room in Delft or Zoetermeer. As if there is no housing crisis there. As if the living space is there for the taking. As if the solution to The Hague's housing crisis would be to simply send flexible tenants and homeless people to other municipalities.

In addition, according to the official and apparently also according to "the rules", flexible tenants of a room and people who have already become homeless could never qualify for an emergency declaration. In other words, the promised customization of “The Hague provides home” does not seem to apply to people who do not leave an independent rental home when threatened with homelessness. For example, flex tenants who only rent temporary accommodation anyway will be even more affected if they lose that accommodation, as is likely to happen to Jelena. Because those people do not seem to receive the customization that tenants of an independent home might still receive.

Homeless shelter

Today the official called Jelena again. After consultation with colleagues, the official was able to report that Jelena was “allowed” to submit a request for urgency. It had now become clear to the official that Jelena has psychological problems - something that had been known to the municipality for a long time - and as a result the official seemed to have become more accommodating (read: less dismissive). So there seems to be a slightly better chance for Jelena to receive a declaration of urgency for social housing. However, the official immediately managed to dampen Jelena's joy considerably. “You can go to the homeless shelter,” the official announced, if Jelena's landlord does not grant any further delay and puts her out on the street next Saturday. “You can go to the homeless shelter,” as if it were a favor.

If Jelena becomes permanently homeless from next Saturday, she will lose her social assistance benefit. If she has lost her room, she will also lose her income again - and even again. She then has to apply for benefits again, this time as a homeless person. It will probably take a month before a decision is made on that new application. Homelessness benefits give her much less income and living as a homeless person causes her even more problems finding housing. The bitter moral of this story: on paper there is a policy from the municipality of The Hague to prevent homelessness, but in practice this policy is not applied in the case of flex tenants. The policy framework “The Hague gives home” and the “Housing first” approach appear to be a wash in Jelena's case. This is all the more poignant because the municipality acted wrongly by stopping its benefits, and then does not appear to take responsibility for recognizing and correcting that mistake.

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