Czech Labour and Social Affairs minister Frantisek Koníček on Tuesday unveiled the mainstays of a national strategy for preventing and tackling homelessness in the Czech Republic. The plan involves both effective prevention and assistance such as social housing, better access to medical care and improved social services.
After years of merely responding to crisis situations, the Czech authorities are finally ready to address the problems of homelessness in a comprehensive manner. With the number of homeless having reached an estimated 30 thousand and another 100, 000 people at risk, the government has outlined a strategy to help them survive and gradually reintegrate in society.
At a press briefing in Prague on Tuesday, minister Koníček outlined the main tasks ahead.
“Firstly and most importantly we need to provide social housing. The fact that the Czech Republic has no social housing is a big problem. So we need to establish affordable housing as a stepping stone for those who have already lost their homes and we need to help those at risk of losing them before it is too late. In this respect we will need more support from local town halls. We will need better coordinated social services where social workers will be alerted to individuals or families with social problems and be able to offer them assistance and advise so that they do not end up on the street. And finally we need to provide the homeless with access to medical care before they develop serious chronic health problems or before it is too late. “
In addition to the Housing First concept, improved social services and better access to health care, the strategy emphasizes the need to focus on prevention, by helping families and individuals in financial straits, even if it means scrapping their debts and helping them to start anew with a better fiscal discipline. Ilya Hradecký, the former head of the NGO Naděje, who has years of experience of working with the homeless, says Austria’s prevention strategy has paid off and is an example worth following.
“We know that if you spend a year on the street you need three years of support to be able to return to a normal life. Social workers in Vienna have found that it is seven times cheaper to help a person stay in their home even if it involves scrapping their debts, sponsoring them or giving them a loan than if that person ends up on the street.”
According to statistics, the people at highest risk of homelessness are young people just out of institutionalized care, handicapped people, single mothers and people over 65 or those who have lost their jobs shortly before reaching retirement age. Pavla Vopeláková of the Czech Salvation Army, which helped to draft the strategy, has welcomed the strategy as a milestone in the NGO’s work.
“Firstly it is important because it is the first national strategy for dealing with homelessness, there was nothing like it before in the Czech Republic. What is also very important is that homelessness is described as a process, that it is not something that happens to people from day-to-day, but that it is a process and there are many different things leading up to it. And that it does not just concern the people that we see on the streets every day but also people who are living in inadequate housing conditions, hostels or commercial accommodation and who are threatened by homelessness and may lose the roof over their heads any day.”
Do you feel that this strategy could significantly change your work for the better?
“We hope so, we do hope so. The national strategy –as it is written – is brilliant and it has great potential. Now it will be important to implement the individual steps so that we get to where we want to be. Of course, it is going to take years and we cannot hope to eradicate homelessness with it but the steps described can really support this area and can make a big difference in the Czech Republic.”