Patrick Duce, Programme Lead of our European End Street Homelessness Campaign, reflects on how, despite 2020 being an extremely challenging year, the tireless work happening across the campaign is a cause for hope.
Without question confronting the COVID-19 pandemic has made this year a struggle for almost everyone. But it’s been particularly challenging for those experiencing homelessness and for those working to support them. The partner organisations in all the cities of our European End Street Homelessness Campaign have achieved great things.
These include the transformational emergency accommodation services in the UK, to medical street outreach work in Brussels and a global call for secure housing – their work has saved lives during an incredibly uncertain time.
Perhaps those facing the biggest challenge were Oz Stopa Slovensko in Bratislava. While many countries in Europe adopted an ‘Everybody In’ emergency response, our European End Street Homelessness Campaign partners in Bratislava demonstrated that those left out on the streets would and should not be ignored. It is therefore no surprise that they have recently been recognised by the Slovakian Public Defender of Rights for their outstanding contribution in support of vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Almost all of Bratislava’s estimated 4,000 people who experience street homelessness were left out on the streets. Many of the traditional congregate night shelters were forced to close, as they were unsuitable for safe self-isolation from COVID-19. Oz Stopa – a homelessness organisation – and Oz Prima – their partner substance misuse organisation – were two of the very few remaining street-based homelessness services that provided much needed – and potentially life-saving – hygiene equipment, food and other medical supplies to those still sleeping on the street.
Their campaign ‘Invisible Visibility’, which was funded by World Habitat, also drew public attention towards those who were left on the streets, particularly during the time when members of the public were mandated to stay at home.
Throughout the initial first lockdown, Oz Stopa extended their services to almost all (90 per cent) of the city and after just two weeks had had contact with over 500 people who were having to sleep on the streets. This was a remarkable achievement in the face of a street community who were forced to abandon traditional sleeping sites to avoid local police enforcement. For Oz Stopa however, their flexible and agile approach to street support enabled them to take the necessary social work to wherever people were – ensuring anyone left out was not forgotten.
On the 10th December – the 72nd Anniversary of the declaration of Human Rights, Slovakian Public Defender of Rights, Mária Patakyová, said:
“The importance of protecting fundamental rights is reinforced by the fact that this year is marked by the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. I consider the work of personalities and organizations that, despite this extremely difficult situation, to protect human rights to be very important.”
For many people across the world this year, simply staying safe to protect themselves and others has been their role in combatting COVID-19. And they are to be applauded. However, there are countless individuals and organisations who have worked tirelessly to support the most vulnerable and at-risk people in society – in the face of the pandemic.
The recognition that Oz Stopa and partners have received is much deserved, and we continue to support them as they expand their vital street work, while also developing housing programmes – so those without accommodation have somewhere safe to live and start their journey away from the streets. The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of a safe and secure home – and World Habitat continues to shine a spotlight on those organisations across the globe that maintain this fight for the right to housing.
Nowhere is the incredible work of Oz Stopa better illustrated than in this film – produced by the European Network for Non-violence and Dialogue. It shows the challenges they face and how they support and ‘walk’ with people experiencing homelessness until positive outcomes are achieved.
In a year where so many have faced so much, I highly recommend you devote just four minutes of your time to watch this film and hear from the staff of Oz Stopa as they share their journey of hope – from homelessness to independence.
Image: Marek Janos