Why do European cities have so many homeless and beggars despite its high-tax welfare system?

  • Any European cities I have ever visited had homeless or beggars on the street. Or these people may not necessarily be homeless but it is clear enough that they are extremely poor and need help from the social security.

    However, these European countries generally implement the good welfare system due to higher taxation, compared to other developed countries/districts including USA, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. The countries include even the first-world countries like Italy, Germany, France, and my Swedish friend said it is also common in Stockholm.

    So why is the homeless and beggars so common in Europe (Western and Scandinavia), despite its high-tax, large-welfare system, and why do these people not seem to have access to it? Is it only in prominent urban cities or also common in suburban and rural?


    EDIT

    Some people asked me some data source. According to the following data, homeless rate is much lower in Japan and South Korea (.004% and .022%), compared to Austria (.21%), France (.21%), Germany (.14%), Denmark (.11%), Sweden (.36%), UK (.46%), which is still higher than Canada (.09%) and mostly than USA (.17%).

    Another source is from this Japanese website, on which a Japanese NGO interviewed EU commissioners. The EU commissioners said there are about 900,000 homeless across the entire EU (0.17% based on 508M population) and from the way it is written, it only includes homeless and not beggars.

    While homeless rate in USA and Canada are on par with that in European countries, they don't implement the high-tax, large-welfare system. So if there are differences, these countries should rather have higher homeless rate. That is the point of my question.

    And in "European countries/cities", I meant that in Western Europe and Scandinavia, which are economically more developed and have greater social security.

    "so many" compared to where? Also: "European cities" is really a quite meaningless category for this kind of question.

    @MartinBa As I wrote in the comments to some answers, compared to Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Singapore also has fewer. I meant Western Europe and Scandinavia in the body of the question but if the title is misleading, feel free to edit it.

    Lots of comments deleted. Please note that comments should be about improving the question. They should not be used to discuss the subject matter of the question or to answer it.

    It's impossible for people to answer this question without, at a minimum, knowing the exact cities you experienced this in. The risk of sampling bias is enormous, because we don't know the exact countries, we don't know the size of the cities, the economic circumstances of the city (and how they may not be representative of the country), a lot of people (possibly you?) make population density fallacies, and your individual experiences may have been flukes. I am American, and I've seen homeless in every city I've lived in. There are also 18 Euro countries with lower homelessness than the US.

    The data on Wikipedia regarding homeless rates of different countries might not be very reliable. It is very difficult to accurately count homeless people, because they usually do not register anywhere. The numbers for different countries come from different sources which use vastly different methodologies. So you should be careful when you compare them.

    Effective tax rate or actual tax rate? Individual tax rate or corporate tax rate? Shouldn't it be more on the spending side, rather than the assumption that in order to spend money on welfare it has to come from high taxes? Nominal IRR based on per capita expenditure against, say, happiness index?

    Could you indicate how large a difference in taxation you think there is between the USA and Europe? When I check some sources it seems that a large proportion of the tax difference between the USA and Europe (certainly UK where I am) goes on to the provision of health services, not welfare. If you take health spending out of the taxes, the tax rates are closer to one another, which possibly accounts for similar rates of homelessness.

    There is a complex answer to this (which I can't post here), but in short: Socialism is a mind destroying force, and Europe has a *lot* of it. It causes people to disassociate from society because they can rely on the state to pay them. Why bother going outside if you can stay at home almost all the time? Problems like debt, addiction, wasted time will continue to stack and there are less or no people to help them (and simply handing over money is *not* the solution). In other words: Socialism bails out negative consequences of bad behavior and punishes positive consequences of good behavior.

    @Battle People who are lazy will probably find a way to be lazy in some corporate / capitalistic setting too. Difference is the ones who have lots of ideas and creative energy don't have to find a way to instantly monetize that in order to be able to buy food. They can develop their skills and ideas under some minimal economic shelter until they are good and/or confident enough to make money on it.

    @mathreadler - I am fine with lazy people. I myself am quite lazy and creative. Laziness is the bane of my existence. "some minimal economic shelter" - Yeah, that's an euphemism for Socialism based wealth transfer. Effective taxation in Germany (where I live) is 68%. Look, welfare has almost destroyed my life permanently. It was my inner will to refuse welfare payment, which saved my life from the swamp which is created by Socialism. Since then my life is going upwards. Now I am the one being exploited for Socialism after almost being destroyed by it.

    @Battle You write why bother going outside if you can stay at home all the time. It seemed to me that you think lazyness and wasting time is the problem. But you have plenty of that in capitalist societies as well. Do you mean why bother do anything if you get paid regardless? But even this question you seem to answer yourself. It's because you should do stuff for yourself. For your own health. Passivity is not good for health. But passivity is clearly not an invention of socialism. I don't understand your swamp talk so I can't really respond to it.

    Aaah, I see what you're doing. Won't work on this one. Spend it elsewhere.

    @mathreadler - "you should" - Sure you **should**. But you don't **have** to. And for **some** people that's enough **not to**. And those who can indulge in their laziness, will do. And a "capitalist society" (assuming no socialism) won't bail you out with the power of the state via wealth transfer (socialism) to enable you that self-destructive behavior (as you admit via *should* implying it is indeed bad). You'd have to live off the resources of people close to you, and they won't let you do it forever. Or, in the case of parents, *they* will have to deal with you being raised badly.

    @mathreadler - It is not random that homelessness, economic and cultural decay, increase in violence are phenomenons in areas where socialist politics are increasing. Really, it's like humanity has learned **nothing** from the 20th century, in which totalitarianism and Socialism surged left and right, whereas those pesky, anti-human, bigoted, sociopaths of capitalism have thrived and built up unimaginable wealth (from which the poor have benefited way more than what socialism could ever provide (via its amoral, forced wealth redistribution)).

    @Battle What do you want me to say? Well yes apparently this is my prime skill which I do for a living.

  • I also wondered why there are homeless people in my home-country Germany even though the social safety system is legally obligated to pay the rent for people who can not afford to do so. In this case, the rent is paid directly by the municipal government to the landlord, so there is no way to misappropriate those funds. So I did some research regarding the reasons for homelessness in Germany.

    Most sources are obviously in German, so please excuse that I am not able to provide any good English sources. This answer is based on an articles by Nothilfe Mensch e. V., (a charity organization which helps homeless people), an article by the Diakonie (a church-based charity organization) and an article by Brand Eins (an economic magazine).

    These sources point out that there are many ways to become homeless, but there is one path to homelessness which seems quite typical:

    1. A person gets into a troubling situation in their life. Addictions, job loss, death or destroyed relationships with loved ones, etc. Due to lack of help from their social surrounding, they are unable to cope with their situation. They develop mental health problems which then cause even more of the above problems and eventually the accumulation of debt.
    2. They don't pay their rent anymore, so the landlord tries to get them evicted.
    3. The eviction is successful and the person gets thrown out of their apartment. They neither have any people who can take them in temporarily, nor the money to pay for a hotel. So they have to sleep on the street.
    4. Due to the severe lack of housing in urban areas, landlords can choose their tenants freely. The homeless people are competing with others who seem much more financially and psychologically stable. So they have no chance to find a new apartment.

    Part of the eviction process is that the landlord needs to notify the social security bureau, who then send a letter to the tenant and inform them about what help they are entitled to. A "normal" person would then make an appointment with the bureau and file a request to have them pay the rent. But some people apparently don't do this. Why?

    Remember that we are talking about people with severe mental health problems here who are completely overwhelmed by their life situation. In order to obtain help from the social security bureau, they need to open that letter and reply to it. A letter which is usually found among unpayable invoices, legal threats and other problems they really can not deal with right now. In order to receive the help from the state they are legally entitled to, they actually need to become active and request it. This can be a difficult barrier for some people.

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    @Philipp notice than only a few regions in Germany have the right to housing enshrined in their constitution. I would say that there is probably a good correlation between constitutional (legal) housing rights and low homelessness. Check for example the data from the Housing Rights Watch (their interactive map is quite useful). Also this is expected to change in the future. Germany has ratified the European Social Charter which recognizes housing as a right.

    @Philipp with no intention in judging (I generally do appreciate your answers) I do feel that associating mental health to homelessness (even if indirectly) might be somewhat unfair and possibly even contribute to a stereotype. Mental health is a very large theme which deals with subjects from pathological conditions to drug consumption. There are certain contexts that in some regions lead to social ostracism towards more vulnerable elements of our societies. And this includes racial bias, gender bias, gender identification bias, etc. I do feel this topic is more complex than this.

    About the last two paragraphs, asking someone with severe ADHD or Depression who is off their meds (or never had any to start with) to go through an involved burecratic process, make an appointment, and keep it is akin to asking them to walk on the moon. If they were capable of reliably doing that stuff on their own, they most likely wouldn't have gotten in that situation in the first place.

  • The (homeless) beggars are likely to congregate where they are most visible and likely to be successful at begging. Their visibility to tourists probably depends more on how willing the police is willing to crack down on them.

    And your impressions of prevalence don't seem backed by data, at least before the financial crisis of 2008.

    From "Homelessness in Europe and the United States: A Comparison of Prevalence and Public Opinion (2007)":

    Random samples of 250–435 adults were interviewed by telephone in five different nations (N = 1,546): Belgium, Germany, Italy, the UK, and the United States. The interview included questions on respondent attitudes, knowledge, and opinions regarding homelessness; respondents’ own personal experiences with homelessness and homeless people; and demographic characteristics of the respondents. The highest rates for lifetime literal homelessness were found in the UK (7.7%) and United States (6.2%), with the lowest rate in Germany (2.4%), and intermediate rates in Italy (4.0%) and Belgium (3.4%). Less compassionate attitudes toward the homeless were also found on many dimensions in the United States and the UK. Possible explanations of these findings, drawn from various theoretical perspectives, and policy implications are provided.

    "Testing a Typology of Homelessness Across Welfare Regimes: Shelter Use in Denmark and the USA" (2015)

    This article compares patterns of homeless shelter use in Denmark and the USA. Combining data from homeless shelters in Denmark with population registers, we find that the prevalence of shelter use is substantially lower in Denmark than in the USA. A cluster analysis of shelter stays identifies three types of users similar to findings from US research: the transitionally, episodically and chronically homeless. However, the transitionally homeless in Denmark have a higher tendency of suffering from mental illness and substance abuse than the transitionally homeless in the USA. The results support Stephens and Fitzpatrick' hypothesis that countries with more extensive welfare systems and lower levels of poverty have lower levels of homelessness, mainly amongst those with complex support needs, whereas in countries with less extensive welfare systems homelessness affects broader groups and is more widely associated with poverty and housing affordability problems.

    It might have gotten worse in Greece.


    I couldn't find stats on how many beggars are locals and how many intra-EU/EEA "migrants", but clearly the large difference in economic development between the Eastern EU (Romania, Bulgaria etc.) seem to play a role in the beggars you see in Paris or in Oslo.

    At least according to one (2011) Swiss news article:

    There is no national legislation on begging in Switzerland. It is left to the cantons and communes to deal with the problem.

    The recent call for a ban in Lausanne follows similar moves in other parts of French-speaking Switzerland, such as Geneva, Vevey, Montreux, Renens and ten communes west of Lausanne, as well as cantons Fribourg and Neuchâtel. Other locations, such as Aigle, Yverdon and Pully, are also considering bans.

    Geneva introduced a ban in February 2008 but groups of Roma beggars are still visible on its streets, despite several police round-ups and regular controls. It is estimated that the number of 200 previously present in front of stores and banks may have been cut by half.

    Older begging bans are also in place in Basel, Zurich and Lucerne.

    “Numbers clearly increased following the introduction of Schengen [25-country passport-free travel zone], but it’s still a small problem compared with Zurich and Bern,” said Klaus Mannhart, spokesman for the Basel City police.

    Bern, meanwhile, has no ban against begging. But in June 2009 the police, along with Romanian and Bern city authorities launched a programme named “Agora” to crack down on organised gangs from eastern Europe targeting the city.

    After almost 700 police checks - including 79 on children – totalling 2,000 working hours, Agora is considered a great success, said Bern aliens police chief Alexander Ott.

    “We hardly have any more beggars; they say Bern and Switzerland – no more.”

    Thanks but I think it is clear that homeless are more common in these European countries than countries like Japan and South Korea, where more people congregate but homeless seems to be far fewer. HK has more, but still not as common as these European countries. And I think 2.4% lifetime homelessness is staggeringly high.

    @Blaszard, one has to take care of the definitions with that. A 20-something who **has** to return to the parent's home for lack of other shelter would be homeless in some statistics -- without a home, and not by choice.

    What is always hidden is that the major cause of lifetime homelessness is mental illness or special needs. It is not (for a majority of this population) unfair wages or unfair welfare. Those who are homeless will have trouble registering or even caring that they should register

    @FrankCedeno Yes that is true but then it must be that the disproportionate rate of European homeless suffer from mental illness, as that is also true in other countries. And I rather think the care of mental illness tends to be handled better in countries that have larger welfare system.

    @Blaszard: if you consider the prevalence of severe mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar, which may cause someone to become homeless (before some intervention is devised) 2.4% is actually not that high.

    In Berlin, most homeless people that are highly visible are from the Balkan or eastern Europe. Also, Asia is much different due to strong ideas of family honour etc., i.e. cultural differences.

    @Blaszard In my experience, homeless people in developed Asian countries tend to be ejected from the society and form sub-urbs somewhere outside of the cities. They don't beg because they'd be prosecuted, and it would be too much of a shame. In Europe, begging isn't seen as a crime that much - and not as frowned upon.

    Related paper says 25,296 homeless in Japan in 2003 (population 127.7M => ~0.02%). Paper suggests income homogeneity (via GINI coefficient) and then says "After the income distribution leveled out (Tachibanaki, 1998), public begging disappeared." though I'm not sure about the correlation. Paper also points out begging is illegal, and that homeless tend to form isolated communities. More in A Comparative Study of Homelessness in the United Kingdom and Japan

    The relative prevalence of homelessness is actually kind of irrelevant to the poster's original question, namely: "Why do I see homeless people in cities in countries with generous welfare systems?" The fact that Germany's rate is lower than the UK's doesn't really answer that question. The original question is muddied by the questioner's inclusion of "relative frequency" when it's clear that they are more interested in the absolute frequency.

    On pages 116 to 118 of the book 'Integrating Social Services for Vulnerable Groups Bridging Sectors' reporting standards are discussed as one reason for widely differing statistics; Japan having very exclusive, Sweden very inclusive definitions.

    Your point about visibility -- or rather removing the homeless from places where they are visible, is pertinent, but I'm not so sure that homeless people purposefully "congregate" in visible places so they can beg with more success. The latter claim lacks backup.

    @Blaszard, that's the real question: is it? maybe large welfare states have their hands full with typical people?

    @henning visibility and/or lack thereof could be for political purpose also. How do we make people vote more like this..? Hmm, what if suddenly...

    I'd also expect OP to visit more "touristy" places abroad than in their home country, which will naturally have more beggars.

    @SimonRichter not necessarily. There could pop up provocative amounts of beggars in non touristy places to simply try to make people vote differently. There's a business idea for you. Probably you are a bit late to the party though.

  • These answers are specifically for Sweden, which you mention in your question, but at least some of it may also apply in other countries:

    • You need to be a Swedish citizen or have a residence permit to have access to most parts of the Swedish welfare system. Most people begging on the streets in Sweden are from EU countries in southeastern Europe. EU citizens have the right to live in any part of the EU as long as they can support themselves. But they only have access to the welfare system in their home country. Before Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007, begging on the streets was a quite uncommon sight in Sweden.
    • If you are a Swedish citizen or have a residence permit, the government can help you get an apartment if you are homeless, and pay for your rent if you have no means to pay for it yourself. But you still need to be able to keep the apartment, which requires you to keep the apartment in an acceptable condition and to behave acceptably towards your surrounding. Many homeless people who would have access to the welfare system suffer from addiction, mental illness, or a combination of both, which can make this difficult. The government can offer you support in dealing with those issues, but they cannot force you to stay sober or seek treatment.
    • There are many homeless shelters, run by both local governments and charities, that offer homeless people a meal, a shower and a bed for the night, but you generally need to be sober and behave acceptably while you are there. This may seem like an easy thing for you and me, but if your life is a wreck and you are struggling with addiction and/or mental illness it may not be so easy.

    I'm not saying that I think these people deserve the situation they are in or that they only have themselves to blame. I'm merely pointing out that even the Swedish safety net has holes in it that you can fall through.

    Your first point is likely _the_ important factor. I remember that before Bulgaria and Romania joined, I could count the people in the streets on one hand.

    Spot on for Norway as well. We are not part of the EU, but have signed agreements with them about open borders.

    @pipe Yes, the first point is the probably the dominant factor for people begging on the streets. But maybe not for homelessness.

    On more factor specific to sweden, which you might consider including in your answer: Psychiatric care was reformed in the mid nineties resulting in more people with mental issues living on their own (instead of institutions). Some of them fail to handle that, ending up evicted.

    As to psychiatric care reform in Sweden: Before the reform persons could, and was, taken into psychiatric hospitals against their expressed will. The history includes people that were locked up for life, sedated with strong medicines and, historically, sterilized. This was declared against human rights -- a person should not in general be forced to accept treatment (unless dangerous to other persons). A person in Sweden is allowed to be homeless (beeing homeless up to around mid 1900-s used to be punishable with prison).

    This is pretty much the situationin the Nethelands: homeless people are either foreigners with no access to social security or severly troubled Dutch people with some combination of mental illness and subsatnce abuse problems, and sometimes it's young people with financial and social problems and not enough knowlegde and safety nets to help them.

    @Ivana: The categories are certainly not exclusive. Exactly because of the homelessness, those illegal immigrants come into contact with drugs users, and become drugs users themselves.

    Same in Berlin. The city has always had its share of homeless people but the number has clearly increased in the past 10 years to the point that we had South-east or East European or Russian tent camps emerging (e.g. in Tiergarten close to the train station Zoo). It was the beginning of a slum, really. Police eventually dissolved the camp but it just means its population is less visible now.

    @pipe same with the UK, the proportion of homeless in London from east european countries is about 50%

    @MSalters nowhere illegal immigrants were mentioned. EU citizens in a different EU country are lega even if they cannot support themselves (although then the government administration has the right to terminate their stay; most governments dont care to do this; until then though they are legally in the country)

    Exactly the same reasons apply to Germany.

  • Homeless vs. Beggars

    Homeless people aren't very visible. Police chase them away from the places where tourists might see them. They end up somewhere hidden.

    Beggars on the other hand, are very visible. Their very job puts them in places tourists and other rich people go. Police might try to chase them away, but they come back. And the police doesn't want tourists seeing anything that might look like police brutality, so they end up letting them stay.

    This means that in countries where begging is legal, it is a very visible problem. In countries where it is not legal, the police can do more to hide the problem.

    Very important distinction made well

    And it should be noted that beggars can make substantial amounts of money; they're not necessarily poor. Some people make a business out of looking poor and exploiting the charity of strangers, though it's relatively rare.

    There are countries where begging is not legal? Should people just die then?

  • Typical welfare is modeled to be a stop-gap type of thing. So, if you lose your job and can't get another for six months, then the govt comes along and won't let you starve. It is usually modeled on the idea that the people involved are generally reasonable, and desire to do something for themselves. The usual thing is a quite gentle intervention.

    The causes of homelessness are varied. It is very difficult to be sure you understand how and why any given person is such, especially just by looking at them. Just a few examples: Mental health issues, drug/alcohol abuse, various issues of abuse and conflict in the home, for example teens being forced out or abandoning home.

    These issues can be both causes, and they can contribute to staying homeless when somebody is homeless for some other reason. The homeless guy may use alcohol to simply get through a night, which will lower him more and make getting back in a home harder.

    This website says Schizophrenia may be as high as 20% of homeless.

    https://endhomelessness.org/new-study-offers-hope-for-homeless-people-with-schizophrenia/

    This website claims alcohol is 38%, and other drugs are 26%.

    https://www.michaelshouse.com/drug-abuse/study-homelessness-addiction/

    There are many other issues. Such things are often quite resistant to what would you would call gentle intervention. For example, a hard core drug abuser is not going to be kept off the street by handing him rent and food money. He'll just spend it on drugs, and be back on the street. If you find a teen who has run away from abusive parents, giving him money won't solve the abusive parent situation. Though it may get him into a crappy apartment.

    It may be possible to intervene in such cases. But it will require vastly more than just handing them money. In some cases, even the full attention of a professional psychologist may be insufficient. Addiction, for example, can be very resistant to change.

    So, for some group of people, it will be the case that you can't get them off the street unless you are prepared to physically grab them and stick them in some kind of therapy. And you will need to physically keep them there until it makes some difference. Most western nations find such forcible institutionalization distasteful. So those folks tend to wind up on the street.

    Compared to physically confining an addict in a therapy center, yes, certainly.

    Ok, I thought you meant that it was supposed to be temporary, short-term help, and that people tend to run out of it. I see what you mean

  • One issue is that homelessness is not caused by poverty. It is more accurate to say that homelessness causes poverty. Homelessness is primarily a mental health problem. People can't handle the pressures of their lives, so they react by abandoning them. I sometimes call this small or lesser suicide. They don't kill themselves, but they destroy parts of their lives.

    Just to be clear, I'm using "mental health" broadly here. I'm including drug addiction, nervous breakdowns, and traditional insanity under mental health.

    In some cases, the initial mental health problem might be temporary. If the person gets interventionist help, that person might recover and return to behavior within normal parameters. In other cases, the problem is more serious. For example, drug addicts trade their cars for drugs and then can't return to their apartments or go to work. Or someone may stop taking prescription medication and undergo a psychotic break.

    It is optimistic to think that if we just come up with better support, we can fix homelessness. Homelessness is hard in ways that go far past the simple lack of home. We would need (but do not have) solutions to:

    1. People preferring drugs over anything else.
    2. People not taking their prescribed medication.
    3. People reacting to setbacks by abandoning parts of their lives and rejecting help.

    That's three separate causes for homelessness, and we don't have particularly good solutions to any of them. If offered help, they may well refuse it. The first group won't give up drugs in exchange for help. The second group won't take drugs in exchange for help. The third group just doesn't believe in help. It's very hard to help people who will not work with the people trying to help them.

    It's worth investigating ACE and Resilience scores. There is a lot of focus on "just take your pills," but not as much focus on maybe the person needs physical or cognitive behavioral therapies instead. High ACE scores were correlated (and replicated by the CDC, and independently by other US states) with high substance abuse of any kind (if they can't get drugs, they smoke, or drink, or eat too much) but only some of those are seen as bad (and we assume the drugs are bad, not the cause for their need for drugs.)

    While this may be true, it doesn't really explain why European cities may (seem to) have more homeless people in the big cities than other cities in less developed countries. You'd assume the same reasons apply there.

  • An answer for Austria:

    Different groups of beggars and homeless

    The Armutskonferenz has a summary of a presentation about beggers which is centered on Austria and from 2014 in German. I did not yet find any peer-reviewed primary sources, but I have no reason to doubt the integrity of the organization and the author.

    It lists five groups of beggers (section 3.3):

    1. Travelling beggars: street musicians etc. My interpretation: They choose a life as a poor traveller over a (potentially poor) life in their home country.
    2. Beggars from some parts of Eastern Europe. My interpretation: They come for some weeks/month to Austria to beg. They have no perspective in their home country. They come to Austria, lead a very simply life while they are here and then come back to their home country, where the might have a family to support. Groups of people from the same region travel together and organize their begging (organized begging ≠ criminal begging).
    3. Classical homeless (Austrian) people. See the answeres by puppetsock and Phillip.
    4. People who actually receive social benefits, but like to earn some extra money.
    5. Street Corner Societies and Punks

    The welfare system does not cover all cases

    • NGOs receive support from the government and the city for their work, but sometimes this means they are not allowed to offer the supported facility to non-EU citizens.
    • Benefits of the social system do not apply to non-residences of Vienna/Austria: EU-citicens are allowed to travel freely in the EU, but without work they cannot easily become residents of another country.

    • Government-supported facilities where homeless can sleep are not attractive to all homeless. An example is the Gruft in Vienna (run by an NGO, but receives money from the city):

      • It is a big hall where homeless sleep on the floor in sleeping bags, next to each other. Other people snoring can make sleeping difficult, so many homeless prefer to sleep outside during summer.
      • Alcohol and dogs are not allowed inside. This rules out the Gruft for some homeless.

    Nobody has to die from hunger

    • There are soup kitchens which still manage to provide enough food for all people who fall in line. But people might prefer to beg for money so they can buy the food they like instead of eating soup every day.

    Seems to be from 2014, is it a typo or wrong source?

    _Nobody has to die from hunger_. That's true. But every winter homeless people freeze to death in Vienna. (Although strictly speaking, they don't have to, they just do.) One big reason for homelessness that I keep hearing about (though I have no sources to back it up) in Austria is divorce. Alimony payments kan be high enough to prevent people from being able to afford a flat in Vienna. (This might be one factor why homeless people are predominantly male.)

    Anecdotally, marriage breakdown does seem to be a common precursor to homelessness, though it's possible of course that the marriage breakdown is itself due to mental health or drug problems.

    While "organized" does not always mean criminal, it is certainly good at making citizens very hostile towards all beggars - the default assumption shifts from "someone in need of help" to "someone manipulative/deceptive and acting as if entitled to anything from anyone"

  • Generalizing over all of Europe is difficult. With this caveat:

    • There are always people who prefer living on the street to living in a government-sponsored homeless shelter (which is not a nice place by any stretch of the imagination). Many of them are in bad health, but only extreme cases are sent to hospital against their expressed will. (Alone this does not explain the numbers.)
    • Some people do not live on the street, but they have no regular job and they augment various welfare payments by begging and similar activities.
      • In Germany there are mandatory deposits on many drinks containers (even if they are not reuseable). Collecting bottles in the right places can get a halfway decent hourly rate if nobody else went there before.
      • Also in Germany, in big cities there are newspapers written and sold by homeless. The sellers will usually accept cash donations in addition to sales.
    • Some of the beggars in north-western Europe come from south-eastern Europe. As EU citizens they can travel. The percentages vary from place to place. There is still a sharp imbalance in wealth.

    Thanks for the answer but 1 and 2 are also true in other countries. So it must be that the disproportionate rate of European homeless prefer to live on streets than other countries (most notably Japan and South Korea, that have lower social security yet fewer homeless).

    As to 3, are EU citizens from other countries not able to access to the same social security as citizens of the countries do?

    @Blaszard: You might be confusing homeless with begging. The Roma migrants might have a home somewhere in Eastern EU. And yes, access to local welfare has been curtailed across the EU precisely due to this phenomenon. https://www.dw.com/en/german-minister-proposes-law-to-limit-social-benefits-for-eu-foreigners/a-19221812 Working in Romania or Bulgaria pays less than being unemployed in Germany. Japan or South Korea don't have this level of inequality (i.e. EU-wide) within their borders.

    @Blaszard, that depends. Generally, *if they have been workers for a significant time, then yes.* If they just arrived and never worked, then no.

    @Blaszard Could you back up the assertion that Japan and Korea have lower homeless levels? Having lived in Japan, I saw many homeless people. They were usually just evicted from visible places.

    Regarding #3, EU countries can (and do) expel citizens of other EU countries if they cannot support themselves.

    @SJuan76, yes, the four freedoms include the freedom of *workers* to travel and sell their labor in other EU countries.

    #3 is a specific EU matter. Even if the borders weren't as tight, you wouldn't see North Koreans begging in Seoul. Japan is an island, thus it's hard for poor non-Japanese to go to Japan to beg. I guess travel for poor Asians to Hong Kong or Singapore is harder than it is for poor people to travel within the EU.

    @BlackThorn Check out the comments to my question.

    *In Germany there are mandatory deposits on many drinks containers (even if they are not reuseable).* We have this in the US too, and one of the reasons behind deposits on single-use bottles is to encourage people to recycle them instead of littering.

    Homeless shelters are also often closed during the day -- people making use of them roam the streets during the day. And, in many cases, there's a limit on how many nights one is allowed to stay in them.

  • Being in Germany, and having worked with such people during civil service:

    In most cases, and exceptions notwithstanding, I'd say it is not related to taxes, welfare or any other ("external") reason at all.

    The welfare system is good, but some people are beyond it. There are people who are absolutely not capable to even claim the extensive free help they are entitled to. They might not be able to understand their situation (due to, lacking a better word, inadequate intelligence; or communication skills; or other reasons). Or they may understand it, but their character might be such that they cannot/will not accept any kind of help. Maybe they are by nature distrustful and view anybody with some kind of authority, even if it is just a social worker, as an enemy.

    I have also, in the distant past, worked with or at least witnessed people living in social housing. Let me assure you, that kind of living is not fun at all. It's not like they are just like everybody else, just without going to work. They live absolutely miserably; and everybody I met was in a permanent state of deep clinical depression (which might be biased by me having worked for a social organization caring for such people, obviously). Sure, there may be the occasional freeloader living a grand life while abusing the system, but I'd say the type of beggars you see on the street are not in that category.

    Obviously another exception would be organized or professional beggars; I know little about them, i.e., if it is worthwhile, and if you get more money begging than from welfare. There may also be other aspects involved (pimping, pressure from family or "friends"...).

  • (This answer is from a UK perspective.)

    One cause of people being homeless is a disparity between housing costs and locally available wages. There are some parts of the country where the number of low-paid jobs available greatly outstrips the number of affordable houses (either rental or mortgage-wise) available in the vicinity. (See, for example, this article.)

    Because these people are in full-time employment, they may not qualify for many (or any) welfare benefits. Their choices are then:

    • Find a cheaper residence further afield, and hope they can afford the increased travel expenses.
    • Find a cheaper residence further afield, and hope they can find a job there that will pay enough for their housing.
    • Live on the streets while trying to build up enough saving to afford somewhere to live.

    The flip-side to this is, of course, other areas of the country where the housing is cheap, but the employment prospects dire – so people can afford a residence, but it may be paid for by either welfare benefits or begging.

    Finally: Minimum wage in the UK for a 9–5 job, Monday to Friday is about £275. If you find it is possible to earn more than that in the same amount of time by begging, then you may decide that it make more financial sense to do so.

    If you can make more than £375 per week by begging, then you're earning more than an EU-mandated 48-hour maximum working week does at minimum wage – at least one person has made over £500 per day by begging.

    Perhaps worth mentioning that certain demographics are more likely to become homeless in the UK, including LGBT+, and a disproportionate number of former military personnel. "Did you know that at least 10% of the UK homeless population is made up of ex-forces personnel?"

    In a busy city centre, a beggar will be passed by thousands of people per hour. Even if they only make £1 every 5 minutes (probably less than 0.5% engagement), that's still £12 per hour, tax free, plus any benefits they're entitled to. That beats any minimum wage job. Add in the people who will offer food instead of money, and you can easily remove the need for food shopping. Begging can be a very lucrative pastime in high tourist areas.

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution


Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM