HOMELESSNESS IN SWITZERLAND

The research in relation to the Swiss jurisdictional scope has been performed by Dr. Kilian Schärli (lawyer at Meyerlustenberger Lachenal).

 

1. IS THERE A LEGAL DEFINITION OF “HOMELESS PEOPLE” IN YOUR JURISDICTION IF YES, WHERE IS IT REGULATED?  HOW IS IT EVIDENCED? 

There is no official legal definition of "homeless people" or "homelessness" in Switzerland. 


However, the EU and Switzerland are committed to a largely common understanding of the term. Therefore, the term "homelessness" is linked to the exclusion of the housing market, as mentioned in the Social Investment Pact of the EU (2013). According to the European organisation FEANTSA and its ETHOS-Typology, homelessness is the most serious form of all precarious housing situations. According to the ETHOS-Typology, people qualify as homeless if either they live in the public area or under a bridge, or people living in an emergency shelter (see definition by ETHOS).

2. DOES A LEGAL STATUS OF “HOMELESS PEOPLE” OR “HOMELESSNESS” INVOLVE A PARTICULAR OBJECT OF LEGAL PROTECTION? WHAT IS THE BASIC PROTECTION THAT IS RECEIVED IN YOUR JURISDICTION?

"Homeless people" do not have a specific legal status; however, homelessness is the most extreme form of poverty and thus part of many different legal regulations in the field of social welfare, combatting poverty and the right to adequate housing and shelter. 

 

The right to adequate housing is partially protected on a constitutional level (in general) and implemented in different aspects in the jurisprudence. For example, in connection with eviction, tenant protection or discrimination in the housing sector in the Swiss Code of Obligations.

 

However, an actual right to accommodation exists only on an overall societal context and not on an individual basis. Moreover, it can vary widely in enforceability and implementation, depending on the political context.

3. ARE THERE SPECIFIC MEASURES THAT PROMOTE ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE? HOW IS IT REGULATED AND HOW SHOULD IT BE SHOWED?

The Swiss Federal Constitution states a fundamental right to assistance when in need (Art 12 FC). This right guarantees a minimal right to food, clothes, emergency medical aid and accommodation.

 

This is also mirrored on the cantonal level, for instance in the canton of Zurich in its cantonal constitution in Article 111, stating that the canton and municipalities ensure that people

in a situation in need with which they cannot cope with on their own, are provided shelter and means of subsistence.

 

Nevertheless, there is no universal justiciable right to accommodation based on the Federal Constitution. The Federal Constitution defines accommodation as a basic need and states the support for home-seekers, but does not provide an individual right to adequate accommodation. The aforementioned support for home-seekers according to Art. 41 FC results in different measures regarding housing subsidies and the offer of housing assistance on the various levels of the federal system in Switzerland.

 

As a matter of fact, many people lose their homes when they are imprisoned. Upon their release, many face obstacles and difficulties getting a new flat due to their imprisonment. In such situations, depending on the case, those people may get access to social assistance according to Art. 96 CC.

 

Still, there are currently no specific political projects or measures taken at federal level to prevent homelessness in general.

 

Nevertheless, there are numerous governmental and private institutions and organisation that provide emergency shelters. As Switzerland has a federal system, the cantons offer a wide range of services.

 

The latter can be illustrated for instance in the canton and city of Zurich (municipal level) as follows: 

  • The emergency sleeping place of the city of Zurich provides a bed for the night, a meal and washing facilities, as well as assistance in the search for an adequate housing. However, this is a solution for just one night and people who use this regularly have a maximum stay of four months.

  • "Dach Netz" is an association of governmental and private institutions in the city of Zurich that provide homeless assistance and housing integration. 

  • The social services of the city of Zurich, the central clarification and mediation office (ZAV) where homeless people can register themselves and get access to counselling by social workers. In particular, homeless people outside of Zurich can contact the central clarification and mediation office (ZAV).

  • The Salvation Army is an international institution, which is based on a movement of the Catholic Church. They provide various different services, including accommodation and food supply for homeless people.

4. IS HATE CRIME SPECIFICALLY REGULATED AGAINST HOMELESS PEOPLE IN YOUR JURISDICTION? DO YOU KNOW ANY CASE?

Depending on the individual case, hate crimes can be prosecuted based on Article 261bis CC, however, only if the motive is based on race, ethnic origin or religion but – hence, it does not cover discrimination or hate crime solely based on homelessness.

5. HAVE SPECIFIC MEASURES TO PROTECT THE HEALTH OR FOOD RIGHTS OF HOMELESS PEOPLE HAVE BEEN APPROVED DURING THIS COVID-19 CRISIS?

There are no specific measures taken on a national level to protect the health and food rights of homeless people. However, on a cantonal and municipal level many governmental and private institutions have adapted their offers and services to the recommendation of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) on hygiene and social distancing, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

 

Below are some examples of cantonal measures:

  • Temporary isolation for potential COVID-19 cases and mild confirmed COVID-19 cases within the governmental and private services for the homeless and housing integration.

 

Different measures taken within the services of the Salvation Army, such as take away places or home-delivery for the supply of a warm meal, additional emergency housing in hotels or youth hotels, which are currently not used by tourists due to the COVID-19 crisis and the national regulations regarding the opening of the accommodation sector.

6. HAVE DATA ON TRANSPARENCY AND POSSIBLE CLAIMS FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE IN PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE SITUATIONS BEEN PROVIDED?

Switzerland does not have any national data on the number of homeless people available, but currently a nation-wide survey is in preparation.

7. HAS ANY LEGAL ACTION BEEN TAKEN TO PROTECT PARTICULARLY VULNERABLE PEOPLE FROM BECOMING HOMELESS?

The social security system in Switzerland is divided into five areas. The different insurances cover the financial consequences due to invalidity, consequences of illness and accidents, unemployment as well as family allowances. 


As already mentioned, there are certain regulations pertaining to the issues of eviction, tenant protection and discrimination in the housing sector in order to protect people of becoming homeless. In general, those regulations prevent people of immediately becoming homeless by requiring a certain procedure to be passed through by the landlord for example or setting a deadline for the tenant in order to search for another accommodation, before obtaining a legal remedy to force someone out of their home.

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