From November to March, the temperature in Prague drops below freezing. Nearly 770 homeless people filter off the streets and into a Naděje shelter for the evening.
In the winter of 2014, such shelters could not save 15 people from dying due to illnesses contracted from the freezing temperatures.
Providing the homeless population with adequate shelter during the winter is crucial. Millerová and Petr Kubišta, both employees at the Terénní program Praha, attribute the deaths of homeless people during the winter months to illness and lack of medical treatment.
“They (the hospitals) actually keep the homeless out and send them to our facilities and they can get basic treatment here,” Kubišta said.
Prague contains a population of about 1.25 million, according to the 3rd Congress of European ORL-HNS, and numbers indicate about 4,000 homeless people live in the city. “Our estimates are bigger,” says Kristýna Millerová, a worker at the Naděje Praha Terénní program. “We believe there are more people in the streets.”
The Terénní program, an outreach initiative, provides mobile social services and field service, which uses five low threshold centers (that do not require identification or payment) for shelter and accommodation.
The program is a branch of Naděje, a service organization that provides social services to those in need while spreading the gospel. These services focus on “lonely people, on the disabled, on families, both on children and parents, socially excluded people or people handicapped in other ways or endangered,” according to the Naděje website.
Within the five low threshold centers of Naděje Praha, day centers, night centers, crisis and asylum centers provide minimal housing and basic medical care. For those who decide to stay in the shelters, there is no limit to the number of nights they can stay. “The only restriction for entrance into the main centers during the winter months is that guests cannot be under the influence of alcohol,” Millerová states. Unless alcohol or illness becomes an issue, people may stay in the shelter every night for the duration of the winter season.
The capacity of day centers year round is 660 people, which does not increase during the winter months, but the hours of the centers are extended into the evening. Year round, night centers can hold 371 people, which increases to 771 during the winter. The 400-person increase is part of the winter program in attempt to reduce deaths from illness or freezing.
“In the winter we provide a special service where we go into the streets at night and offer the accommodation of the shelters to the homeless and we are able to take them by car to the shelters,” Kubišta says. This service is offered at U Bulhara, a day center that serves as a night treatment center during the winter. “This is for people who are in a very bad health state or are very dirty and cannot be around other people.” For centers such as U Bulhara, there is a higher tolerance of alcohol among those admitted due to their dire conditions.
The operation of the year-round service of the Naděje Praha Terénní program, as well as the additional services offered during the winter months, requires constant funding. Prague’s self-governing municipalities — as well as other local districts — share a part in the funding of the winter program.
Two years ago, the winter program began when Jablotron, a company that supplies and installs alarm systems, paid for the entire Naděje shelter, Millerová says. Jablotron engages in numerous philanthropic activities. “This company pointed to the necessity to solve this problem and this was the starting impulse of why the municipality started to fund us,” Millerová says.
In addition to weather, a problem lies in the willingness of homeless people to stay in shelters with those who carry communicable diseases. “Some people do not want to stay together with others in shelters because they are afraid of catching an illness themselves,” she adds. Millerová, Kubišta and the Terénní program staff work to provide clean shelters with basic medical care to reduce the number illness-related deaths in the winter of 2014.