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Czech Interior Ministry wants residential hotels as fixture of housing policy

Prague, 4.11.2013 22:42, (ROMEA)
In the Předlice quarter of Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic, condemned buildings with bricked-up entryways are a frequent phenomenon. (Photo:  František Kostlán)
In the Předlice quarter of Ústí nad Labem in the Czech Republic, condemned buildings with bricked-up entryways are a frequent phenomenon. (Photo: František Kostlán)

The Czech Government has been discussing a document from the Interior Ministry proposing that police specialists be hired to work in the country's ghettos. The officers involved would spend as much as half of their work hours patrolling such areas.

The specialists would oversee order and solve problems. Thanks to their knowledge of the terrain, they would be able to contribute toward reducing tensions between those who live in impoverished places and nearby residents.

The ministry's proposal is intended to reduce security risks. It also expresses the opinion that the "accelerated provision of social housing" is the main thing that would improve the situation in the country.

According to an analysis produced several years ago, there are around 300 impoverished apartment complexes and neighborhoods in the Czech Republic. As many as 80 000 people, most of them Romani, were estimated to live in them.

Since then the number of excluded localities has risen by roughly 100. Adults in these places are unemployed and their families are therefore dependent on welfare, with their children very often ending up in "special" schools [for children living with disabilities] even when they don't actually belong in such education.

Various manifestations of the "culture of poverty" are spreading in such places, such as drug use, gambling, loan-sharking, and petty crime. Relations between ghetto residents and others sometimes reach the boiling point in some places.

This year more neo-Nazi marches targeting Romani people as a whole took place than ever before in the country's recent history. A rising number of ordinary people have been joining these events.

According to the Interior Ministry, maintaining order and security in areas with ghettos is demanding for police. A basic prerequisite for their success is said to be "rigorous application of an equal approach to law enforcement."  

However, without "detailed knowledge" of the people living in a particular place, such an approach is said to be impossible to achieve. It is not clear what or whom the Interior Ministry means by this.

The ROMEA association has had a great deal of experience, in the course of its work, with Romani people being disadvantaged before the law. Reports of Romani people being either physically assaulted or verbally attacked by racists are very often never investigated by police.

According to the Interior Ministry, police specialists would undertake foot patrols in the ghetto and spend as much as half of their work hours there, serving the rest of their time in their home districts. They would supervise order in troubled localities.

A specialist who knows local people would presumably be better able to address misdemeanors or other problems in these neighborhoods. "Thanks to establishing this trust, the specialist will be able to more easily prevent a wide range of illegal behavior," the Interior Ministry claims.

Police specialists deployed in the ghettos would receive bonuses of between EUR 20 and EUR 40 per month. The introduction of these special police officers into troubled areas is to be financed by Norwegian funds.

The budget for the project is approximately EUR 600 000. The Czech Republic is paying 15 % of that, the funds 85 %. 

Preparations for the project began this year and a detailed proposal is now being developed. The project is scheduled to last until the year 2016. 

The authors of the project were inspired by practices in neighboring countries. "This mechanism has already been applied successfully for several years in Slovakia, where the problem of socially excluded localities is incomparably more extensive than it is in the Czech Republic. So-called Romani settlements exist there," write the authors of the Interior Ministry report.

How many such specialists there should be in the Czech Republic is not yet clear. The answer to that question will be provided by an analysis that will identify the places where special police officers will be needed.

The number will also depend on how much money the police will be able to annually release for these special officers once the project is over. According to the proposal, selected officers would first complete an internship in Slovakia.

A total of 50 members of the police would undergo this training annually. The most appropriate candidates for deployment will be identified by the training.   

Special education for the officers who are to work in the ghettos would also be designed. The authors of the ministerial proposal also say the provision of social housing is the main thing that will improve the situation in these neighborhoods.

In the Interior Ministry's vision, such housing would lead those living in it toward integrating into society by "motivating" them. The notion involves three social housing categories. 

The minimum standard for social housing would be met by housing people in residential hotels with strictly established rules, such as the number of persons permitted to live in each room. The middle standard would consist of smaller apartments.

The highest standard of social housing would involve social apartments comparable to ordinary accommodations. Of course, legislation regulating social housing in the Czech Republic is not being drafted by the Interior Ministry, but by the Labor and Social Affairs and Regional Development Ministries. 

The Platform for Social Housing, a civic group, has been protesting against making residential hotels part of social housing for quite some time now. In the Interior Ministry's vision, all social housing tenants would have to fulfill an "integration plan" which they would put together with social workers.

Social housing tenants would have to uphold the house rules in their place of accommodation, take care of their health, send their children to school, attend re-qualification courses, and actively seek work. Should they be found to have done their best to integrate, they would be rewarded with a higher standard of social housing. 

The Interior Ministry envisions running such a graduated housing system for at least 30 years. The aim is to make sure future generations grow up "in motivated, pro-integration environments."  

ČTK, František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Ghetto, Ministertsvo vnitra, Policie, sociální bydlení, sociální vyloučení, ubytovny, vyloučená lokalita, Civil society, Czech Republic, Housing, MPSV, news, Norway, Roma, Slovakia



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