Belgian mayors force homeless to shelters as cold threatens
BRUSSELS (AP) — As a cold snap grips Europe, authorities in the Belgian capital Brussels have begun forcing homeless people off the streets and out of subzero temperatures.
A mayor in the Etterbeek neighborhood has ordered that people be obliged to take shelter at night between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. until March 7 unless the weather improves.
Brussels Mayor Philippe Close isn’t going quite that far but he told The Associated Press on Tuesday that social workers and police are being firm to stop people freezing to death.
“We won’t put them in jail. They did not commit any crimes. But the idea is to protect people from themselves and to push them toward shelters,” Close said.
Brussels has four centers with around 1,000 places available for homeless people during the winter, compared to 300-400 the rest of the year.
But despite temperatures dropping to almost -10 C (14 F), some homeless people are tough to move and prefer to stay on the street.
Darius Bielski, 50, and three Polish friends sit in the sun during the day to stay warm and at night they use cardboard boxes, sleeping bags and layers of clothes to survive. He said that he’s happy living on the steps of an office building but the police often try to clean up their camp.
He said that whenever he or his friends contact social services “they keep saying ‘no availability, no availability.’ So I am staying to sleep here, and when I wake up around 7 a.m. they are here (to give food). So for me there is no problem here. It is quiet.”
It’s the kind of challenge that Close and the Brussels authorities are trying gently to deal with.
“We need to be moderate, and at the same time it is my responsibility as a mayor to assure the safety of these extremely precarious people,” he said.