WHAT ABOUT ME? – The first Housing First pilot project in Croatia

Croatia is a nation of property owners, with a very small social rental sector in major cities and without a national requirement to provide general social housing.
According to official figures there are 2,000 people nationwide that are considered homeless, based on the Croatian Law but this is not the true number. Due to the pandemic, the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased, and many are at risk due to job loss. In addition, the change of currency to the euro and current inflation are fueling poverty and an increasing number of people are facing homelessness. Nationally, apartment rental prices rose even over 50% between 2015 and 2023. Facing such data and facts, communities should adapt and create new solutions for people with lower financial status, who do not own real estate and thus find a permanent solution with support for people in homelessness.

The city of Pula is a tourist destination in the very south of the Istrian peninsula. Over the years, tourism has brought many benefits but also changes that have forced us to adapt to the needs of residents. Currently, there is a significant number of low-income people in the city of Pula who do not have access to a narrow sector of social renting and have to find a solution in the unregulated private sector of renting or in settlements that are further from the centre of Pula. The private rental market is dominated by temporary renters who mainly rent real estate in the summer months at a high price, which is often used as an investment for families with higher incomes.

A year ago, concerns arose in the historic port city of Pula about a group of more than 80 people, many of whom are vulnerable, evicted from shipbuilding property without the possibility of resettlement. The capacity of the Homeless Shelter Pula was reached and a new option for social care was needed. The City of Pula then took care of 20 of the most vulnerable people and showed support and understanding for the needs of the community.

This background made it very urgent and the first major event in Croatia about the development of the Housing First approach was held at the Communal Palace in Pula in April 2022. Twenty-five key stakeholders from local municipalities and NGOs across Europe gathered to share knowledge and experience and discuss how to advance this important and sustainable homelessness intervention. Organised by the Red Cross Pula in partnership with the City of Pula and the Croatian Homeless Network, the event hosted experts from the Portuguese residential NGO CRESCER as well as Samara Jones from the Housing First Europe Hub remotely who explained how Housing First works.

Because of the event, several exciting opportunities opened

A local leading NGO, the Red Cross Pula, sent Helena Babić and Jana Milin Herceg on a training course led by the Housing First Europe Hub to support the introduction of a local approach to Housing First. Through meeting new Housing First trainers and expanding the network, upon completion of the Train the Trainer program Helena and Jana become the first Housing First trainers in the region. This opened new knowledge and experience, and so far, the Housing First model has been discussed on several occasions. We presented Housing First at the Healthy Cities panel, at the round table organised by the Croatian Homeless Network, at the National conference of social workers, at the Lighthouse award ceremony and many other occasions and began advocating for the Housing First model.

Also, in cooperation with the World Habitat organisation and support of the Housing First Europe Hub, the Housing First European Guide has been translated into Croatian, a promoting video about Housing First model is in preparation and for this year’s national conference on homelessness we are holding the first ever Housing First training for service providers and people working with the homeless in Croatia.

We are also excited that Croatia is one of the countries participating in the feasibility study for Central and Eastern Europe. Prompted by the previously mentioned study, the City of Pula financed a feasibility study for Pula and the results of the ongoing study are expected at the end of this year.

“What about me” – a new Croatian NGO

In cooperation with the City of Pula, Istria County and the Red Cross of Pula, a decision was made to establish a new non-governmental organization called “What about me” which will, along with the Homeless Shelter Pula, start with the first Housing First pilot project in Croatia. The project has been submitted to the Ministry of Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy. On July 13th 2023 we received great news from the Ministry, and we can proudly say that Pula, Croatia is the first city in the Balkan region to implement a Housing Fist pilot project.

We need positive change and we have become aware of that; it is not easy but it’s also exciting. We know that there is a quality solution for permanent care for people in homelessness and we are in the process of creating, changing, advocating, and learning.

One thing we know, we are stronger together and only in this way can we put an end to homelessness. Thank you to everyone who supported our enthusiasm and desire for progress along the way.


Homeless shelter team Pula


About the Authors

HELENA BABIĆ Bacc.med.techn
Red Cross Pula
Manager of the Homeless shelter Pula, Croatia
Helena has been leading the Homeless shelter Pula since 2012 when the shelter opened. She is the Vice president of the Croatian Homeless Network, president of the NGO “What about me” and has a Housing First Europe HUB Train the trainer certificate.


Red Cross Pula
Front line worker at Homeless shelter Pula, Croatia
Jana is the NGOs “What about me” liquidator and Vice president, the manager of the first Housing First pilot project in Croatia and has a Housing First Europe HUB Train the trainer certificate.

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