Czech residential hotel issues remain unresolved
All of the Czech Republic was shocked three years ago by the footage of otherwise honorable citizens marching side by side with ultra-right radicals and chanting "Gypsies to the gas chambers" in the town of Varnsdorf. Residential hotels for socially vulnerable people were the thorn in their side.
The demonstrators blamed the tenants of those facilities for increased crime and noise in the town. The exacerbated situation was calmed by riot police.
However, that does not mean the social tensions in the town of 15 000 on the Czech-German border have disappeared. New potential detonators of conflict are surfacing in Varnsdorf again.
Three years ago the residential hotel established by the town on T.G. Masaryk Street was one of the demonstrators' main targets. According to the locals who joined the right-wing extremists, it was overflowing with criminal elements and unpleasantly noisy.
Now that facility is not even half-full, thanks to which it is significantly quieter. Its current clients include both Romani and "white" families.
The hallways have been freshly painted and all of the shared spaces are clean and tidy. The grey building "near the red church" doesn't look much different from any older college dormitory.
Nevertheless, some problems persist. Reporters with Czech Television's online news service ČT24 visited the facility recently and were welcomed by an unpleasant smell, as if someone were cooking spoiled meat.
The "shelter for the socially vulnerable" has also been fighting in vain for years with a cockroach invasion. The bugs cannot be gotten rid of even though the management regularly exterminates.
The common bathrooms and toilets are deteriorating with age, so even though cleaning staff make every effort, the facilities still look dirty and old. In the shelter for 112, which in addition to a residential hotel includes a hostel, a social services center, and a drop-in club, there are only five toilets.
This is just one of the things criticized by the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion. "Common toilets on the same floor - it's absurd to raise children in such conditions. If the municipality wants to provide accommodation for families with children, then it should do so in standard conditions where they will lease rental housing on the basis of short-term contracts," Agency director Martin Šimáček says.
Children comprise almost 40 % of the residential hotel's tenants. Some of them have never known what a normal apartment looks like.
In addition to common toilets, the residents must get used to rooms that are assigned according to strict rules of two persons per room. Because the facility also includes "apartments" with a maximum of two rooms, larger families have to count on being assigned between several separate units.
Among the tenants who have been there longest and lived through the anti-Romani demonstrations is a 10-member family. "It's a 'mixed' family. The father is Romani, the mother white. None of them work. They've been here since 2008, when their other home burned down. The social welfare department looked for a place for them and the first one offered was the municipal residential hotel," facility manager Karel Jiřišta says.
Jiřišta believes it is not easy for the family to find other housing in Varnsdorf. "Their problem is their numbers, so they won't find adequate housing in Varnsdorf," he claims.
Moreover, the town is unable to offer socially vulnerable families any other housing besides the residential hotel. Social apartments, which could help, are lacking in Varnsdorf.
"Can you imagine how people would react if social apartments started being built here? Ordinary citizens here do not want the socially vulnerable in their town," Mayor Martin Louka says.
The mayor says he considers concentrating the socially vulnerable in a residential hotel with common toilets in the hallways an adequate slution to a complicated situation. Hope of an easier way out of the residential hotel and toward better housing might be in store for large families, as it seems municipalities may soon be instructed on their obligation to provide social apartments by a new law.
In Varnsdorf, under the force of circumstances, local government is beginning to consider whether another residential hotel in Lounská Street might be transformed into apartments for the impoverished. "For the time being a final decision has not been taken, but I am of the opinion that it will ultimately aim toward our trying to get some subsidies and preparing to have social housing available should the laws be amended," the mayor says.
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