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Conference on homelessness held in Tbilisi

By Levan Abramishvili
Wednesday, May 8
On May 7th, a conference on homelessness, organized by the Open Society Georgia Foundation (OSGF), was held in Tbilisi. At the conference, a discussion took place around the issue of homelessness and state policy for housing.

It is important that the people working on these issues had a chance to gather in one space and share their ideas, which gave an opportunity to assess the policies both on the state and local levels. The conference made possible to discuss homelessness from the human rights angle and to make visible the main challenges that the policy on homelessness faces in Georgia.

According to the OSGF, the studies presented at the conference and the discussions that took place would aid The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs to refine the homelessness strategy and action plan that it is set to adopt in 2019-2020. It will allow the Ministry to create a plan that is based on both, the best international experience and the specific local needs.

Homelessness and housing exclusion have long been under the radar within the political and social spaces. To date, the number of homeless individuals has not been recorded and there is no relevant database. In 2018, as a result of OSGF supported advocacy effort, the Government of Georgia has promised to elaborate national housing policy as a part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) action plan.

The conference was attended by the local NGOs working on the issue of homelessness, as well as the representatives of the central and local government to share their experiences with each other.

A 2016 research conducted by Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), revealed that one of the most vulnerable groups are the roofless people – “regardless of the immediate need of assistance, physical, legal and social barriers hinder roofless persons from accessing public goods, more than any other group. Lack of a fixed physical environment in the form of housing creates a barrier for these people, in terms of benefitting from universal and targeted state assistance”.

In her opening speech, the executive director of the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Ms. Keti Khutsishvili talked about some of the challenges that the homelessness studies face in Georgia: “one of the main problems is the lack of comprehensive statistical information, the second is that the definition itself of homelessness. In our legislation, this definition exists, but it is very narrow compared to the international standards”.

Indeed, the international organizations and several developed countries not only define homelessness as living in the streets without a shelter (rooflessness) but people who don’t have access to decent housing and live in private dwellings but reporting 'no usual address' on their census form.

The ideas exchanged at the conference and the studies about homelessness prepared with the support of OSGF and EMC will help the Ministry in the elaboration of the plan that is comprehensive, evidence-based and eliminates discrimination and further marginalization of homeless people.