Homeless people are a common presence on Romania’s streets, especially in the capital
Usually, these people are treated by the so-called ‘normal’ or ‘integrated’ citizens with either pity or contempt. Also, they are taken into consideration as a group, although, in reality, they are individuals, like any of us, each of them with their own life stories.
Sociologist Ciprian Voicila focused on these very stories in his book titled “Street adults. 15 homeless biographies”. The book includes interviews with 15 homeless people, and it’s not a mere sociological study, but an invitation to empathy. As a sociologist, Ciprian Voicila did draw some theoretical conclusions, though:
Ciprian Voicila: “One common element that all those I have interviewed share is that they are ‘chronic cases’, in the sense that they are all over 45, and have spent most of their lives in the street. On average, they’ve lived as homeless people for 6 to 25 years. In the meantime, many of them have become alcohol addicts, which is quite understandable. Another common element is that most of them had good jobs during the communist regime, so they can be regarded as collateral damage of the deindustrialisation process. For instance, if they used to work as mechanics and their company was closed down, authorities had no interest in retraining them, so they have become homeless.”
Just like in relation to other issues, official statistics are old and inconclusive. According to a study conducted by Samusocial Romania – a mobility aids service for welfare cases – there were some 5000 homeless people in Romania in 2010. Samusocial also drew up a list of causes that lead to people getting in this situation: divorce or family conflicts, lay offs, the impossibility to pay rent, alcoholism, gambling, but also the fact that many of them grew up in children’s homes.
Also, many of them have been victims of accidents after which they could no longer provide for themselves. Although some of them manage to integrate into society, many of them do not, so they get to live on the streets. These are the ‘chronic cases’ described by Ciprian Voicila in his book.
Ciprian Voicila: “The longer a person lives in the street, the slimmer his or her chances of being socially and professionally reintegrated. Just imagine what it is like, although you may experience dangerous situations, to live freely, without having to pay bills, without having bosses, and having the whole city of Bucharest available for you to take strolls all day long. And thus difficulties emerge when they manage to find a job, as they take as reference point the period of time when they were free, without having to work and to spend several hours in a closed space. But the Samusocial organisation also has many successful stories in store, actually life scenarios about former homeless people who have been recovered. In another move, I’ve been told there is a high percentage of homeless people who can’t escape the cycle and keep repeating it. For one reason or another, because of disguised depressions or nostalgia for their absolute freedom when they were not subordinated to anyone, many of them give up and no longer go to work.”
Thanks to the Samusocial association we have managed to talk to some homeless people. Mr. Niculescu Călin Niculae is about 60 years of age and has been living in the street for more than 13 years. He ended up in the street following a divorce, when he also lost his home.
Niculescu Călin Niculae: “I am a metallurgical engineer by profession, and I have also attended post-university marketing-management courses. Each time I was looking for a job, my age was a hindrance.”
Mr Niculescu managed to survive in spite of leading a difficult life in the street, but he is still very sad about something else.
Niculescu Călin Niculae: “People look down on us, with hatred and enmity, because more often than not they take us for people on drugs and avoid us, but not all of them. This is a positive side of the issue... It is one thing to see an agitated young man going out of a sewer home after taking drugs and a completely different thing to see a normal person like me. I still consider myself a normal man”.
Cristian, now 24 years old, arrived in Bucharest from Tulcea, when he was 17. He tells one of the successful stories of the Samusocial association.
Cristian: “I have come here because I heard one stands more chances to get employed and evolve a little bit. It was very difficult at first, because I was alone and I didn’t know anybody. I lived in the street for a while. It was really difficult, I tried to find shelter in the hallways of various blocks of flats, but the owners used to chase me away, for fear I should devastate the place. So, I only took naps”.
Thanks to NGOs and his wish to lead a decent life, Cristian now has a job and a home.
Cristian: “There were many people telling me it’s no longer worth trying to be a good person, that it is better to steal from the rich ones. I told them I believed the opposite was true, that there were many rich people willing to give a helping hand, but if we steal from them, it is commonsensical to believe they will no longer be willing to help. They told me I was a fool for trying to be fair and honest. Samusocial has brought the best change in my life. I was left without ID papers, which had been stolen from me by homeless people. A friend of mine told me about Samusocial who also advised me to go to them. I went there and I received new IDs. Thanks to them I got a job. I still work there, for an NGO, which is recycling paper. I like very much what I do there.”
It’s only a beginning, which will hopefully herald new times.