A look at some initiatives aimed at helping Bucharest's homeless people.
Sub-zero temperatures in winter, the blizzard and snow have always been serious issues for homeless people in Bucharest. Several NGOs, including Bucharest-based Samusocial, have consistently come to the support of these rough sleepers irrespective of the season. Here is Sabina Nicolae, executive director of the Samusocial Association with more on the issue.
"In winter we provide them with sleeping bags, boots, gloves, hats as well as hot meals, such as soup and tea. We provide these people with social, medical and psychological assistance as well as professional retraining courses all throughout the year. We also try to find dwelling places for them or shelters. Frostbites are a common health issue among them in winter, mainly affecting those who refuse to go to shelters. We have been trying to bring more food for these people of late and there are also citizens who feed them.”
Homeless people have been offered support to get new ID cards, since many no longer have such documents; they are encouraged to help themselves after having been offered a job. Cristian is one of these people. He’s 24 years old and came in Bucharest from Tulcea, a city in eastern Romania. As he had no relatives to help him out in Bucharest, Cristian had no alternative but hit the streets.
“I’ve lived in Bucharest for the past 6 years, and have been rough-sleeping almost half this time. Winter is the most difficult time for the homeless. I keep thinking about those who are living on the streets now, either at their own will or because they don’t have an alternative. I had the experience of sleeping in the streets with only a blanket to wrap myself into. The cold becomes almost unbearable after midnight. I wasn’t starving during the day because I was offered temporary jobs by people and they fed me quite well.”
Things started to improve for Cristian in late 2015, after Samusocial helped him get ID documents and a job.
“I’ve got a job at an environmental protection agency; I am currently working in its paper-recycling department. I like the way they carry recycled paper, on cargo bikes. At first I didn’t see myself riding a bike, but after a while I got used to it and started to like the job. Now I live in an apartment, which also belongs to an NGO. I pay a small rent now, but the rent is rising gradually though. Fact is that people have to understand that they must work to support themselves.”
But not all these stories involving homeless people have a happy ending. Calin Niculescu is 59 and has been homeless for the past 13 years. He lost his home after the divorce and subsequently tried to get a job in Germany. At present he is suffering from tuberculosis and although he is a metallurgical engineer, his age has prevented him from getting hired. But what’s it like to live on the streets of Bucharest? Here is Calin Niculescu.
“I used to go mountaineering while I was young and learned how to survive in any conditions. I’ve been rough-sleeping in parks and even in a disaffected chapel. Sometimes I would commute between Bucharest and Videle and slept in the train carriages at night. Other times I would bef for food and money in cemeteries around Bucharest. Since November 2015 I have been living in a shelter for the homeless, which provides three meals a day. It has hot running water and it’s heated…It’s good…”
This winter Calin Niculescu has been offered a job.
“I didn’t expect to get an offer and instead I got a couple. It was a nice experience. I was hired to be Santa Claus for children. I was even hired by Coca Cola. I still have the equipment given by Samusocial, but I don’t have access to the Internet and the guys there can help me.”
Overwhelmed by the situation they have found themselves in, weary and complacent, some of the homeless now lack the will and strength to change anything in their lives. Here is social worker Alina Mirea with more on these people’s mindset.
“Most of them have a history of trauma and abuse as children in dysfunctional families. After hitting the streets they are very unlikely to improve their predicament. However, with patience, social and medical assistance we can improve the situation of these people. We cannot change the world, but as far as these people are concerned, there are a few things we can do. The fact is these people accept this assistance in various degrees, they take as much as they want. We have managed in some cases to take people off the streets and prove to them that life can be different. Others are happy they can have something to eat or could take a shower. They can change their condition to the extent they want.”
That’s why homeless people often refuse to enter or leave a shelter. However, social workers keep on encouraging these people to make the change they need in their lives. (Translated by D. Bilt)