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April 6, 2020
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Czech socially excluded localities see limited services due to COVID-19, nonprofit staffers lack protective gear

18.3.2020 16:06
Czech Agency for Social Inclusion director David Beňák on the Interview program of ROMEA TV. (2019)
Czech Agency for Social Inclusion director David Beňák on the Interview program of ROMEA TV. (2019)

The inhabitants of socially excluded localities in the Czech Republic are grappling with some specific problems associated with the COVID-19 disease. According to the director of the Agency for Social Inclusion, David Beňák, it is possible to anticipate that the residents of these localities will experience a loss of income that can, in extreme cases, cause them to lose their housing or be unable to fulfill the conditions of paying down their debts.

Home schooling can also be a problem because socially excluded families do not have enough Internet access. Nonprofit organizations working in the localities are posting information leaflets in both Czech and Romanes and limiting their field services due to a lack of protective gear.

Agency: Home schooling and loss of income can be a problem, we are distributing information to localities

At the beginning of March the Agency informed the roughly 124 municipalities with which it works about the necessary preventive measures to take in association with the COVID-19 disease. "These are communities with whom we actively collaborate and on their territories there are higher concentrations of inhabitants endangered by social exclusion. We function as an intermediary among key ministries, local governments, and social service providers. At this moment we are doing our best to aggregate the input from these territories and communicate them to the relevant ministries," the director told news server Romea.cz.

"As of Monday this week we are concentrating on collecting information about the possible impact of the extraordinary measures on socially excluded inhabitants. For many it is possible to anticipate income losses that can, in extreme cases, cause them to lose their housing or be unable to meet the conditions for paying down their debts. Income losses can be caused by the closure of an operation or the limiting of its activity by the employer, or as a consequence of the limited opening hours at the Labor Offices. We have been informed by one landlord in the Moravian-Silesian Region that some tenants are refusing to leave their homes to pay their rent in cash out of fear of infection. Very often these people do not have bank accounts," the director said.

The Agency has also identified a possible problem with home schooling. "No socially excluded family has enough Internet access, they are unable to access homework, etc., that is sent to the children through the Internet. The daily social services centers, where many children very often would have wanted to go to solve this problem, are now closed. We are advocating further for this to be addressed," the director told news server Romea.cz.

In the socially excluded localities, according to Beňák, there is also a problem with the accessibility of information. "We are doing our best to accumulate important, practical information from multiple sources and to communicate it through our channels," he said.

Nonprofit organizations limit their services in localities, lack protective gear

Information is also being delivered to the inhabitants of socially excluded localities by nonprofit organizations. "We are posting information around the locality in Czech and Romanes," Petr Máčal, director of the Brno-based organization IQ Roma servis, told news server Romea.cz.

According to Máčal, people fear personal contact now and social workers are no longer able to enter the residential hotels. "We have homemade face masks and we are keeping an eye on families and individuals in critical situations. We are delivering them groceries in collaboration with the food bank. However, that is in a minimum of cases. We are naturally in contact with City Hall and the Regional Authority. We are doing everything without any in-person contact because we do not have gear for our staffers," he said.

That has been confirmed by Beňák. "Problems do exist on the side of social services. Their providers are grappling with an enormous lack of protective gear, which in some locations is absolutely lacking. There is, therefore, a problem with arranging for the operation of some field services," he said.

The Romodrom organization has curtailed its activity and is restricting its direct, in-person contact with clients as much as possible, and just like IQ Roma servis, Romodrom is still delivering the necessary information to localities. "We have distributed information leaflets with guidance instructions and the telephone and e-mail contact information for our staffers. For acute cases, there is at least one staffer present in each office. We have established a Crisis Team comprised of the leadership and managers," Romodrom director Nikola Taragoš told news server Romea.cz.

Another Brno-based organization, Drom, has curtailed its services also. "Our services are at this moment limited to telephone and e-mail contact," the director of Drom, Miroslav Zima, told Romea.cz.

According to Zima, a critical situation could arise in the residential hotels, where the organization has posted information leaflets and contact information for their staffers. "In acute cases we are providing services in the field as well, while using all the protective gear we have available. The City of Brno is organizing, in collaboration with nonprofit organizations, the provision of grocery shopping services for senior citizens, the sewing and distribution of face masks, etc.," he said.

Romodrom is also addressing many inquiries about the quarantine. "Most frequently we are dealing with actions during which our clients must be physically present, whether that be at the authorities, or at the doctor's, but we're also involved in the ordinary delivery of groceries. Many of our clients are in a dead-end situation, as they are without resources and have nobody to aid them," said the director of Romodrom.

Taragoš is warning, however, that officially the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry has not closed down the social services it finances, and if such services were to be arbitrarily shut, the ministry would see that as breaking the law. "All social services should continue to be provided as long as the Government does not adopt measures to interrupt or otherwise restrict their operation. The arbitrary closure of services will be perceived as breaking the law on social services," state the ministry's recommendations, which have been made available to Romea.cz.

"Unfortunately, the clear cessation of field worker programs has not happened. For the time being it is only recommended that the providers of those social services limit their activity, for example, to working inside the office of their organization or to working from home. By contrast, when it comes to Social Activation Services, their operations have been explicitly ordered to restrict themselves to working inside the office of the organization or from home," said Taragoš, adding that what is now most needed is to calm people and provide them correct information, which is what most of the telephone calls they are making to inhabitants of the socially excluded localities are about.

According to the director of the Agency, the situation differs from locality to locality. "What is a problem in one locality, municipality or territorial area is not necessarily a problem elsewhere. It is not our intention to create new instructions, but rather to accumulate information and communicate it to the key ministries so they can take it into consideration when establishing the appropriate preventive measures," he said, adding that he has no information yet about the situation in the localities becoming exacerbated somehow, as socially excluded families have the same anxieties and concerns as any other resident of the Czech Republic.

Zdeněk Ryšavý, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Agentura pro sociální začleňování, COVID-19, Krize, Neziskový sektor



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