Romodrom: Effective assistance requires understanding
Some social workers tend to view the concept of "social exclusion" as related to large cities or towns and their specific characteristics. However, social exclusion is very often quite obviously prevalent in rural areas as well. We asked Markéta Horníková, a field social worker with the Romodrom civic association who has worked since March 2011 in villages in Jičín district about her work in socially excluded rural localities and how she views the issue of socially excluded rural areas.
Q: How do you work with the concept of a socially excluded locality and what, in your view, are the main differences in the conception of this issue in the countryside as opposed to in town?
A: At first glance it seems easy to identify a socially excluded rural locality. However, the definition in and of itself is problematic. Many such localities are not situated at any great distance from the nearest village. Socially excluded localities on the outskirts of small towns come about, in my opinion, for two main reasons. The first reason, which has recently been mentioned rather frequently in the media, basically has to do with the cheaper real estate there, which is being "exploited" by various entrepreneurs and speculators. We encounter this inside towns as well. However, the second reason is somewhat forgotten, and that is the social decline of Romani families who have long been resident in those particular locations.
Q: What concretely does that mean for the work of a field social worker?
A: If we want to help effectively, we must first understand things. The history of how a locality has come into existence plays an important role. We can learn a great deal from it about the residents and their personal goals. There is a fundamental difference between localities that have come into existence during the past 20 years, through people moving into the area, and the "original" localities where people have been continuously living over a much longer period of time. I consider good knowledge of the Romani reality and the Romanes language to be an unequivocal advantage when working with the residents of these original localities. Among the long-term residents in rural localities, Romanes is much more of a living language, something almost never encountered in towns.
The rental of entire buildings to Romani tenants is a relatively new phenomenon. This is not luxury housing - the only thing that is above-standard about it is the rent. An investor or real estate office buys buildings to reconstruct them, often run-down ones, for a minimal price, paying in cash. If another buyer can't be found for them, or if the money for their reconstruction can't be found, then the building will be rented out. Romani families often find themselves trapped by immeasurably disadvantageous rental contracts (contracts that include arbitration clauses, sanctions in the amount of several thousand crowns a day for various violations, contracts without any established time-frame during which notice can be given, etc.) because their chances of finding any other housing are so low.
Q: What do municipalities do when an excluded Romani locality forms on their territory?
A: At the municipality itself, we often never learn about these troubled situations. The residents do their best not to draw attention to their location, and their neighbors do not want to confide to anyone else about the "shame" of them. The existence of socially excluded localities, therefore, doesn't come to light until a larger number of complications have accumulated as a result. Municipal residents mostly have problems with disorder, noise, and petty crime. They want these problems resolved, they feel powerless to address them, and coexistence deteriorates. From frustration, it's just a small step toward a radical solution, and in the worst case scenario, to violence. Often it seems the most advantageous solution is to help these unwanted neighbors to move somewhere else - if possible, to a larger town. In my opinion, of course, effective assistance, the kind that would save the state money and people a lot of bother, would start from the beginning of such a locality springing up in a small municipality.
The field social work program on the territory of Hradec Králové Region is supported by the project "Support for Social Integration of the Residents of Excluded Localities in Hradec Králové Region II". More about the project (in Czech only) can be found at www.socialniprojekty.cz.
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