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Record 79 homeless people died on Brussels streets last year

08:50 26/05/2023

A dark milestone was reached in Brussels last year when a record 78 homeless people died on the streets of the Belgian capital.

Never before have there been so many such deaths in Brussels, according to Les Morts de la Rue (the Street Deaths Collective), a Brussels-based organisation that aims to give every person without a shelter or home a dignified farewell when they die.

The organisation held a memorial service for the deceased on Wednesday on the Place de l'Albertine, around a symbolic tree on which a butterfly was hung for each of the deceased.

The Street Deaths Collective was formed in 2004 after two homeless people were killed at Brussels-Midi station and it took months before their bodies were recovered.

“Our collective has been around for 18 years, but it remains a struggle to honour every street death in Brussels,” said coordinator Florence Servais.

“The number of deaths has risen sharply since the creation of the Street Deaths Collective. This has to do with the awareness of the collective, but also with the increase in the number of homeless people in Brussels. Every life counts, just as every death counts.”

In 2021, 76 deaths were recorded, which was a record at the time.

Of the 79 homeless people to die in Brussels in 2022, a third of them died in the winter. The total number includes people from at least 15 different nationalities, including 70 men, eight women and one non-binary person. Most were Belgians and Polish people, with ages ranging from 18 to 73.

“The majority of the people we commemorate on Wednesday are European, but it is only the tip of the iceberg,” Servais said.

“Migration in itself seems to carry a risk of vulnerability, and lack of legal residence or precarious status is certainly a barrier to the social inclusion of homeless people.”

The Street Deaths Collective tries to find out the identity of the deceased and inform their next of kin or loved ones about the death and help organise a funeral. New this year is a funeral booklet with information on end-of-life rights and a space for submitting last wishes.

The collective tries to get a picture of the cause of death of street deaths, but often collides with medical confidentiality. As a result, the cause of death is unknown for 64% of homeless people who died.

The organisation also works with local communities to repatriate the remains of the deceased if required, and six more repatriations took place in 2022 than the previous year.

Written by Helen Lyons