Extreme weather has resulted in deaths

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Winter has hit the Czech Republic hard and extreme temperature drops have resulted in several deaths among the country's homeless. Only a week into the New Year and already three homeless people have been found frozen to death on the streets of Prague. With temperatures dropping to -20 Celsius many homeless people are seeking shelter from the cold. However, many shelters are full and are having difficulty coping with the increased need. Radio Prague's Nicole Klement has more...

Precise statistics on the number of homeless are not kept, but Captain Davies, the director of a Salvation Army shelter here in Prague, estimates the number to be around 700 in the city of Prague alone. His shelter accommodates around 210 homeless people in beds and on the floor in hopes of keeping as many out of the cold as possible. With only three shelters in town how many people have had to be turned away?

"I couldn't give an accurate figure on how many people we are turning away. But, there are other organisations they could go to as well."

Because of a lack of space many people are sleeping on the streets in sub-zero weather. Since the New Year three homeless people have frozen to death. How have these people died?

"Obviously when there is the combination of alcohol and extreme cold the chemical effect of the alcohol on the body means you are not as resistant to cold. While alcohol gives the feeling of temporary warmth it opens up the pores of the body and you are more susceptible to the cold weather and I believe on the first two occasions the factor of alcohol was involved."

And is the Czech government addressing the homeless situation?

"In some ways they do address the problem. I think the difficulty is the level of the problem. How high is the homeless situation? In Prague, we have people coming into the city looking for work, this is natural in any capital city. Under the legislation of this country, people who are with us still have to be registered at the work office in their home town and all their contact is with their home town - their permanent address. And so, anyone coming to Prague, unless they have something arranged, are still dependant having to go back to the work office in their home town, which makes the bureaucracy very difficult. I don't know whether there is an easier way. I don't think any system will be perfect, as many countries will testify, but I feel it is an issue that has to be kept in the public awareness and in the political awareness as well."

So homeless people have to have a fixed address in order to get help? But how can this be?

"All our homeless have a permanent address. Every Czech person has a permanent address. Your identification card will have your permanent address on it and that is where you are registered and to change that address you have to go to the relevant legal office and get that changed. It's part of the bureaucracy."

That was Radio Prague's Nicole Klement talking with Captain Davies from the Salvation Army's shelter here in Prague.

Author: Nicole Klement
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