Lehigh University Students Explore the Problem of Social Housing within the Czech Republic
American students from Lehigh University are living in Prague from 5 June 2017 to 29 July 2017. These students are a part of the Campaign for Social Inclusion, a program helping with the social inclusion of the Roma people.
Maggie Helmes and Jasmine Wung are working for the nongovernmental organization Otevřená společnost (Open Society) and focusing on the inequality of social housing within the Czech Republic. Their current goals include research into measures that could support Roma access to public or private standard housing in municipalities and de-stigmatize the Roma as consumers of housing benefits in Czech public discourse.
The main message Jasmine Wung would like to convey is, “I think it's important to recognize that this is a cycle of poverty and there needs to be major institutional and societal changes. It's unrealistic to expect the socially excluded to overcome centuries of institutional discrimination themselves without the proper support or resources.”
In their research, Helmes and Wung have pinpointed several barriers the Roma face in accessing standard housing. Often, there is discrimination based on ethnicity, distrust between institutions and the Romani people, a shortage of public or social housing, a lack of education within Romani communities, and a high unemployment rate among Romani families.
According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “The human right to adequate housing is more than just four walls and a roof. It is the right of every woman, man, youth and child to gain and sustain a safe and secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity.”
The submission of the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, upcoming in November, states that inadequate housing conditions are causing Romani families to fall ill in the Czech Republic. According to the ERRC, “The [Czech Government] Strategy for Combating Social Exclusion for the period 2011-15 estimates 80,000 to 100,000 of Roma [sic] are living in social exclusion,” which is nearly one-third of the Roma population in the country.
Such conditions violate the right to adequate housing. As the UN states, “Housing is not adequate if its occupants do not have safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, sanitation and washing facilities, means of food storage, refuse disposal, etc.”
Maggie Helmes says, “It's unfair that the Roma are stuck in these horrible housing conditions when the government has the potential to provide better, more affordable housing options and put the money they are currently spending to much better use.” Helmes and Wung are researching ways that Otevřená společnost can confront the inequality plaguing the current social housing situation within the Czech Republic.
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