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Rapid Re-Housing: social support model developed by Ostrava’s researchers was awarded European FEANTSA Prize

Updated: 07. 01. 2018

Researchers from the Faculty of Social Studies of the University of Ostrava (FSS UO) have prepared a model of so called ‘rapid re-housing’ for the city of Brno. The model is supposed to solve the problem of homelessness and other related issues, such as criminality. They have received RegioStar Award, awarded by the European Committee and FEANTSA – the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless.

Eliška Černá: We don’t judge, we don’t punish. We work with families’ strong sides

Author: Dalibor Váhala, 20. 10. 2017

Dr. Eliška Černá from the Department of Social Work of the Faculty of Social Studies of the University of Ostrava and her colleague Štěpán Ripka have prepared a pilot project Rapid Re-housing for the city of Brno. The project, based on the housing first model, is supposed to solve the problem of homelessness. Even though it is not Ostrava’s invention, the application of the model in Ostrava has been awarded the prestigious European FEANTSA prize for the best project on ending homelessness.

The city of Brno addressed the Department of Social Work of the University of Ostrava, current pioneer on the field of social housing, as the decision was made to solve the problem of homelessness and housing shortage using the housing first model. The department members possess both theoretical knowledge and practical experience from abroad and have participated in implementations of this social policy abroad, and so the city of Brno offered a partnership in the pilot project.

The Brno implementation of housing first follows foreign models but naturally, there are many differences - different forms of housing support, duration of lease contract, volume of housing subsidies or range of the assistance provided to the project participants

The housing first model has three basic variants - the original concept of the first variant, so called rapid housing, corresponds to fast provision of accommodation to families, with subsequent short – approximately six-month – social assistance which is gradually reduced. The original variant of housing first is much more complex, and it focuses on individuals with various needs and on providing them with social support for as long as necessary. The third form is a communicative form of housing first. The city of Brno practises the original housing first variant for families with children, according to the form of support provided.

In the Czech Republic, several non-profit organisations offer social housing projects, such as Armáda spásy or Naděje. Eliška Černá explains what makes the housing first project specific: ‘We offer larger volume of assistance because housing is a complex process and families need to be helped on a long-term basis. We don’t set any limits on subsequent assistance. We also try to be assertive. The social workers communicate intensely with their assigned families, despite possible rejection. Generally, the level of acceptance of a family by a social worker is high, and the support is based on working with the families’ strong sides. The social workers don’t judge and don’t punish.’

Initially, the project had to face certain resistance and doubts of communal parties, however, this scepticism is now slowly fading. The first reactions of the public were not favourable towards the project, either - in the discussions there occurred some stereotypical objections, almost myths, that the researchers try to break – such as the opinion that it is not fair some people are given flats for free while others must pay for them or that it is impossible to live peacefully with inadaptable citizens. In fact, the project participants pay standard rent for the assigned flats and they have the same obligations resulting from the contract as regular tenants. They must also follow certain rules and breaking them could result, in some serious cases, in terminating the lease agreement.

The costs of the whole project are often discussed, too – putting aside the fact that most of the funds come from the European Union and Brno’s contributions to the project final costs are marginal, the researchers try to demonstrate that housing policies can be, in global sense, much cheaper and beneficial than existing practices of social care in the Czech Republic. One part of the project is also a comparative study which compares costs and benefits stemming from the given strategies.

The selection of the families to be involved in the project was preceded by situation mapping during so called registration week. From the total of 420 families who had agreed to be included into the project, fifty were selected and they were given a municipal flat. Negative approach on the side of the families is rare and the marginal cases contrast with the dominating satisfaction of the selected families.

The participants have the classic obligations and responsibilities of regular tenants - to pay a rent and to follow the rules necessary for peaceful coexistence with their neighbours. They are also obliged to cooperate with the assigned social worker from the non-profit organisation IQ Roma servis who takes care of the family and provides assistance.

Social workers cover a wide area of support, for example administrative help associated with the change of address, registration of children from catchment schools, receiving housing subsidies etc. They assist the families even after the process of housing is done. If the families fulfil the conditions of the lease and if they need of further assistance, social workers are still at their disposal.

Dr Eliška Černá outlines the prospects of the project team: ‘We hope to obtain enough resources to be able to continue in monitoring the families after the final phase is completed. We also hope to be present at the continuation of the project, if its pilot phase proves to be successful and Brno decides to use it in the future. And we have other ambitions - we hope in spreading the policy of housing first to other cities. Our biggest ambition is to upgrade the model to the national level, so that the Ministry of Work and Social Affairs can cover it. The Ministry is now monitoring the efficiency and results of the policy and will eventually decide whether it could be applied nation-wide.’

The students of the University of Ostrava can also engage in the project – currently there is one student who oversees media outputs analysis. But as Eliška Černá explains: ‘There is always space for new people. For example, students can choose from new bachelor and master theses topics, related to the issue of housing policies, and in this way, they can participate in the project.’

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