Slovenia, one of the six republics that once comprised Yugoslavia, currently has the 23rd largest GDP out of the 27 European Union member states. Like many other former socialist republics, Slovenia’s economy has lagged behind those of other European powers such as Germany, Sweden and France. Because of this, the country has been unable to enact the widespread, high-quality public welfare programs that its western neighbors have had in place for years, leading to increased levels of poverty and homelessness in Slovenia.
6 Facts About Homelessness in Slovenia
- The actual number of homeless in Slovenia is unknown. Having no official strategy for assessing the rates of homelessness in Slovenia, the Slovenian Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs relies on secondary sources for its estimates. The most recent of these estimates, gathered in 2015, places the number of homeless Slovenians at around 4,000 individuals. However, in actuality, homelessness in Slovenia could be much more prevalent than these estimates suggest. Government numbers are likely lower than true figures due to the government’s reliance on citizens’ self-reporting. This lack of data on roofless Slovenians makes it difficult for government bodies to adequately respond to the issue of homelessness. Without proper counts, shelters, public housing, the country cannot properly appropriate social services and healthcare.
- Slovenia’s homelessness problem arose after the country’s independence from Yugoslavia. After gaining independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991, the new government of the Republic of Slovenia began to transition from Yugoslavia’s socialist economy to a free market system. To aid in this pursuit and in an effort to privatize real estate, the country sold a majority of the Yugoslav government’s “social housing” facilities, which once housed a third of Slovenia’s population, to private landlords. With this sudden privatization of housing, vulnerable households suddenly did not have a public housing option. This public housing scarcity, even 29 years later, has persisted: current access to affordable or public housing in Slovenia is below levels in other European countries, exacerbating homelessness in Slovenia. The number of public housing units making up Slovenian residences fell from 33% in 1991 to just 10% in 2005. In 2016, Slovenia ranked 20th out of the 28 European Union member states when it came to housing accessibility, highlighting the fact that increasing public housing and addressing the rise in rooflessness in Slovenia has not been a priority of the country’s political agenda since gaining independence.
- Certain policies exacerbate homelessness. Some Slovenian laws make it difficult for roofless citizens to get back on their feet. For example, in Slovenia, one can lose access to welfare programs and healthcare if they do not register with a residence. This leads to prolonged states of homelessness because homeless Slovenians must deal with issues and payments that could reduce or disappear if social aid was still available to them. In addition, programs that are available to help assuage problems that poverty presents are only available to older members of society. Homeless youth may also experience exclusion from programs including public education and healthcare due to their lack of a residence, perpetuating generational disparities and further marginalizing impoverished Slovenians.
- There are still many stigmas surrounding homelessness in Slovenia. In Slovenia, the Law of the Protection of Public Order and Peace prohibits “aggressive begging” and sleeping on the streets. Violators of this law must pay a fine. Authorities send the homeless, who understandably are unable to pay, to jail for one month and rejail them if they fail to pay upon their release. Laws like these that effectively make homelessness in Slovenia illegal, coupled with the government’s unwillingness to provide access to social services, reveal that the Slovenian government does not view rooflessness as a public health or humanitarian issue. Furthermore, according to the European Journal of Homelessness, official policy documents from the Slovenian government have never mentioned homelessness and individuals experiencing homelessness due to stigmas surrounding the homeless population. Only through programs that indirectly address the issue of rooflessness have services become accessible to those living without homes.
- The Slovenian government’s response is increasing. In recent years, the Slovenian government has taken more steps to address the homeless issue. Through programs like the National Social Care Programme, implemented in 2013, the Slovenian government aims to increase the number of homeless shelters from 10 to 18 by the end of 2020. However, other E.U. members have criticized the Slovenian government for not including measures that would help track and prevent homelessness in Slovenia. To effectively combat homelessness within Slovenia, the government must stop responding only after people have already fallen into homelessness. Instead, the government of Slovenia must address the systemic drivers behind homelessness, including low housing supply and poor housing affordability.
- NGOs are starting to pick up the slack in the absence of government actions. Various NGOs have been taking steps to provide support to replace of government assistance. For example, Kings of the Street Association, or Kralji Ulice, has been working in Slovenia’s capital of Ljubljana to empower the homeless and offer them the ability to enjoy everyday activities. Kralji Ulice offers various programs to give the homeless access to social workers, counselors, activities, workshops and even employment in public works. Other larger organizations such as the European Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived, working to help 2,545 homeless Slovenians in 2017, provides similar aid, including shelters and social services for those suffering from alcoholism.
In the absence of government programs that aim to lift the homeless out of poverty, NGOs like these provide meaningful assistance to Slovenia’s marginalized citizens and empower them to take their well-being into their own hands.
– Aidan Sun