“More empathy would go a long way”: NGO provides safe space for women experiencing homelessness

Community Centre

Homelessness is a significant problem for both men and women in Prague, but women have specific issues and vulnerabilities they face on the streets. Olga Pek, an employee of the NGO Jako Doma, is working to raise awareness around these issues and advocate for these women.

Olga Pek | Photo: Amelia Mola-Schmidt,  Radio Prague International

Olga Pek works for Jako Doma, a not for profit that helps women experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity in Prague. Jako Doma was founded over a decade ago, and their community centre located in Prague 8 has become a safe haven for many women in the city, as Pek explains.

“At the reception desk, women can talk to one of our social workers and request a private session where they can talk about what we can do to help their situation.

“We also have potatoes, carrots, and eggs here which have been donated by the foodbank so women can use it to cook lunch for themselves.

“We also have things they can take like clothes, hygienic products, soap, and things like that.”

The work Jako Doma does to help women in need is diverse to meet the needs of the women they serve, says Pek.

Canteen of Cooks Without Homes | Photo: Magdalena Hrozínková,  Radio Prague International

“Jako Doma doesn’t only do the community centre, we also have the eatery of Cooks Without Homes, where we employ women who are in social need.

“We have a small team that helps women settle down in social housing, because you can’t just abandon people or deprive them of social work because they have a home to live in.

“Our fourth team is doing social work at one of the homeless hostels here in Prague. It’s a hostel specifically for women.”

Community Centre | Photo: Amelia Mola-Schmidt,  Radio Prague International

That specificity for women is key to the method Jako Doma takes at providing aid, rooted in a trauma informed approach that recognises many of the women coming through the doors have experienced some kind of trauma – sexual or physical violence, and mental health struggles, as Pek says.

“Up to 85% of women on the streets have suffered complex trauma in their lives, and it is very likely you will re-traumatize.

“We are trying to educate different organisations about how to avoid re-traumatizing the people and how to understand why they might behave in difficult ways.”

Lockers where women can lock important belongings | Photo: Amelia Mola-Schmidt,  Radio Prague International

The women that come to Jako Doma are typically between the age of 23 and 80, and come from varying backgrounds and circumstances.

“The first group we work with could be people who got into problems during their life, but there is also a group of women who are born into problematic conditions, and drag this with them for their whole lives.

“Sometimes women fall into problems during their lives, like Czech women here. Often it’s the case of encountering a mental health crisis or having troubles with mental health.

“Some people also live on the minimal wage here, which is impossible to live on in Czechia, so they come here to ease their lives and get some things for free.”

Living room in community centre | Photo: Amelia Mola-Schmidt,  Radio Prague International

Pek also points out that women experiencing homelessness have unique struggles that are not shared with men, and they largely go unnoticed by society.

For instance, women are more likely to encounter sexual violence on the street, which makes them increasingly vulnerable. Pek explains how wider societal discrimination against women leads to them ending up on the streets.

“Women homelessness is also a result of general discrimination against women.

“The fact is that when you look at senior citizens, 60% of people who are under the threshold of poverty are women.”

Community garden | Photo: Amelia Mola-Schmidt,  Radio Prague International

In many cases, if women have stayed home with their children while their husband or partner worked, they are entitled to less of a pension.

This is a problem once their partner passes away, as they are entitled to less money and often become unable to pay their basic bills, forcing them on to the streets if they do not have a support network.

While places like Jako Doma are important facilities to help women get back on their feet, Pek explains how difficult it can be to rebuild a life after being on the streets.

“There’s this saying that a colleague told me, that to undo one year on the street you need eight years of social work. So that gives you some perspective.”

Pek describes how raising the societal minimum wage, which currently stands at CZK 17,300 a month could be a tangible step forward to help women in these difficult circumstances.

Women from the community center | Photo: Jako doma

But as she explains, de-stigmatising these women and implementing more empathy is an important first step.

“You know it would also be helpful if people changed their attitude and took more of an effort to understand what it can be like to be in these situations, because there are a lot of stereotypes.

“And more empathy would go a long way.”

Photo: Jako doma