A common practice of the non-profit protestant charitable Salvation Army is, first, examining the legal framework related to social support in a given country and, subsequently, finding a way to overcome the system’s weaknesses. Specifically, in the district of Praga Północ the Salvation Army deals with simple things that help people excluded from the society, who are invisible to the system due to administrative, bureaucratic factors. The official website of the Salvation Army describes the objectives of the organisation as follows:
‘Housing and Homeless Services: Group homes, emergency shelters, and transitional living centres provide housing, food, and overnight lodging for varying amounts of time to those in need. In addition, they provide educational, counselling and vocational services to homeless, destitute individuals and families, and youth where family care is undesirable or unavailable. For those families with temporal needs, family service programs help families and needy individuals with emergency food, housing, and utility assistance. Salvation Army programs and services vary with local needs.’ (Salvation Army, 2014)
One of the projects of the Salvation Army in Praga Północ concerns the homeless and unemployed, for example people released from prison. Within the initiative support is organised, contacts with the psychiatric medical services and homeless associations provided.. The tools used follow models from other countries, the organisation uses its own experience.
The initiative in Praga Północ has been implemented since 2006. Financially, it is to 50% covered by the organisation’s own resources and European funding, to 50% by the City of Warsaw, and by external funding from individual and private resources. The activity of street workers is concentrated around the vicinity of the Railway Station Warsaw East (Dworzec Wschodni). Apart from running a ‘Food Bank’ the project deals with active support to those homeless who wish to recover from their situation.
In implementing the above practise, the organisation cooperates on an everyday basis with local entrepreneurs and investigates the requirements of the local labour market. When a niche is found, where a concrete individual can find employment, he or she is trained according to the demand of the future workplace/firm, institution. Such activities are more effective than the organisation of training without any knowledge of the labour market and orientation as to the possibilities of future employment. The Salvation Army also engages homeless people in the activities of the organisation. This way people find a way to earn their livelihood and invest their experience in helping others. They become active and feel appreciated. As one of the organisers of the project, a once homeless person claims:
“this way of managing things is different from the usual way, when amounts of money are wasted to organise workshops, teach skills etc., which cannot be used in practice, simply because there is no demand for such skills. Trainings are made without consulting with employers. This is not a proper way to fight against unemployment.”
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
The problem of homelessness in the district of Praga Północ is very evident. The project aimed at combating social exclusion, as an undesirable aspect of socio-economic diversity is a long-term initiative. Its far-reaching objective is to enhance social mobility of the locals touched by poverty-related phenomena. It directly focuses on finding ways to use the potential of people who due to various circumstances have found themselves in a difficult life situation. In this manner, the initiative aims at finding solutions for individuals, using a systemic approach. An important aspect is the component of religious belief, which is used as a factor to strengthen motivation and faith in oneself.
Main factors influencing success or failure
“The persistence of homelessness is related to the administrative system, which does not develop any effective tools which fight the phenomenon”, says the Regional Officer of the Salvation Army in Poland. The factors of the considerable success of the project devoted to social mobility for homeless people are:
– the methods applied – direct focus on the relation between the employee-to-be and the future employer;
– the thorough investigation of the local legal framework and labour market;
– the ability to find trust among the homeless and socially excluded through a simple, direct attitude towards them. This is also where the aspect of religion is used as a way to approach people.
Failures, which the project experiences derive from the administrative framework of the social support system in Poland which, according to the organisers of the project analysed:
“is designed to deepen and not solve the problem of homelessness. Money spent on homelessness never reaches the homeless. There is a lack of proper information, there is corruption and no efficient way of spending available resources”.
There exists no comprehensive policy or programme aimed at reducing the problem of homelessness at the city- and the national level. The activity of the non-governmental organisations cannot fully and comprehensively solve the problem under the existing legislative conditions.
The initiative for the homeless is an effective, long-term project which is grounded upon solid experience of the Salvation Army found in other countries. Its innovation can be sought in the proper understanding of the market rules standing behind the employment process. The continuation of the project is mainly a question of financing, though it may only impact its scale and not its persistence. As the organisers emphasise, “there is practically no way to stop once you have started. To show people that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And that this light is not a train coming at them”.