It’s easy for Irena to feel sympathy for the homeless people she serves at the soup kitchen she volunteers for. Not too long ago she and her two children were living on the streets themselves through no fault of their own. “My family has never accepted one penny from social security – we have worked wherever we could.” Because of the crisis, an increasing number of families in Europe are in a precarious financial situation.
Irena had to take to the streets after she and her family were forced out of the house in Slovakia they had been living in for decades. They lived on the streets in Germany and Belgium for years as they struggled to survive. “Living on the street is hard and dangerous,” she said. “One of my harshest memories is a long, snowy winter under a bridge in Karlsruhe."
The 30-year-old mother now works at a community centre and shelter in Ghent and also helps out as an interpreter for refugees: “Most people on the streets just want to be a part of society again, which isn’t easy. I have a good job now, a roof over my head and a good school for my kids. That’s exactly what most homeless people want: stability and simple happiness.”
Some 120 million Europeans are at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The European Parliament has fought hard this year to secure as much funding as possible for the EU fund for the most deprived, which sets out to meet the most fundamental needs of children and homeless people. In the coming months MEPs will vote on a proposal for the EU’s budget for 2014-2020, which includes the funding to help the most deprived.