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22 september 2014

Permanent shelter for homeless people

Nobody should live their life without a roof over his head. This is the basic principle of organizations like ‘JES’ and HVO-Querido, an Amsterdam organization that provides permanent shelter for the homeless. JOEP DERKSEN reports.
The men and women who end up on the streets normally get little sympathy from those of us who are fortunate enough to sleep in our own warm beds every night. “It’s probably their own fault, due to drugs and alcoholism,” is the general opinion. It is of course true that such causes can lead to homelessness. But many a time, the reason for losing one’s house can also be sheer bad luck. Or a resentful ex-wife, for that matter.
Once you end up on the street, there’s almost no going back to a house of your own. There’s no bank that will loan you any money and the unlucky homeless man or woman is sent from one government institution to the other. It’s mostly men who end up on the street, and only a few of them overcame these difficulties and found a way out. Together, they have used their experience to start helping those less fortunate.
‘Je Eigen Stek’ (JES - Your Own Place) is a house in the Tolstraat in the Amsterdam neighborhood De Pijp. This place offers anyone sleeping on the streets who has no history of serious addiction and does not have any psychiatric problems the opportunity to get their life back together. Michiel Lochtenberg explains: “The inhabitants usually have to overcome an abundance of problems, and to do this, they temporarily need a place of their own. A home where they rest and work hard to build a future and a life outside of the Tolstraat. After a period of severe problems, wandering the streets or ‘couch hopping’, we offer them a chance to get some rest and get the control over their lives back.”
There are no social workers in the house; the inhabitants know perfectly well what is good for them. Decisions are made together. This increases their confidence and improves their feeling of responsibility. Surprisingly, profound anti smokers are not welcome. The reason for this is, that the inhabitants should have the right to light up a cigarette in their own home. When a new person arrives, he can live in this house ‘on probation’ for the first two months. If the other inhabitants are not happy with their new housemate, he is kindly asked to leave within two weeks. On average, the inhabitants live here up to two years; after that, they are ready to move on to a house of their own.
HVO-Querido has been active in Amsterdam for over 110 years already. More than 1,000 employees assist 3,300 ‘clients’ with shelter, home counseling and day-to-day activities. HVO-Querido exploits over 600 shelters. The staff’s core assignments are  focused on what a person can do, instead of what he cannot do. Helping the homeless and vulnerable citizens also lead to fewer nuisances for the neighbors.
Contrary to JES, HVO-Querido is an organization that helps people with psychiatric limitations to help them regain control over their lives. The clients are men and women of all ages, nationalities, and religious backgrounds. Because of their backgrounds, most of these clients have a long history of failure, defeat, and frustration. But they also show the perseverance to aim for a better life. They long for acknowledgement for their own wishes and views.
HVO-Querido offers various forms of shelter, living support and daily activities. The staff try to improve the clients on a psychological, physical and social level. This will also give them the strength to fortify their position as a citizen in society. If desired, the family and friends of the person in need can also be involved.
The times of welfare workers pampering these clients and taking care of all their needs are long gone. Anybody who wants to overcome a homeless situation needs to step up and do as much as possible by themselves to regain control of their future. That is also related to the power of the mind: achieving something on your own means you’re prouder of your achievements than when you get something without having put any effort in it. In addition, living in their own house makes a person happier.
HVO-Querido had learned by experience – and is still learning for that matter. The organization has several separate shelters for women and their families, but also for homeless people battling addiction. However, this kind of shelter proved not to be particularly successful. They are breeding grounds for problems, said Clemens Baas, Board Member for HVO-Querido in Het Parool on September 1st. “These people live close together, in small rooms and mostly without their own shower or bathroom facilities.”
Therefore, HVO-Querido has changed its tactics and working methods. Whenever possible, clients of the organization obtain their own home. Initially, that apartment or house will still be registered to HVO-Querido. A counselor will visit the house several times a week to arrange finances and discuss any problems or other matters. Ideally, this will lead to a situation where people can take back their lives and move on to a better life. But not everybody is successful in gaining control over their problems. Instead, they can be the cause of severe nuisances in the neighborhood. If that happens – and in five percent of the cases, it does – the client will be moved back to one of HVO-Querido’s shelter houses.
A new development from this organization is the establishing of so-called ‘woonhotels’ (housing hotels). Since the beginning of the recession, more and more people of a ‘new’ background end up on the streets. These are people with a medium or higher education, who lose their house due to a divorce or loss of their job. The idea is that this category of homeless will sooner be able to master their issues and move back into their own homes.