Floating shelter opened for Prague's homeless population

Photo: CTK

In the Communist era, it was illegal in this country not to have a place to live. All this has changed in the 16 years since the Velvet Revolution, however, and there are now an estimated 5000 homeless people on the streets of Prague. This has proved to be a difficult problem to deal with, and the homeless have become an increasingly visible presence on the streets of the Czech capital, often sleeping on trams and buses. One of the reasons for this is that no Prague municipality is willing to grant permission for a homeless shelter in its neighbourhood, for fear of becoming a magnet for vagrants. Now the city authorities have come up with a novel solution to this problem. They have commissioned a boat on the Vltava River to house the homeless.

Photo: CTK
Prague city hall came up with the innovative idea of a floating shelter for the homeless, when it found it difficult get the permission to build a facility on land.

In just three months, the city has managed to turn an old houseboat into a state-of-the-art waterborne hostel with 250 beds. For just 20 crowns, or less than a dollar, homeless people can now get a bed for the night as well as some hot food and access to sanitary facilities.

Photo: CTK
Besides these services, Prague mayor Pavel Bem says the facility will also provide comprehensive care to a significant portion of the city's homeless.

"It offers very complex services, including social support, hygienic support as well as health services and mental health counselling. So it's really a complete service."

Zdenek Helcer was one of a handful of homeless people who came to the opening to check out the new facilities. He seemed very impressed with what he saw:

Tea and a soup for homeless people, photo: CTK
"We came here to have a look. We have a place to sleep at the moment. But it's nice here. If we had a choice, I think anyone would choose to stay here. This place is not bad at all. It's actually brilliant for the money they spent on it. In terms of toilets and things like that, you just don't get the same sort of facilities in other accommodation."

Photo: CTK
The lack of accommodation for homeless people has meant that they have been a very visible presence on the streets of Prague. In the winter months, many spend the night sleeping on trams and buses in order to stay out of the cold. Although the new boat hostel can only cater for a fraction of the city's homeless, Mayor Pavel Bem hopes that this new initiative will go some way towards reducing the problem:

"I do not want to see homeless people in trams, buses and underground trains. So we will get security officers to push them to use the special and specific services that we are proffering. I think we are really on the way to solving at least part of this problem. Nevertheless, we know that we will never be able to solve this problem completely."