homeless in Prague and Eastern Europe FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 6 Apr 1998 11:41:00 -0700 (PDT)

FWD from Prague Post, Feb. 11, 1998


            By Katka Fronk

            Armed with hot tea, blankets and bread, a group of four from
the Czech Salvation Army (Armada Spasy) enter the Liben railway station in
Prague 8. Toni Koshani -- who used to be homeless himself, until the
Salvation Army "saved" him -- notices three unattended plastic bags right
away. After making a round through the station, the group spots the owner.
The man's shoes are too small and worn away at the heels, giving him no
protection against the cold floor or snow outside. Koshani persuades him to
come sleep at the organization's shelter.

            "Tomorrow we will give you proper shoes and some warm clothes.
You will freeze in this," says Koshani, while examining the man's thin
coat. Koshani explains: "We usually don't take any homeless back with us to
the shelter -- because it's already so crowded in there -- but this guy
wouldn't make it through the night. Only 14 days ago a woman froze to death
while sleeping outside."

            Prague's winter has finally reared its ugly head, and nighttime
temperatures in late January and early February dropped well below
freezing. For the homeless people who wander the city's streets, this is
the hardest time. It's on nights like these that the Salvation Army scours
the railway stations. "We usually tell [the homeless] where they can find
us and that they can get something to eat there," says Koshani.

            Colonel Mike Stannett, who works at the Salvation Army's
shelter on Tusarova in Prague 7-Holesovice, estimates that there are
1,000-1,500 people living on the streets. "There are only 500-600. The rest
of them sleep outside, mostly in the railway stations or squats." Even
though there is a shelter shortage, Prague is better off than other Eastern
European cities. Budapest has 10 times more homeless people and Moscow 100
times more.

            "There's a steady growth in the number of homeless people,"
says Stannett. "What affects the number most is that the antiquated
factories from the communist era are laying people off because of

            According to Stannett, the government could do more to help
with the homeless situation. "The government could make some of the empty
properties they own available."

            About half of the homeless have no income. To apply for social
benefits it's necessary to have an identification card, and not many
homeless people have one. "They either lost it or it got stolen," says
Stannett. "It's possible to get a new one, but a lot of the homeless do not
know the proper channels."

            At almost midnight, the Salvation Army workers arrive at their
last stop -- Hlavni nadrazi, Prague's main train station. As soon as they
enter the huge building, they walk up the stairs to the balcony, where many
of the homeless spend the night. Petr, 23, has a bandage around his right
hand. "I was in a fight yesterday and my hand got broken," he explains.
Petr has been living on the streets since he was 15. "I got kicked out of
the house by my mum and her new boyfriend."

            According to Toni Koshani, most kids have a similar story. It
usually ends with drugs, alcohol and prostitution. The problem is that the
social authorities often don't have the proper skills to deal with the
homeless problem.

            "They are not used to looking for a long-term solution; they
make a budget for only a year," says Mike Stannett. "They have to learn how
to plan for the future, make a program of prevention and not only a


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