Croatia has become a massive tourist destination in recent years. Whether visitors are in search of relaxing beaches, national parks or Games of Thrones filming locations, the small Balkan nation offers a myriad of attractions. In the midst of a mass exodus of tourists due to the COVID-19 outbreak though, a 5.3-magnitude earthquake struck the country in March and damaged thousands of buildings, injured dozens and killed one person. Immediately following the disaster, the government drafted a vague plan for reconstruction. Josip Atalic, an associate professor at Zagreb’s Faculty of Civil Engineering, anticipates it will take years for the affected infrastructure to be completely repaired.
Thousands of buildings, from schools and hospitals to apartments and homes, have been deemed unusable. Unfortunately, Croatia doesn’t have the resources to handle more displaced persons. Here are four facts about homelessness in Croatia.
4 Facts About Homelessness in Croatia:
“Croatia ranks among the most vulnerable countries of the European Union in terms of poverty rates,” according to the nation’s Ministry of Demographics, Family, Youth and Social Policy. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of citizens receiving unemployment benefits decreased from almost 80,000 to about 35,000. Yet, the rate of people at risk of poverty has consistently hovered around 20% since 2013. Poverty, unemployment and homelessness intersect at different points. With so much of the population at risk of poverty, the risk of homelessness grows all the more.
The official number of homeless people in Croatia depends on a very particular definition of homelessness. As a result, the statistic is lower than it might be if other organizations were to calculate the quantity. European Typology of Homelessness and Housing Exclusion, or ETHOS, has six categories that encompass varying degrees of homelessness. These degrees range from people living in public spaces to temporary residence due to a lack of personal housing accommodations. The Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy found only 364 homeless persons in Croatia in 2018. This number is quantified by the definition in the Social Welfare Act of 2013, which determines a homeless person as one “who has no place to live, resides in a public or other place not intended for housing and has no means to settle the need for housing.” The government only counts most extreme cases of homelessness, in which a person is without a roof over his or her head. The total does not include the number of individuals who are without permanent residences and occupy beds in shelters, refuge accommodations, healthcare institutions or penal institutions. If the ministry were to include all ETHOS categories, there could be up to 10,000 homeless people in Croatia.
Croatia has 14 homeless shelters in the entire country, with enough space to house 383 people. About a fourth of the nation’s population lives around Zagreb; as a result, most of Croatia’s homeless occupy the nation’s capital. There is only one shelter in Zagreb, and just recently it nearly closed as its lease with the city government came to an end. Without adequate resources to combat homelessness in Croatia, those afflicted have fewer chances to escape it.
Aside from these aforementioned statistics, there is little research on poverty and homelessness in Croatia. In the last few decades, however, a number of organizations dedicated to homeless and vulnerable populations—Pragma, Caritas and the Croatian Anti-Poverty Network, to name a few—have materialized in Croatia. Most of these organizations are connected to the Croatian Network for Homelessness. Just a few years ago, a formerly homeless man began giving “anti-tours” of Zagreb; this was done in partnership with a social impact agency and the humanitarian association Fajter. He educates tour groups on the existence of homelessness in Zagreb, which is hardly noticeable due to strict vagrancy laws.
In the wake of two disasters that have impaired the infrastructure and the health of Croatia, it’s unclear how the country’s homeless population is faring. Nonetheless, between anti-tours and the growing number of aiding organizations, homelessness in Croatia is becoming more central to humanitarian efforts. Hopefully, in a few years, further research about the country’s vulnerable populations will be conducted. This would make more information available, and thus lead to more effective policies needed to address homelessness in Croatia.
– Mary Wilkie
Photo: Wikimedia Commons