End of Prague Covid-era hotel programme could put homeless back on street

A string of NGOs has written an open letter to City Hall calling for the extension of a programme of renting rooms for homeless people at four Prague hotels and hostels. Set up during the coronavirus pandemic, it has served several hundred people – but is set to end this month. Eliška Konývková from the NGO Jako Doma has worked at one of these facilities for two years. She says over 60 people could end up on the street again, as two new shelters the city has prepared do not have sufficient capacity.

Photo: Patrik Salát,  Czech Radio

“These hotels really started up at the beginning of the pandemic. And this was the first real attempt at approaching this problem via a systemic approach, I would say. Before these hotels started there was not this type of housing support by City Hall.

“Furthermore, the people living in these hotels can gain some social support. For example, there are social workers who regularly visit these hotels and meet the inhabitants. That means that they can work effectively on what they want to focus on, so I do think that this is an effective way of helping people out of homelessness.

“These two asylums that Prague City Hall is working on are really quite unique, because other shelters for people in unstable social situations are not run by the city but by private owners. The latter type of accommodation is usually the problem, because they charge very high rents and the people who use them cannot ask for social support for rent in these commercial housing facilities.

"These city asylums therefore really can make a change, but we need to ask the city’s councillors to really make sure that there is sufficient capacity for all of these people.

Photo: Gabriela Hauptvogelová,  Czech Radio

Several hundred people have used the hotel housing option over the past years since it was set up. Could you explain what is at risk now?

“First of all, I have to say that there was a deal with City Hall that housing facilities for homeless people in this form – that means hotels and hostels originally intended for tourists, but converted to serve as asylums for the homeless, will end in June 2022. What Prague did was set up two asylums for these people to transfer to from the hotels.

“However, the problem is that these new centres are unfortunately not sufficient in capacity. Currently, we have counted 60 people who are at risk of ending up back on the street at the end of this month. We think this is terrible, because they are very vulnerable. A lot of them didn’t have sufficient time to better their physical condition for example and a return to the streets might lead to very bad consequences for them.

“Personally, I would like to also say that during this programme I witnessed the stories of several people who were homeless for many years and got back into stable living. Their condition started to improve in several ways. I also think that it could be a great waste of the work that has been done in this regard. There was a lot of social work involved in this programme which offered help across several levels, ranging from finding work to doctors who could help these people with their health problems. So, personally, I think it would be a great waste if it were to just end.”

Photo: René Volfík,  iROZHLAS.cz

You yourself have been working in this programme? What has been your personal experience with it?

“Yes. I worked as a social worker for two years and on the hotels specifically almost from the beginning. I have to say that from my personal experience I really saw some beautiful stories.

Photo: Tomáš Mařas,  Czech Radio

“The hotel that is run by our organisation houses just women and trans people, so the homeless people I was encountering were women. I met several women who spent many, for example 15 years, on the street. Then they came to the hotel and they really started to feel better. They relaxed, they started working both on their mental and physical conditions.

“This was important, because based on what I heard from these women it was a very traumatic experience to live on the street by itself and it therefore takes some time to recover from it. These women slowly started to recover and were then able to really work on the things that they wanted. For example, some people were interested in finding work again, while others were looking for treatment with their medical condition.

"Recently, I found out that 71 women passed through this hotel that we are running. Now there are 34 and 15 women managed to successfully find their own housing, either social flats or flats with commercial rents. I also think that there are a lof other things that this leads to which are less clear to see. For example, you can see the mental state of these women get better day by day, because they have a safe space and stable living. I think it is important that it continues and that nobody is left behind.”

Photo: Patrik Salát,  Czech Radio

You and several other NGOs have published an open letter in reaction to this situation. Could you explain what you are calling on City Hall to do?

“Yes. As you said, we joined forces with several other organisations such as the Salvation Army or the NGO Nadeje and penned a letter where we call for a more systemic approach to the housing crisis.

“However, we also say that at this point what is most important is to find stable housing for these 60 people who are at risk of going back on the street.

“In the longer term, I think that the step Prague City Hall took at the onset of the pandemic was great and it would be really nice to develop it further.”

Are you in discussions with the Prague City Hall authorities? Has there been any response?

“Thus far it is still not 100 percent clear how it’s going to go. We asked for meetings with Councillors Milena Johnová and Adam Zábranský who focus on social work and housing. However, no meeting has yet taken place.

Adam Zábranský | Photo: Vojtěch Havlík,  Magistrát hl. m. Prahy / Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED

“They seem open to it based on what we have heard, but we do not know what the next steps will be. So we would be very happy if they were to issue some statement on this.

“Speaking on behalf of the people who are living in the hotels I can say that they are currently living in very uncertain circumstances. They also don’t know if there will be space in the asylums that have been set up if they are forced to move out of their current rooms.

“For this reason it would be nice if City Hall could provide some statement and do what best they can to provide these capacities.”

Speaking to Czech Radio last week, Housing Councillor Adam Zábranský said that City Hall is aware of the problem and is considering extending its rent contract with one of the hotels, but that it will not be able to do so indefinitely.