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Community organizing can help homeless people in Slovakia

Categories: Slovakia and Social and Health care Date: 09/02/2013

In early February an informal meeting of representatives of non-governmental organizations took place at the office of Caritas Slovakia (SKCH) in Bratislava. Participants were discussing about the topic: "The ways of helping homeless people". The visions and goals of particular organizations presented to the colleagues: Radovan Gumulak (Caritas Slovakia), Juraj Barat (DePaul Slovakia) Sergej Kara and Peter Adam (both from Vagus NGO), John Karlik (The merciful brothers), Zuzana Pohankova from NotaBene (streetpaper). These associations belong to an informal coalition of ten NGOs. The creation of that coalition was a response to the crisis of the frosty winter of 2005/2006, when twenty homeless people died in the streets of the capital city because of the effects of hypothermia.

Bozena Baluchova and Veronika Strelcova initiated this meeting in Caritas Slovakia. Both are involved in the exchange program between Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, the Slovak Republic and the United States, called "Building grassroots democracy in minority communities." This program is coordinated by Dr. Elizabeth Balint to introduce and implement the method of community organizing in Europe (especially in work places of dealing with minorities and vulnerable groups).

Most questions during the meeting asked American guest – community organizer Rachel Leonor Ramirez. Her visit to Slovakia (and other countries in Europe) was sponsored by the U.S. State Department Educational and Cultural Affairs. She is working in the organization, which aim is to help and work with homeless people – Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. She was wondering, how people understood homelessness prior to 1989 and how society sees it today. Ms. Ramirez described the successful (addressing homelessness) campaign in Chicago – where from the population of three million people nearly one hundred thousand people are homeless. She was also interested in how active homeless people themselves are in the fight to improve their living conditions in Slovakia.

American guest emphasized that „community organizing method is not expensive – it is not the same as social work or advocacy, but better knowledge of people in the area where we live together. When people in a dialogue find confidence to each other, easily they will able to define the needs and problems in the community.“ Then it is important to discover the power of the organizing – let your voice to be heard publicly, to meet again and find a common path of changes for better future.

One of the conclusions of that informal meeting in Caritas Slovakia’s office was the interest of the participants (actively tackling and addressing the issue of homelessness) – to discover the community organizing method and incorporate it into their work in a particular community. Their interest will be translated into the action – to organize a training of community organizing (led by Chuck Hirt – American lecturer at the Centre of community organizing in Banska Bystrica). This could be really the way to help the homeless people...


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