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Czech Republic: Ostrava starts social housing program

Ostrava, 12.2.2013 22:26, (ROMEA)
Housing for Romani people, Ostrava-style, 2013. A colony for homeless people in abandoned garages. Photo:  František Kostlán
Housing for Romani people, Ostrava-style, 2013. A colony for homeless people in abandoned garages. Photo: František Kostlán

Czech Television reports that the first families enrolled in a social housing program in the town of Ostrava have received keys to their new apartments from the town. As long as they follow the rules and send their children to school, the town will assist them.

The town hall is rolling out a program that will be financed in the future by hundreds of millions of crowns from the European Union. There are thousands of people who need help getting out of the ghetto, as the situation with housing and work in the town is unsustainable.

Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková has criticized the program's late start. In her view, Ostrava should have had a plan in prace to save the ghettos long ago.

The majority of those living in a typical excluded locality are Romani, and very few of them have work. The town is now offering a path out of the ghetto to the first four families in its program.

These people were mainly living in residential hotels and were selected for the program by nonprofit organizations. The requirements were that they have lived for three years in a particular place, and that they be non-confrontational.

"We are doing our best to find them education and employment and the families are obligated to follow the program, take care of their surroundings, and send their children to school," says Deputy Mayor Martin Štěpánek (Civic Democratic Party - ODS). The town intends to relocate another 50 people by the end of the year.

"I don't want to live here, I don't want to live here. It's horrible here," says Alžběta Pechová. Vítkovice quarter, Přednádraží street, Palackého street:  The addresses where she has lived are a running list of the ghettos in Ostrava.

Ms Pechová wants a better life for her granddaughter, but doesn't know how to arrange it. She used to work but now cannot find a job.

"Do you know how much I would like to work? There isn't any work, however, and I'm afraid to ask around. I call places, but when I show up in person, the job has always just been taken," she said.

"I've had good jobs twice, but in both cases the firm either went bankrupt or had problems and had to lay people off. I have applied for many jobs at the Labor Office, I have good qualifications. I graduated from a technical high school in the restaurant field (cook, waiter) and so I thought I would definitely find something. It has happened to me several times that I have telephoned a business and been told on the phone that they were hiring, but after I showed up in person, they told me they would get in touch with me and then didn't bother to. Several times they have also told me straight out that they do not hire Romani people. A lady in one restaurant said to me:  'Don't be angry, but if I hired you, they would fire us both.' I appreciate that kind of honesty at least," one young Romani man who lived on Přednádraží street until recently told news server Romea.cz.

Ms Pechová was lucky enough to find a municipally-owned apartment. Those who end up in residential hotels have it worse.

Mr Josef lives in one on Jílová street, in a nine meter square room he shares with a friend. Families with five children live in the same amount of space and pay CZK 4 000 per month per person.

The residential hotels of Ostrava (and most such facilities in general) are the sort of housing that deprives people of all dignity. For example, in one residential hotel, half of the rooms had no electrical outlets. A seven-member family, therefore, pays unconscionably high rents for housing without electricity, and what's more, must share a common toilet, wash-stand, and small kitchen with all the other tenants.

Vojtěch Duda and Olga Ferencová have been living with their year-old child and their parents in one room. Now they have their first chance to stand on their own feet through the town's social housing program.

A two-bedroom apartment has been prepared for them as their starting point. Their next aim is to find work.

"I have definitely taken the re-qualification courses, I have a locksmith's certificate, and I attended a program for cooks but didn't finish. I don't have any experience in either field, so I have a hard time finding a position," says Duda.

Nikola Dirová has also been moved into a bigger apartment through the program. She was living with her child and her partner in one room at a residential hotel and paying CZK 9 000 per month.

The town intends to relocate another 50 people this way by the end of the year, and in years to come intends to draw on EU money for such programs. According to Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková, however, the town should be involved not only in prevention measures, but also in current problems.

"I don't see any resolution of the current problems and situations like the one on Přednádraží street, for example. We have evaluated the town's response there as very negative," Šimůnková said.

According to the town leadership, however, they have made no mistakes and their social workers are allegedly doing their best to resolve problems in the ghettos of Ostrava. They intend to present their work in Brussels next month in order to raise money for more programs for the socially excluded.

An unsustainable situation

As news server Romea.cz has previously reported, the situation in Ostrava is unsustainable. Because the problems of impoverished people have long been ignored by the state and the town, the number of people living in desperate, undignified conditions, without the possibility of finding work, has risen.

Incomes are growing only for the traffickers in poverty who demand usurious rents for the stalls in the residential hotels in which large families are expected to live. The problem, however, is bigger than the residential hotels.

One seven-member family, for example, was living in a building and held an open-ended lease. When the landlord decided to evict the entire building, most of the tenants had fixed-term contracts which he simply did not extend. Those people ended up in the residential hotels. However, the seven-member family did not move out until someone threatened them anonymously, and more than once, that their children would be killed if they stayed.

The family criticized their previous landlord to the media. Now their current landlord is throwing them out because he fears they may complain about him in time.

The mother of the family is now determined to move them all into two abandoned garages, each of which is about nine meters square, where she will have to repair the roofs and install heating. There is no electricity, no toilet, and no water - locals go to a nearby stream for it.

She is unable to find proper housing, and these garages seem better to her than a residential hotel. As if to exemplify Anatole France's famous quote, this homeless colony in these abandoned properties is located near one of the many bridges in Ostrava.

František Kostlán, Czech Television, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Aktuality, Bída, Děti, Dotace, Evropa, Exkluze, Chudoba, Komunální, Menšiny, Nezaměstnanost, Neziskový sektor, ODS, Ostrava, Podpora, Práce, Projekty, Přednádraží, Služby, Sociální, Sociální vyloučení, Stěhování, Ubytování, Vystěhování, zprávy, Anticiganismus, Romové, Romské ženy, sociální bydlení, sociální vyloučení, ubytovny, Czech republic, EU, Ghetto, Housing, integration, news, podnikání, Roma, Monika Šimůnková



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