Homelessness and Housing Exclusion in Serbia

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Homelessness and Housing Exclusion in Serbia

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Homelessness and Housing Exclusion in Serbia

Mina Petrović, University of Belgrademipetrov@sbb.rsMilena Timotijević, Housing Center, Belgrademtimotijevic@housingcenter.org.rs



Housing Development Center for Socially Vulnerable Groups is a non-profit, non-governmental organization founded in 2004. in Belgrade, Serbia aiming to improve the living conditions of socially vulnerable groups and support their social integration and independence, through different activities (construction of housing units, support in social integration, research, public advocacy, education and other).HC pioneered Social housing in protective environment model – in accordance with Housing first policy. In 2011/2012 Housing Center undertook the research on homelessness in Serbia, in partnership with the DISC, NGO from UK and with funds from European Union.


Conceptual frame: homelessness as the most serious example of social exclusion

Multidimensional phenomenon


deprivation of (adequate/secure) housing

(ETHOS – FEANTA 2010);

exclusion from the (labor) market, from the civil status (the state redistribution - problems of access and / or stigmatization in access to social services); from the community or reciprocal relationships (including family and other social networks)

(Hutchinson 2002: 172, Mandic, 2004).

Dynamic interaction of individual characteristics and structural changes – culture of poverty challenges

Individual- lacking of key capitals: economic, human, cultural, social, symbolic (Firdion 2005)

Structural - transitional changes: economic restructuring, searching for the new concept of social and housing policy, etc.

Different routes of entry and exit in different population groups

Constructivist approach – visibility of the problem, way of perceived responsibilities and strategic approaches


Context of Serbian society

Homelessness as hidden phenomenon – without official definition, mainly reduced to those living rough or in spaces inhabited out of necessity, increasing visibility in public spaces but not in public and policy discourses

High risk of homelessness stemming from:

widespread unemployment and poverty

large number of refugees

undeveloped social housing policy

restructuring of social care system

decreasing capabilities of family to act as social safety net


Undeveloped social housing policy

insufficient capacities


dramatically reduced social housing stock after housing privatization

(around 2%


undeveloped safety net measures

(lacking housing allowance system and regulation of private rental sector)

extensive problem of inadequate housing equipment

and infrastructure

among the poor households


illegal construction

(almost 20% of the housing stock) – informal social housing policy


Restructuring of social care system

inadequate capacities & resources

: irregular and small amounts of social assistance, inadequate covering of targeted population, insufficient number of beds in shelters.


nsufficient flexibility and diversity in approaches

: neglected role of the third sector, services reduced to emergency accommodation, little efforts directed on empowerment and sustainability of exiting homelessness, lack of support services for people leaving institutions.


ack of coordination

between relevant stakeholders on both service and policy level.


ata collecting basic and not standardized -

data analysis rudimentary .


Research aim and methodology

To study the characteristics of population in shelters for adult and elderly persons in three largest cities in Serbia: Belgrade (136), Novi Sad (32) and Nis (5).

Explorative research

– descriptive analysis attempting to reconstruct key characteristics/events that lead to homelessness, as well as expected routes out of homelessness

Combination of

questionnaires, interviews and focus groups

with persons accommodated in the shelters

Research conducted in winter 2011/2012 (from December to February)


Profile of average shelter beneficiary



51-65 years old, low education, never married

Has no income (salary or pension)

Worked his whole life, now unemployed longer than 5 years

and not looking for a job

Hasn’t used social care services prior to shelter (soup kitchen, social assistance)

Weak and exhausted social network

Suffers from health problems (most usually mental health problems)

Feels helpless, expects help from the state – regularly votes



Events that led to homelessness


The way of coming into shelter


In the condition that preceded entering the shelter, respondents lacked (sufficient) institutional support – 31% receive social assistance, 25,7% pension, others are unemployed (mostly not registered with NEA)The facts that every third of the beneficiaries was transferred from the hospital, while 12% had nobody to take care of them, raise the question on efficiency and adequacy of the existing health/social care system.

The way of coming into shelter


Housing as cause of homelessness

Housing situation before coming to the shelter


Dimensions of housing exclusion

Legal domain

– a

significant exclusion of the beneficiaries from the status of the owner or a joint owner

(only 21% in the society of homeowners)

Respondent, not married; used to live with his brother in their parents’ flat (in social property), which his brother bought off through housing privatization, after which he gave a three-month deadline to respondent to move out. After that he lived on the street for 7 to 8 years. He talks about that calmly: «

He bought it off. We could have done it together, but I told him to take it as I am alone and he has got a family. Which is normal… I have got two brothers and a sister. But that is not their problem but my own. He bought the flat and I moved out … and that’s the end of the story. I have no reason to love him more or to hate him more



Dimensions of housing exclusion

Substandard and illegal housing

- no indication of significant impact, although, among those who named housing as a reason for coming to the shelter, those who were previously living rough or in a substandard flat

are concentrated


Respondent used to work in a construction company, which he was, as he puts it, “thrown out” of, he managed to obtain his pension, but he did not get a flat from the company. He spent 20 years living in a single room, in an unclear legal status, he built a bathroom, i.e., that he found ways to upgrade the housing standard through an illegal construction. He was evicted from these premises, after which he lived on the street for more than a year.


Dimensions of housing exclusion


renting at the private market

(prevailing solution for those who do not own the flat) as the

major problem

over represented

tenure status

(22% among all respondents, 26% among those who stated housing as the main cause, and 43% among those who stated poverty as the main cause)

If you live in private accommodation, and if you do not pay between the first and the fifth of the month, they will not keep you. He has a right to evict you in winter. Earlier on he could not throw you out, but now ... to throw you out even with a child. "," They don’t give a damn. Believe me I have lost the ability to talk and I don’t talk about anything anymore. I'm afraid so much, I do not know where I will go, don’t know what to do, that’s it ... “


Dimensions of housing exclusion

Inaccessible rental flats in public / social sector

– equal share as in general population - inadequately targeted and insufficiently covered.

Respondents expressed high level of uncertainty over the payment of utility bills in social housing, and have

no information about the conditions under which social housing is granted


Let's say these flats are given for 5 years, what will happen after 5 years. We are not informed about that ... If you did not regularly pay, and should apply again, you will certainly be refused."


lack of money is generally perceived as the biggest problem related even to social housing.


Expected routes out of homelessness


The most needed support


Sheltering without empowering

Respondents complain about the lack of information and support from social workers in applying for social housing .

«The center for social work informed me, last time they deceived me, they told me that the deadline was in May and it was in March…. They tell you what you need, and you are on your own....»



Sheltering without empowering


are dissatisfied with the support in finding jobs


«There are so many staff members here, so that at least one of them could concentrate on the employment ».

«They mainly say that we should find a way, they distance themselves and say it's not their job»; «…

Find me a job, I won’t chose. If I had worked for three months I would have earned 150.000 RSD and would have solved my problem and told them „Thank you and good bye”. Why don’t they call the City authorities and ask if they have any work for us »


Concluding remarks

Respondents’ high risk to housing exclusion comes from:

poor coverage with social services in spite of financial poverty due to high unemployment or low pensions

unaffordable and completely unregulated private rental sector

poor access to social housing


Consequently, there are low expectations from state support in housing and no encouragement in claiming right to



Housing exclusion as inadequate or insecure housing is less significant factor than expected due to rather high institutional tolerance towards illegal construction


Homelessness and housing exclusion

as multidimensional



accompanied with other dimensions of social exclusion


are additionaly

aggravated by insufficiently developed risk prevention and institutional










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