“The phenomenon of homelessness in contemporary Malta remains invisible to those who do not know where – or do not wish – to look for it”
Marketing Advisory Services (MAS) was commissioned by YMCA Malta in 2022 to carry out a study to quantify homelessness in contemporary Malta. The study provides a ‘snapshot’ of the number of residents across local homeless shelters. Additionally, a series of qualitative interviews with homeless individuals were conducted to identify and explore some of the more nuanced dimensions of homelessness.
Shelter Cases & Capacity
A total of 23 organisations that offer services to counter or mitigate homelessness were approached and out of these, 14 shelters/services actively participated in the project. A total number of 178 individuals and 58 accompanying children were recorded as residing at the participating shelters. The overall occupancy rate of the participating shelters was 80.5% with more than half of these shelters operating at full capacity. An additional 11 cases of roofless individuals were recorded by service providers.
Causes of Homelessness
The leading cause of homelessness for the majority of (36.5%) of residents is ‘Financial Problems’, followed by ‘Mental and Psychological Health’ and ‘Domestic Violence’.
In the case of females, ‘Domestic Violence’ is the leading cause of homelessness (50.6%), followed by ‘Financial Problems’ and ‘Mental and Psychological Health’. Whereas males leading cause of homelessness is ‘Financial Problems’ (26.3%), ‘Loss of Job’ (22.2%), and ‘Immigration’ (18.2%).
With respect to causes for homelessness vis-à-vis age, ‘Financial Problems’ were cited by a significant 44.8% of individuals who are between 35-44 years and 40.4% of individuals who are between 25-34 years old. ‘Mental and Psychological Health’ was cited by a significant majority (47.9%) of residents who are 45 years or older.
With respect to causes for homelessness vis-à-vis nationality, for Maltese residents the top 3 causes for homelessness were ‘Domestic Violence’, Mental and Psychological Health’ and ‘Financial Problems’ were cited by 49.5%, 41.9% and 37.6% respectively. For Foreign residents the top 3 causes for homelessness were ‘Financial Problems’, ‘Domestic Violence’ and ‘Loss of Job’ were cited by 34.9%, 33.7% and 25.6% respectively.
Children Accompanying Adults at Shelters
In addition to the 178 adult individuals, 58 children aged 0 to 16 years were registered as shelter residents accompanying adults. The average age of these children was 5.4 years (4.6 years for boys and 6.0 for girls). These children were accompanying 30 adult individuals.
The leading cause of homelessness for adults with accompanying children is ‘Financial Problems’ (40.0%), followed by ‘Domestic Violence’ (33.3%) and ‘Family Issues’ (16.7%).
Key Support Networks
All the interlocutors went through different experiences however, they all shared one similar view: that stable support networks are essential to both avoiding and ‘recovering’ from being homeless.
Type 1: Family, Kin and Friends
These networks not only serve to provide material support (ex: financial) but also moral support that is formative (ex: education).
“The people I surrounded myself with were not good for me… they were bad company… now that I am currently recovering from my addiction and problems, I don’t keep in touch with any of them and made some new friends who I socialise and have fun with while staying clean… having good friends is very important…” - Julia, Current YMCA Client
Type 2: Shelter Staff, Volunteers and Other Residents
The network of workers and professionals is particularly important as it provides psychological and moral support, which sets ‘structure’ for development in terms of, for example, finding a stable job and becoming independent.
“YMCA’s support during my time at the shelter was essential for me to become better, find a job, and move out of the shelter… they helped me learn new things, they sent me to courses, and eventually helped me to settle in a stable job… today I can support myself and my family thanks to the process of growth that I went through during my time at the shelter…” - Kat, Past YMCA Client
Type 3: Professionals
The third and final type of network consists of professionals who follow homeless individuals during – but more importantly after – their time within shelters and rehabilitation programmes.
“I live on my own today, but I come here at YMCA and speak to my counsellor regularly… I find it useful to talk to someone who knows what you’ve been through…” - Nina, Past YMCA Client
The Duality of Homelessness
Being homeless does not only imply the absence of adequate housing. Rather it is a state of being that is often preceded by a series of conditions and behaviours that culminate in a loss of resources.
Apart from a lack of material resources, a homeless person must navigate some complex issues including share, particularly within the small, social, and cultural context of Malta. The process of mitigation and gradual shift towards independence, however, also involves the positive development of skills, character, and resilience that are necessary for long-term plans to be formed and executed.
The glossy new surface of Malta and our own echo chambers have an underbelly that is grimy, and that at times is a direct result of processes of gentrification that have become an inevitable part of everyday life.
The phenomenon of homelessness in contemporary Malta remains invisible to those who do not know where – or do not wish – to look for it, but one should be aware that rapid urban development and relative affluence may have an underbelly that is less attractive – one that is marked by pronounced inequality.
To obtain a copy of the reports 'YMCA - Quantifying Homelessness' and 'YMCA - Quantifying Homelessness (Ethnographic Research), kindly contact us at [email protected]