Sunday, September 29, 2013

Homelessness is a broader concept than just the image of what we can see, for example, at the main train station in Prague. The homeless include many families with children, individuals, medically disadvantaged people, seniors and young couples living with friends and relatives, often in cramped conditions

David Beňák
Said David Beňák, a member of the Czech Social Democratic Party in an article published in News server Romea dated September 25, 2013. David Beňák is candidate number 9 for the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic for the Prague electoral district.

Many families and individuals are forced to live in unsuitable residential hotels, where their rents are comparable to those for apartments in the centers of big cities. The Regional Development Ministry and the State Fund for Housing Development have failed across the board. They have merely become distributors of money for construction projects. Prices should not be an obstacle to acquiring housing. In the case of the most impoverished, welfare should help them afford it. The Czech Republic, as a state, is leery of owning and leasing housing. That is its basic mistake - in many localities, this is exactly the help that is needed. The government should establish partnerships with the private owners of apartment buildings. Property owners would definitely be willing to strike some kind of agreement with the state, but no one is negotiating with them.

One of the residential hotels in Ostrava on Cihelná street
Another report says the number of people living in residential hotels is rising sharply and the owners of these facilities are making very good money. Many people are ending up in these residential hotels unnecessarily, where they are living in unsuitable conditions. This is also uneconomical. The state pays a monthly rate of CZK 4 000 per adult tenant in a residential hotel and CZK 2 500 per minor, but it costs CZK 300 000 per year to institutionalize a child. Some NGOs feel it will be less expensive to give the poor a chance and address their needs. It is reported that real estate speculators are buying up large number of very inexpensive apartments and leasing them to the socially vulnerable. Czech Radio reports that it is possible to buy an average-sized apartment in a prefab building near the town center there for as low as CZK 150 000. Those buying up the apartments lease them to socially vulnerable people whose rents are paid by the state, which means their profits are guaranteed. 

According to Martin Šimáček, director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, the extensive privatization undertaken during the 1990s also led to the town and its municipal departments having very few units left in their own housing stock to offer those in need. "The privatization, among other things, resulted in the forced evictions of some tenants into residential hotels as a result of their apartment buildings deteriorating," explained Šimáček in a press release.  

Street musician Ondra who was formerly homeless
Ondra, a musician, who was homeless for several years but now works as a guide for Pragulic, a project offering alternative guided tours of Prague given by homeless people, feels that social housing is important, but the problem with this is that if people get free housing, they think they don't have to try anymore. The best thing would be if people had to do something to get that in return. "Government institutions need to actually go to the street, meet people and talk to them to understand what they really need," he said.

As the nights get longer and temperatures begin to drop, this year an estimated 30,000 homeless people in the Czech Republic face the prospect of spending winter out in the cold.

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