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Swiss charities sound alarm over rising homeless problem

A homeless man sleeps on steps in the city
A study published last year found that the homeless population in Bern is higher than that of other German-speaking cities in Switzerland. Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Homelessness is on the rise in Switzerland, warn charities. The number of homeless people in the Swiss capital, Bern, has doubled in recent years, testing the capacity of shelters.

The problem is not confined large cities, but has also spread to smaller towns. The issue is exacerbated by increases in cost of living, an unaffordable housing market and global conflict.

Homeless shelters in Bern are facing a critical situation, according to Silvio Flückiger, a social worker who has worked with the organisation “Pinto” for 18 years.

“Compared to the past, the number of homeless people has doubled,” he told the Swiss public broadcaster SRF. The Salvation Army in Bern has also reported an increase in the number of people seeking help.

The problem of homelessness is not limited to Bern, as similar concerns are being raised all over Switzerland. In Biel, another city in canton Bern, the emergency shelter has been at full capacity for several months.

A study published last year found that the homeless population in Bern is higher than that of other German-speaking cities in Switzerland.

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“The way the situation has developed in the last few months shows that a solution is not only necessary but also urgent,”  warned Silvio Flückiger.

Conflict and inflation 

Social researcher Jörg Dittmann from the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern identifies inflation as a pressure that exacerbates the difficulties of people and families who already face precarious circumstances.

“The cost of living is increasing. Not only that, but the housing market in Switzerland has been under pressure for years,” he said in an interview with SRF.

An increasing number of homeless people in Switzerland come from abroad, where they have fled from conflict and other hardships. “Wars and poverty in other countries are drivers of homelessness – which also affects Switzerland,” said Dittmann. He also predicts that this influx will likely increase.

On the political agenda

The issue of homelessness has been a pressing concern for several years. The city administration in Bern want to prepare for the next winter. The authorities are taking action to prepare for the expected increase in demand for emergency sleeping facilities.

Politicians have called for additional resources, especially for women. 

“In Bern, we want to have a sleeping place for all those who want one,” social welfare director Franziska Teuscher told SRF. To this end, the administration is currently reviewing potential properties to be used as emergency shelters.

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In addition to providing shelter, Bern is also implementing new housing advice services and plans to provide rental deposit assistance to people affected by poverty.

These measures are aimed at improving the people’s chances of finding a long-tem roof over their heads.

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