The main objective of the non-profit initiative for disabled and excluded carried out by the association Open Door is to combat social exclusion and marginalisation of people affected by a difficult life situation, aimed at enhancing their prospective social mobility. The project also takes care of organising the return to society and the creation of favourable conditions for individual development of people touched by any form of disability. According to the projects’ representatives the area of Praga Północ is naturally the best location for such activities in Warsaw due to a particular accumulation of social problems mainly related to a low economic status of the inhabitants.
The long-term project carried out since the early 1990s consists of three complementary modules: Employment Agency, Hostel ‘House of Rotation’ (Dom Rotacyjny) and a Canteen. The main activities carried out in the Employment Agency are career counselling, job offers, professional activation workshops, as well as computer and language trainings. The ‘House of Rotation’ is a place where homeless people can temporarily be accommodated while participating in individual social and labour activation programmes.
The Canteen provides three free meals daily for people affected by homelessness, poverty or disability, also inhabitants of the ‘House of Rotation’. The Canteen serves approximately 100 people per day. The Canteen also serves the creation of jobs by organising employment for people with disabilities and providing professional coaching for unemployed who wish to work as cooks or waitresses on the spot. Young people under the guidance of competent teachers can gain qualifications that will enable them to find a job in the future. The initiative offers a psychological and legal assistance if such need is diagnosed during the preliminary interview.
The target audience of the initiative involves three main groups: disabled persons, homeless and unemployed. The ambition of the project is the activation of these people so that they can begin to function independently in the society. The specificity of the action undertaken within the framework of the initiative is based on an individual approach to each person who seeks help. The scope and type of assistance which is granted depends on the capacity and expectations of individual participants. Those who choose to accept the help offered within the Open Door initiative must make a commitment to undertake efforts to gain new skills and qualifications.
The initiative has the potential of providing a complex support to homeless people by offering them temporary accommodation, food, psychological counselling and vocational training. It also provides assistance to people with intellectual disabilities by offering occupational therapy, sports and art workshops, as well as rehabilitation activities. As a representative of the Open Door initiative explains:
“Working with a person begins with the diagnosis of problems and the development of an action plan. The plan takes the form of an individual action plan – an individual programme aimed at recovering from homelessness or of social and vocational rehabilitation.”
The Open Door initiative is carried out in cooperation with the Warsaw offices of Labour and Social Support and Projects. The Office of Labour is involved in directing the unemployed to professional workshops together with financial support of the initiative. The city office is engaged in financial support for the ‘House of Rotation’. The city used to financially support the Canteen, but the recently introduced changes in the social care system in Warsaw blocked the possibility of financing this type of activity, which creates significant barriers for further cooperation.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The Open Door initiative explicitly addresses negative diversity which is defined as a natural characteristic of the society. It focuses its activities on people who have difficulties in functioning in the society, thus the general orientation of the action taken is to tackle negative aspects of diversity by supporting individual development and raising overall tolerance. People working in the project develop an own code of ethics, the aim of which is the elimination of discriminatory behaviour and the development of an attitude of support and tolerance. The project focuses simultaneously on redistribution, recognition and encounter, developing tools for a more cohesive social development of the target audience. As a representative of the Open Door association claims:
“Our actions are independent of gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, social status, race, nationality, educational level, and all other variables relating to persons participating in the support process. The guiding value of people related to the Association is the good of man, respect for their dignity and rights in accordance with the declaration of the UN Human Rights…”
Main factors influencing success or failure
The Open Door is an initiative which success is based on:
– the internal potential in terms of the schemes and tools of action taken and
– the potential and engagement of the individuals involved.
Specific factors determining the success of the actions indicated by the interviewed persons are:
– individual approach to the clients with the special use of psychological knowledge which ensures a proper diagnosis of the problem;
– comprehensive, integrated measures undertaken to overcome difficulties. Such measures contribute to the development of individual potential of the participants, which has an impact on the professional and social mobility of the latter.
The most important barriers to further development have external nature and result from the instability of the granting system. Especially the changes of criteria within the Warsaw city grant funding system for social policy has a negative effect on the results of the initiative.
The ‘Open Door: for disabled and excluded’ is an example of a group-based initiative with a complex organisational structure and a wide range of undertaken activities. The organisation of the association has gradually developed since the 1990s and has currently over 100 employees. Such development has forced the gradual reorganisation of the structure, from horizontal, self-governed to a more vertical structure of governance. The strength and potential of the initiative is related to the internal involvement, as well as strong orientation focused on supporting people in a difficult life situation, and creating favourable conditions for their individual development. The ideology of the initiative is based on fundaments of tolerance, equality and respect.