A new poll on perceptions of homelessness shows that most European citizens have a positive attitude about people who are homeless, although there are distinct differences of opinion across countries. The poll covering eight European countries -- France, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden -- was conducted by Aix-Marseille University and the HOME_EU consortium, an EU project that deals with public policies toward homelessness. A total of 17,633 people were surveyed.

A major finding of the survey was that Europeans want increased government attention to the problem and better, more effective policies addressing the homelessness crisis, which the poll’s authors say is growing among women, youth, families and migrants across the EU-28. It is estimated that 4.1 million people in EU Europe are unsheltered, or in emergency or temporary accommodation. Respondents said that over the last three years they saw an increase in the numbers of homeless in their country. Compared to a 2010 Eurobarometer survey on poverty and social exclusion, when just 3% said there are ever more homeless in their locality, the new poll had 14% saying this.

Those respondents whose opinions of homeless people were considered positive (58%) were willing to pay taxes to rectify the problem, welcomed a shelter, or acknowledged that people who are homeless may lack some capabilities or face discrimination in hiring. More than three-quarters of survey respondents said that their country was spending too little on the problem, while just 2% though too  much was budgeted for homeless people.

About 30% of the polled had negative opinions of homeless people. They responded that they felt that the government spent too much on homelessness, that people who are homeless should be responsible for their own housing, that people remain homeless by choice, or that homelessness keeps empowerment intact (regarding meals, family contact, access to work).

The French and Polish respondents were the most likely to harbor negative attitudes.

There were distinct differences of opinion on the causes of homelessness. In Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, and Sweden, the foremost explanation for the phenomenon was drug addiction. “Although unemployment was mentioned among the leading causes of homelessness in all countries,” concluded the authors, “only in France, Italy, and Spain was it mentioned more often than other putative causes, reflecting the continuing economic impact, especially in Spain and in Italy, of the 2008 financial crisis.”