Starting 2 May, Brussels Airport will be closing between midnight and 3 am for a few weeks due to an increasing homelessness problem. “Normally the airport is indeed open 24/7, but it is now a temporary closure of a few weeks”, said spokesperson Ihsane Chioua Lekhli.
According to a report from the Belgian news outlet HLN, there are about 75 homeless people currently living on the premises, which the airport has confirmed is a lot more than in recent years. Most of them look just like regular passengers waiting for their flights.
Since the airport has sanitary facilities, they keep themselves clean, mostly using shampoo and shower gel bottles that travellers throw away when their suitcases are too heavy. Moreover, a lot of passengers are very generous, the interviewed people pointed out, giving away watches or Samsonite suitcases for example, besides clothes and food.
I walk around in clothes and make-up lost by travellers. That is why I am often unrecognizable.Margaret, homeless woman at Brussels Airport, told HLN
“The police have already given us a message that we have to leave by the end of March, but many homeless people have not found another place to stay”, a 30-year-old dancer from Leuven told HLN. He has been waiting for social housing for several months and been living at the airport ever since. Others have been there for years.
These people have nowhere else to go. The airport provides a warm shelter where they manage to have access to everything they need to survive. Unfortunately, at the same time, they are becoming a nuisance. While travellers may pass by unaware, traders are reporting more and more incidents, like theft and drunken behaviour.
A Delhaize employee revealed he had personally filed thousands of complaints with the police. “I’ve been working here for eight years and it’s never been this bad”, he said, explaining that besides alcohol, mostly beer, being stolen, the aggressivity is also increasing: some of the homeless people make noise and harass customers, calling them names, one even peed on the aisle, while others have recently set fire to some trash cans.
Security guards are doing their best, but they cannot manage all of the incidents. The airport has indicated that guards have been given more shifts to improve security and help prevent disturbances. Nevertheless, Lekhli stressed that “the airport is not a shelter for the homeless” and that the government should step in to help these people.
During the closures, Brussels Airport will also carry out a “major cleaning to prepare for the summer period, but that is not possible with people at the airport”, so airport chaplains and aid workers have informed the homeless about the closures and offered information about shelter options.