A fraction of the homeless make it into census

Photo: Honza Ptáček

Among the first results of last year’s census in the Czech Republic, the Czech Statistical Office released the numbers of homeless people. This is the first attempt to count the number of people living without permanent shelter in the whole of the country. Yet the numbers may be more indicative than realistic.

Photo: Honza Ptáček
On Monday, the Czech Statistical Office announced that it has counted 11,496 homeless people in the country as part of the general census that was carried out in 2011. Although it is an important step to simply provide a count, this number is not complete. In reality, the questionnaires for this part of the census were filled out only by people utilizing services such as overnight homeless shelters or temporary housing. Deputy director of the Statistical Office Stanislav Drápal, explained why the survey did not go beyond that demographic:

“We consulted with experts on this issue, specifically with the Association of Asylum Homes and the Association of Social Assistance Providers. We agreed with them that it would be very difficult to include people who do not even communicate with those who offer them help, and it would be almost impossible to have them all fill out a census questionnaire. That’s why we only included people who were willing to communicate and give information about themselves, so that the assistance organizations could then better cater their services to their needs.”

Stanislav Drápal
Both the statisticians and organizations that help the homeless say that this figure most likely makes up about a third of all people living without a permanent home in the Czech Republic. Some estimates go well beyond the 30,000 mark. But the survey carried out by the statistical office may be useful as an indicator of trends and needs of the homeless. Jan František Krupa, the deputy chairman of the Association of Asylum Homes and the national director of the Salvation Army in the Czech Republic, gave an example:

“The numbers are interesting in the respect that they can help us create better services and new ways of working with these people. For example, the age make-up is significant. It shows that it will be important in the future to develop care services for older clients who are no longer able to support themselves.”

Aleš Slavíček
The survey results show that almost 80% of the homeless respondents are single men between the ages of 45 and 49 who have secondary or trade school education, with the largest number having been counted in the Moravian-Silesian region. Almost 30% of the participants of the survey said they have some source of income. In terms of age, if broken up by 5-year intervals, the largest group of female respondents was in the age group of 20-24 year-olds.

The director of the Litoměřice branch of the non-profit organization Naděje, Aleš Slavíček, also noted a shift in the socio-economic status of people who seek out their social services:

“We have noticed that homelessness is becoming more pervasive. We have more middle class clients, who have lost their jobs and have become addicted to alcohol or gambling, they are in debt and end up coming to our community homes. There have been more and more of these cases in the past three to five years, and we think this trend will continue.”

Yet, beside those who do seek out help from assistance organizations and local authorities, the number of people remaining outside the system is unclear. And with some shelters being consistently overbooked, no concrete solution to helping the increasing number of homeless has been articulated.

The head of the social affairs department at the Moravian-Silesian regional administration, Daniel Rychlík, says the solution, at least to some problems, should come from the Czech government:

“The problem of social housing is very hard to resolve for the regional or municipal authorities. I think it’s very important for the central government to define policies concerning social housing, especial for the most vulnerable groups, which is completely non-existent right now.”