The so-called LÉLEK is a communal programme aimed at securing residence, improving living conditions, providing psychological aid and establishing a livelihood for homeless people (the word ’lélek’ means ‘soul’ in English). The programme was initiated by the Municipality of Józsefváros (8th District) as a pilot project in order to tackle the problems related to homelessness (e.g. illegal economic activities, sanitary problems, public safety). It was launched in cooperation with the Ministry of Human Resources in November 2011. This comprehensive individualised rehabilitation programme focuses on the socio-economic reintegration of homeless people through a wide range of personal interventions such as social, employment and housing services.
The primary objective of the initiative is to reduce the number of homeless people in Józsefváros. In addition, several specific goals are formulated like: (1) prevention of homelessness; (2) socio-economic reintegration of homeless people, with special attention to employment and housing; (3) comprehensive solution to the problem of homelessness and enabling homeless people to carry out a self-supporting life. The programme provides opportunities for upward mobility and inclusion for the homeless, and as a consequence, contributes to the strengthening of social cohesion.
The homeless care activities include housing as well as social components. Within the group of housing components the LÉLEK-house can be mentioned, which is a public institution providing temporary shelter – from at least six months to a maximum of one year – for homeless people and their families. After the first step clients can be accommodated in a ‘service apartment’ (public housing facility) for a one-year-period. At the third level a public housing can be rented by the participants of the programme for a fixed term. With its comprehensive approach, LÉLEK significantly differs from most of the other homeless-care services, as the programme leader emphasised:
“Conventional homeless-care takes care of [homeless people] and responds to several problems. It provides accommodation, night shelter, medical care but it does not have real output. Therefore, when this topic comes up, I always argue that in the existing homeless-care system cases are usually closed when the clients die. It is very rare that their homeless status changes due to, for example, marriage, family reunion or a new dwelling. My colleagues in the system almost always close a file when the given homeless person dies. Therefore, this programme in the Józsefváros is really special because its final act is the move of the participants to social rental houses.”
Regarding the social components of the initiative it can be emphasised that the LÉLEK-programme provides employment opportunities for homeless people to safeguard their position on the housing market. Participants receive individually-designed social work (mentoring), health-care and training services at the same time jobs are offered for them. The initiative operates in an interface office called LÉLEK-point which makes contact with homeless people, collects information about them, and cooperates with other institutions.
In its organisational structure the most important actor of the LÉLEK-programme is a local municipal institution called Social Service and Child Welfare Centre which is responsible for the realisation of daily activities. Twelve people are directly employed for the operation of the initiative (e.g. programme leader, social workers, addiction consultant). At the same time the Public Land Maintenance and Urban Operator Service of Józsefváros provides jobs for the participants
The programme is also supported by other partners, like Józsefváros Police and non-governmental organisations (e.g. Hungarian Baptists Aid). The initiative is financed by the Municipality of Józsefváros and co-financed by the Ministry of Human Resources (the Ministry supported the initiation of the project with approximately 484,000 €). The budget of the LÉLEK-programme (ca. € 104,700 in 2013 and € 219,800 in 2014) contains the financial resources for refurbishment and maintenance of dwellings as well as the costs of social programmes. Social housing facilities are provided by the district municipality itself.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The primary target group of the project are homeless people selected according to the following criteria: at least a five-year residency in Józsefváros before losing their own apartment; having no debt to the local municipality; sufficient physical and mental abilities to work and a cooperative attitude. Families are a special target group: participating families might be those who lost their homes but parents must be economically independent (i.e. they must have regular income) and must be able to take care of their children. Until now 50 clients have been involved in the programme. Although diversity is not explicitly addressed by LÉLEK, some elements of the concept can be identified in the initiative. The ‘society’ of homeless people is very heterogeneous with respect to, for example, age, sex, ethnicity, qualifications and marital status and the programme takes into consideration several of these features
Main factors influencing success or failure
Considering the external success factors, the unequivocal support of local political actors is very important: it seems there is a consensus between ruling party and opposition politicians in this question. There is a significant demand for such a programme in Józsefváros due to the high number of homeless people and LÉLEK offers comprehensive solution to the problem. In addition, it does not mean an enormous financial burden for the municipality. Some of the internal success factors can be linked to the versatile experiences and expertise of the participating institutions. The personal motivation of homeless people is also crucial for the success and our interview partner emphasised that most of the participants had been very motivated.
The growing socio-economic disparities within Hungarian society can be seen as one of the most relevant external challenges. The increasing number of poor people puts more pressure on institutions taking care of homeless people. In addition, there is a lack of adequate public housing due to previous privatisation. We can also identify dysfunctions in the operation of the two-tire local government system of Budapest which contributes to the uneven distribution of homelessness in the city (their large number in Józsefváros is a heavy burden to the local municipality). Limited financial and technical resources can be seen as the most important internal challenge. The unilateral dependency on local political interest can also be considered as an internal risk: the withdrawal of governmental financial support in the future, for example, can terminate the programme.
The future of LÉLEK programme seems to be secured for the next 5-6 years due to a contract made with the Ministry of Human Resources. As our interviewee also stated, the programme is “destined for success” because of the above mentioned factors. However, some NGOs (e.g. The city is for All group) criticised the initiative, especially its selection criteria like the five-year residency limit (A Város Mindenkié csoport véleménye a LÉLEK programról, 2012), but they appreciated the efforts made by the district municipality. In conclusion, it is an innovative programme and no other similar initiatives are known in Hungary. According to our interviewee, techniques of LÉLEK should be applied in homeless care in other parts of the country, mixed with ‘traditional’ instruments.