Bratislavska 58: An Address For Charity, With A Homeless Shelter At Its Heart (Part. 2)

In the last article in our series about life in the Brno shelter for homeless people, we went around the second and third floors, where Zuzana introduced us to her colleagues from the Rescue Web and the street workers, and showed us the female and male night dormitories. The teamwork between the social workers at the shelter is marked by very strong coordination and cooperation between the different services. Although there are not many staff and the centre is not equipped in the best modern conditions, they manage to deliver services to a wide range of clients. Photo credit: Lou Kaemo / Brno Daily

To Help The Most Vulnerable People In Society 

On the second floor of the building there are two other services: the Rescue Web charity, represented by a single person, Petr Matejec, and the office of the three street workers of the shelter. Matejec cares for the most vulnerable people in the street, the ones in very poor health, either physically or mentally disabled. Even though it is a quite new project, in operation for only three years, Zuzana is enthusiastic about its benefits: “I have worked here for seven years and when I compare the current situation with before, I can see a big difference. Now, we are more able to care for people in the worst situations than we were before, thanks to this project”.

Petr Matejec, also called Botanic Man by his colleagues, created the Rescue Web charity, which cares for the most vulnerable homeless people, and also for women and children who have suffered from domestic violence. Photo credit: Lou Kaemo / Brno Daily

Petr’s mission is to go out onto the street to meet people whose health is of particular concern, and to convince them to come to the centre to begin the work of rebuilding their lives, including medical care. “It happens very often that hospitals refuse to treat homeless people because they are old, homeless, dirty, or whatever”, explained Zuzana. “For instance, Petr once took the socks off of one man and his toes were falling off. It is a very big problem, because hospitals have refused to take the person. This is what happens in reality. So, he brought the person who would have otherwise died to this floor, and there is a room where he provides basic care, so hospitals would agree to treat him.”

The beneficiary public targeted by Petr is a particularly isolated one, most of whom suffer from mental disorders, psychiatric disorders or social phobia. As a result they cannot use the day centre, because they need to first establish an initial bond of trust with the social workers. “For example, there was this lady in a wheelchair who didn’t go to the toilet for a week. You can imagine how bad her living conditions were,” said Zuzana. Part of the charity’s work is then to fight for the rights of these people to receive state aid, and support from specialist institutions. This is a long process, established over time, which explains Petr’s small number of clients. As Zuzana said: “He is only able to help one or two people at a time because he is alone.”

Emergency Accommodation For Women and Children Fleeing Domestic Violence

Another project from Rescue Web is to provide emergency accommodation for women and children who have experienced domestic violence and had to flee their homes. “They can spend one week or two weeks here until the situation is solved by institutions which are suitable to help mothers and children, because this place is obviously not. But still, there are some rooms for these kinds of people,” explained Zuzana. They cannot stay longer than two weeks and they cannot go to the shelter day centre for health and safety reasons. Indeed, a lot of the day centre clients used to be in jail, and others may have some aggressive behaviour because of mental illness. There is also a high risk of transmission of infectious diseases, especially childhood diseases, which social workers cannot afford to take.

However, it is still a safe place, where clients can at least get some rest. This safe environment that Petr offers to those in his care seems to reflect his personality. “He is not in his office at the moment but I just wanted to show you why we call him Botanic Man. His office is full of flowers, and birds are flying over there. It is his favourite hobby, but it is also good for our clients because it is very peaceful. I think his office is in some ways a therapeutic place,” said Zuzana, smiling.

Street Workers In Contact With The Homeless Every Day 

Right next to Petr’s office is the street workers’ office. There are three of them, walking the streets of Brno and its surrounding area every day, looking for homeless people who are still unknown to their service and offering them help and care. Zuzana and her team from the day centre work closely with the street workers. Once they manage to bring the homeless people to the shelter and help them to wash, shave or get clean clothes, they can go downstairs to the day centre and have some food with the others. 

Thus, the main task of this team is to search the city for homeless people and to establish first contact with them: “Their job is to go to the street and speak with people. They may not know about us or they may be afraid to come. Sometimes, they are worried about going to official places, that they have to speak or have some social experience. Also, some people are so sick that they are afraid to come”, said Zuzana.

Once the street workers manage to bring the homeless people to the shelter and help them to wash, shave or get clean clothes, they can go downstairs to the day centre and have some food with the others. Photo credit: Lou Kaemo / Brno Daily

“The street workers sometimes also accompany people if they need to go to the doctor or to some official places because they are afraid. They are especially worried in front of doctors because they have sometimes experienced very poor treatment, or they don’t have insurance, or because they are dirty. It happens that they have such a serious disease that they may die soon,” added Zuzana. Thus, the mission of the street workers can go even further, as it is not uncommon for them to accompany their clients through administrative or care procedures. They are also part of the Rescue Web project and have therefore also been in operation for three years, but Zuzana has noticed that since they are cooperating with the street workers, many people are now living in better conditions.

Different Accommodation For Different Profiles

On the third and top floor of the building are the night shelters for women and men. Although the furniture and bedding are very basic, it is nevertheless an essential feature of the services the centre provides. According to Zuzana, people come here just for night and have to leave in the morning, both in the men’s or women’s dormitories. The standard is very basic because it is intended for a short time: “For a short time, I think it is good but unfortunately a lot of people don’t go forward. It is a basic service you know,” said Zuzana.

The women’s dormitory has 10 places with single beds, and the men’s dormitory has 24 places with bunk beds. They are both equipped with all the necessary facilities for washing or eating. These are usually emergency shelters for a one-night stay, but Zuzana pointed out that there were other cases where people could stay for a longer time: “When people start looking for a job, they can sleep here for two months until they manage to save money for a better accommodation where they will live for the rest of the time,” said Zuzana.

Finally, there is a last type of accommodation focused on those on long-term recovery pathways, where people can stay for up to a year. In this case they stay in single or shared rooms for two, where the most vulnerable and unwell people are welcomed, as they could not survive on the streets otherwise. There are only a few of such rooms, certainly not enough to meet the needs of the entire homeless population of Brno who would benefit from them.

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