Lithuania has experienced many issues with poverty and an increase in homelessness since its independence in the early 1990s. Its independence quickly led to high unemployment, low wages, poor state support in security housing, gaps in social housing provisions and an underdeveloped social services sector. This eventually resulted in a surge in homelessness in Lithuania.
Despite the overall increase in homelessness, Statistics Lithuania reported over 4,000 homeless people in 2017. While significant, the 4,000 homeless people in 2017 is actually a reduction since 2012 when reports determined that there were about 4,957 homeless people in Lithuania. The Lithuanian government has put some social policies in place in the case of unemployment; people who register with employment services can receive benefits while also using provided resources to look for another job.
With these policies, Lithuania has experienced a drop in unemployment from over 17% in 2010 to 6.35% in 2019. The Lithuanian government has stepped in over the past few years in response to the homelessness crisis and implemented provisions that promised public housing and services to those in need of assistance. The following key points will explain how Lithuania is combating the crisis and the challenges it is facing.
How Lithuania is Combating the Homelessness Crisis
According to the European Social Policy Network, the Lithuanian government put legislation and policies in place to help people experiencing homelessness:
- Shelters and crisis centers for homeless people: There are provisions for shelter in two forms: short-term temporary housing and crisis centers. Short-term temporary housing is for homeless people and people with addictions or other critical situations that threaten a person’s health or life. Services there include information, medication and representation, access to basic facilities for personal hygiene and access to health care. The duration of these services can last up to three nights. Crisis centers are for homeless people and victims of violence. Services include social and psychological support, employment consulting, skill-building, access to healthcare and more. Crisis center services aim to restore independent living and social connections and to help people reintegrate into society. The duration of these services may last up to six months and can receive an extension. There are also day centers for the homeless. These facilities allow people a safe place to stay during the day, to make food, attend courses and receive other social services.
- A brief history of social housing in Lithuania: Prior to Lithuania’s independence, the Soviet Union enacted a mass construction of social housing. Students, workers and young people leaving foster homes were the main demographic of people using this housing. The Lithuanian government dismantled public housing and allowed citizens to restore their property in the form of real estate after gaining its independence. Mass privatization eventually led to a surge in housing prices. As a result, vulnerable groups unable to afford housing returned to the streets.
- Ex-convicts received a chance to live independently: Ex-convicts received counseling and services aimed at preparing them for independent living. The ex-convicts would often receive access to these services toward the end of their sentences. There are no statistics on exactly how many ex-convicts are homeless, but the number of ex-convicts in homeless shelters has gone down in recent years.
- Larger cities with the highest rates of homelessness have their own policies in battling homelessness: In the city of Vilnius, the municipality has a program that establishes transitional supported accommodation for people moving from homeless shelters to independent living. Accommodations have the support of social workers to manage finances and debt. They also offer counseling services to help people adjust.
- Recent legislation allows municipalities to provide housing for those in need: Effective January 2019, an amendment allowed municipalities to rent housing from private or legal persons and then sublet it to people in need of housing support. This was in response to the issue of people illegally renting houses which prevented people from receiving rent assistance. This amendment addressed the stigma associated with poor and homeless people in the rental market.
The Challenges Lithuania Faces in the Fight Against Homelessness
The current programs and policies show the progress Lithuania has made since its independence. However, the country still faces challenges in its fight against homelessness:
- The number of evictions from social housing is increasing: The Lithuanian government made provisions for financial compensation to help with the cost of utilities for low-income citizens. Municipalities can also provide debt relief to recipients of social assistance. During the coronavirus pandemic, financial assistance increased and Lithuania facilitated new conditions for obtaining assistance. Despite this, evictions increased and counseling for debt relief became nonexistent.
- There is low-level reliability of funding for social protection for housing: Financing social housing in Lithuania has increased over the past decade but it has been low in comparison to the rest of the E.U. In 2016, the expenditure on social housing in purchasing power standards in the E.U. was about €54 per inhabitant whereas Lithuania’s expenditure was about €12 per inhabitant. The Ministry of Social Security and Labor planned to allocate over €3 million in housing support for 2019.
- The duration of stay in shelters is insufficient: Staying at a shelter for three nights does not solve the complex problems of homeless people. In many cases, once a person leaves the shelter they receive no further support and return to the streets.
- Social housing is difficult to obtain: It can take people anywhere from three to 12 years to receive social housing depending on the municipality. In 2014, the number of persons and families waiting for social housing was about 32,000. The waiting list decreased to approximately 10,500 in 2017. This was due to revisions on the waiting list and the enforcement of duty to declare assets and income.
Lithuania’s Ministry of Social Security and Labor has put into effect policies to help decrease the wait times for social housing. In 2024, wait times for social housing could decrease to five years. Meanwhile, in 2026, expectations determine that the wait times could decrease to about three years. If municipalities do not provide social housing by the deadline, they must compensate part of the rent to families in their current housing while they wait for social housing.
The policies the Lithuanian government has put in place have helped many homeless people get back on their feet. However, it is clear that Lithuania has a long way to go to resolve the issue of homelessness.
– Jackson Lebedun