Czech Police respond to incident between NGO social workers and Romani parents about impending evictions
The situation at one of the residential hotels in Ústí nad Labem slated for closure as of the end of this month escalated on 5 June to such an extent that police were called to the scene after a verbal conflict transpired between the tenants of the residential hotel on Klíšská Street and social workers from the People In Need organization who proposed to a mother with five children that she could increase her chances of finding new housing if she would just place two of her children with the Klokánek project, which offers temporary foster care. "Two social workers from People in Need came here, and one lady looking for housing was offered the alternative solution of placing two of her children with the Klokánek project and keeping the other three with her so she can find housing," Marek Kondáš, who is also a tenant at the residential hotel, described the beginning of the conflict to news server Romea.cz.
"She won't find housing otherwise," Kondáš predicted. "The lady rejected that idea and said it was not the solution for her."
The social worker involved, according to him, then went to visit the residents of another apartment unit and the lady proceeded to inform other tenants about what the social worker had proposed to her. Those tenants then sought confirmation of the advice given to the mother of five from another member of the People in Need team, whom they recorded.
On the audio recording of that conversation that has been made available to news server Romea.cz, that People in Need staffer can be heard to discuss the case of the mother of five with the other tenants and to confirm that one proposed solution would be to separate the siblings and temporarily place two children with the Klokánek project. Some of the tenants facing eviction have interpreted the fact of that proposal to mean that if they were to refuse such a solution offered by these social workers, the inevitable outcome would be that the state would place some or all of the children concerned into institutions.
"In front of the residential hotel there were many Romani people assembled who expressed their disagreement with that approach rather loudly. The social workers were inside the facility at that moment, looked out of the window, saw them assembled, and apparently became afraid and called the police, who then arrived," Kondáš described the situation to Romea.cz.
"We did our best to calm one gentleman who was shouting at a People in Need staffer for a moment. Nobody assaulted any of their social workers," Kondáš told news server Romea.cz.
The verbal incident was confirmed by police spokesperson Veronika Hyšplerová. "Yesterday, just before 14:00, a police patrol intervened at the residential hotel on Klíšská Street, where a verbal incident transpired between a local resident and nonprofit staff members," she told news server Romea.cz.
"The matter was then resolved at the scene and the police patrol left," the police spokesperson told Romea.cz. Residential hotel tenants are continuing to protest the approach taken by these particular social workers.
"We, the tenants of the residential hotel, are protesting against the fact that the nonprofit organizations have threatened to take our children into institutional care or that we were recommended to voluntarily place them with the Klokánek project as the solution to our situation. We are well aware of the fact that, as several social workers have advised us, if we did not have children we might have a bigger chance of convincing landlords to rent to us," reads a statement by the tenants sent to Romea.cz.
"We will never give up our children, though! We are unable to find apartments to rent because we are Romani [and nobody will rent to us for that reason]," the statement says.
"This is a repetition of the situation with the residential hotels that were evicted in 2013. Back then different people repeatedly intimidated the families who were being evicted by predicting their children would be taken away by the state and by regularly reiterating that prediction," commented Miroslav Brož of Konexe, another local organization.
"I do not want to say anything further about this," Brož told Romea.cz. According to the organization People in Need, the future evictees harassed two of their field workers by making credible threats of physical violence against them.
"According to the available information, the reason [for the incident] was a false alarm that was intentionally spread to the effect that local families' children would be taken into institutional care. A local family provided the People in Need staffers with a place to hide from their assailants and protected them until the police arrived," Martin Kovalčík of People in Need told news server Romea.cz.
"The field workers have not filed a criminal report against their assailants, the context of the difficult situation in which they find themselves is apparent to us, as are the activities of our former employee Miroslav Brož, who is currently a staffer with the Counseling Center for Integration," Kovalčík said. "The situation of the people in the residential hotels has no easy solution."
"The reality, unfortunately, is such that it will be very complicated for these people to find alternative housing. For that reason our staffers, as is customary at any other place and time, familiarized them with all the existing opportunities - housing their children with other loved ones, services of immediate aid for children, etc.," the People in Need representative said.
"From our side this is never about pressure, we support the decisions made by these people freely on the basis of the information instructed to them," Kovalčík said, adding that he believes the incident was a consequence of activities undertaken by several activists who visit the locality in an attempt to aid the people there by making promises that, in his opinion, cannot be kept and by communicating what he characterized as biased, untrue information to them. "One [such piece of information] is apparently that our staffers are threatening to take children away," the People in Need representative said.
"Our advice service in the field will be temporarily unavailable at that residential hotel, but our services are naturally available to all who are interested at our offices," Kovalčík said. Two other organizations, Klea and Romano Jasnica, are continuing to provide advice directly at that same residential hotel.
"I was at the residential hotel... after that incident. People were angry about what happened there, but the situation was calm and absolutely safe," Petra Szaffnerová Bímonová of the Romano Jasnica organization told news server Romea.cz on 6 June.
"Today there was a social worker from the Klea organization there. It is not a problem to speak with the people and offer them aid," she said.
"It's absolutely not a situation of conflict. There is an enormous amount of hopelessness predominating, many children and their mothers are crying, people are desperate," the Romano Jasnica social worker said.
"Nobody is assaulting anybody, it's an absolutely safe environment there," she concluded. The residential hotel on Klíšská Street is one of two in Ústí nad Labem that will cease operations by the end of June.
Currently approximately 230 people are living in the buildings, 80 of whom are children. The city itself is not planning to offer any substitute housing to these particular evictees.
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