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Christmas soup: an act of solidarity

Publicat pe 22 November 2017

It happened at the Northern Station in Bucharest: we gave away hot soup and food & clothes supplies to the homeless people in the area. And we enjoy helping them every Christmas, for the last 5 years in a row!

Every winter we offer warm clothing, sturdy shoes and non-perishable food items to help some of Bucharest’s homeless people through the winter. This is "Christmas Soup", a charity project by Casa Ioana that we embrace every year, together with His Excellency Paul Brummel, British ambassador to Romania, and a hearty group of volunteers. Below is the press release with information about homeless people and details about this charitable event.

In March 2017, FEANTSA and Fondation Abbé Pierrel published its Second Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe 2017, which reveals alarming evidence of rising homelessness across the majority of the European Union, as well as a dramatic picture of severe housing deprivation in almost all EU countries.

Bucharest – 12 December 2017

Within a European Union that is struggling to reinvent itself, housing exclusion and homelessness are emerging as huge challenges. Using the latest available Eurostat/EU-SILC data, the Second Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe 2017 highlights a housing exclusion state of emergency in Europe.

This is an issue which affects all European countries, not just the ones struggling due to the financial crisis. In Romania, 1 out of 2 people live in overcrowded conditions. In all EU countries, young people are more vulnerable to prohibitive housing costs, overcrowding and severe housing deprivation than the rest of the population.

In general, people living below the poverty threshold are increasingly marginalised by a private rental market than feeds off a systemic lack of affordable housing. The number of evictions has increased dramatically in the aftermath of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. In all European countries, non-EU nationals are far more likely to face housing cost overburden and overcrowding than EU nationals. Homelessness is rising in all countries, except Finland.

According to the Casa Ioana Association’s founder and president, Ian Tilling, people experiencing homelessness are particularly affected, finding themselves at the margins of society and facing seemingly insurmountable barriers in trying to change their situations for the better, particularly in regard to affordable housing.

On Wednesday, 13 December 2017, between 12:00 and 14:00 hours at the North Railway Station, Bucharest, the Casa Ioana Association, together with volunteers from the British and American Embassies, the Faculty for Sociology and Social Work (Bucharest University), local businesses and other volunteers, will serve hot meals and provide clothing and other essential items to some of Bucharest’s homeless and impoverished population.

Helping to serve the meals at the event will be the British Ambassador to Romania, Paul Brummell, and a senior official from the U.S. Embassy. Other ambassadors to Romania and leading political figures will join other volunteers representing business, education, including students and teachers and others representing a cross section of Bucharest society.

The event is supported by the General Directorate of Social Assistance for the Municipality of Bucharest. The 300 hot meals are a gift from the InterContinental hotel Bucharest, whilst other companies and many individuals have donated cash, other food to take away, hot drinks and warm clothes as a simple gesture of solidarity with those experiencing homelessness.

Romania has one of the highest poverty rates in the EU. The share of Romanians at risk of poverty after social transfers increased from 22.1% in 2009 to 25.3% in 2016. On the other hand, the share of the at risk population decreased from 43% in 2009 to 38.8% in 2016.

Despite the general estimate of approximately 5,000 homeless people living on the streets of Bucharest, it is impossible to assess accurately the number of people sleeping rough in the capital city. Many others live in overcrowded or inadequate housing conditions whilst others stay temporarily with friends. Relationship breakdown, lack of job security and low wages, coupled with a severe lack of affordable housing are significant causes of homelessness. Increasingly, families are losing their homes and being forced to live on the streets, particularly those experiencing domestic violence and who have no one to turn to for help.

Once living on the street, many people experiencing homelessness find it difficult to earn enough to find a decent place to live. Despite between 1/3rd and ½ of homeless people being in employment, most are employed in the black economy and in jobs which do not provide job security or pay enough for basic living expenses.

Others are underemployed, meaning that they cannot work enough hours to pay their bills. A lot of homeless people have two or three jobs at a time, but a small number of small income jobs do not help very much either. Without legitimate jobs, they find themselves outside of the social assistance and health systems.

Ian Tilling says that decent employment and affordable child care are vital ingredients for escaping life on the street. “We work with mothers who have often been forced to depend on an abusive partner for accommodation and financial security, not only for themselves but for their children. They face huge challenges in getting and maintaining a decently paid job and affordable child care whilst at work. In such a competitive environment, the difficulties they face are almost insurmountable barriers to employment.”

There is no single reason why people become homeless. While there are common factors that account for people being forced to live on the street - financial problems, unemployment or family breakdown being most apparent; the reasons behind an individual becoming homeless are often multiple, complex and more often than not, beyond the control of the individual concerned.

Therefore, if a person did not have the resources to prevent them from becoming homeless, then it is unlikely that they will have the resources to escape their lives on the street without professional help. Casa Ioana’s Christmas Soup Kitchen event is not an act of charity, but an act of solidarity and a recognition of a homeless person’s right to food and shelter. However, we do need to recognise those who are vulnerable and give a helping hand where we can.

The British Ambassador to Romania, Paul Brummell, says, “I am delighted that the British Embassy in Romania, and many of our embassy staff have contributed each winter season to help the less fortunate among us. It is important to keep on pressing publicly the idea that poverty is a by-product of inequality. We all can help make a difference. We are making it yet again this December. Come join us!”

The event aims to raise awareness of some of the issues facing homeless people in relation to overcoming the situation they have found themselves. Andreea Gheorghe, manager of Casa Ioana’s family refuges in Bucharest said, “Unfortunately, the economic benefits have not been felt by nearly half of Romanians and this has left some, marginalised and extremely vulnerable. We know that giving someone a bowl of soup and some warm clothing will not change their long-term perspectives, but we do hope that this event will raise awareness of the major barriers people experiencing homelessness face in trying to overcome their situations.”