Day centre's closing impacts homeless community but city working on solution


Fourteen years after it was founded, a key asylum facility for the homeless in Prague was closed at the beginning of September, sparking fears of a negative impact on the city's homeless community. Until now, the centre - which is run by the Nadeje (Hope) charity and civic association - served countless clients by providing shower facilities as well as professional and medical assistance. Jan Velinger found out how the charity was coping, as well as what kind of help it can expect.

Hope - or Nadeje - is the name of a charity begun in 1990 that has played a central role in helping the people on the streets. In Prague alone, the organisation runs numerous centres as well as all-night shelters providing food and assistance for people who have nowhere to go, helping them, whenever possible, to regain at least some kind of footing or sense of integrity. Never easy, the charity's situation has been complicated by the fact it recently lost access to the building housing a key day centre that provided clients with a chance to wash, change their clothes, and get regular check-ups. Ladislav Varga headed the now-defunct day centre:

"Over the years we collected the names of 14,000 people in our database, although that includes only those who consented to interviews with social workers. There are those who didn't. Until now, the day centre was a starting point for people coming off the street, a key integration site which determined who could be granted a place at our night shelter and for how long. Clients worked with social workers and they could also receive medical care from on-site professionals who are among the few specialising in working specifically with homeless people. While some of the organisation has been moved to a facility we have next door, it is only temporary. It doesn't have the same capacity to help as many people."

That means that a good number of former clients are likely to now see their situations worsen. Unless they find other outlets to gain assistance, their plight is also likely to become more visible on Prague's streets. Ladislav Varga again:

"A lot of clients have been asking us where to go, or what to do. I won't hide the fact that we've have been sending them to other charities because we're simply not able - at this time - to offer them the same services. In the autumn or winter homeless peoples' dilemmas will become more visible. The math is simple: before, we were able to provide showers for fifty or sixty people a day, and roughly the same number was able to visit the doctors'. They received clothing, and essentially it became impossible to recognise whether they were homeless or not. Now, if they haven't washed, been fed, or treated for illness, their problems will be more apparent."

City Hall has been aware of the imminent closure of the day centre from the start, originally brokering a deal to at least prolong its contract. Now that the lease has come to an end, the city has given the green light for construction of a new pre-fab centre, to replace the one Nadeje lost. Jiri Wolf is the city's spokesman:

"We are well aware of the situation and since it was known that Nadeje's day centre would be closing, we prepared ahead of time. A new centre is very much needed and will be built by the city's Magistrala highway, actually very close to the old location. Construction will begin in the autumn. When finished, it will be modern and will provide the same kind of facilities. We don't want to see a repeat of the situation like last year's harsh winter, when special facilities had to be set up for the homeless at Prague's Letna plain. The new centre will be finished before the frosts set in."