Ending Rough Sleeping in Europe: Karen Purewal

Karen Purewal, our Director of Services, recently visited Bratislava with Action Homeless CEO Mark Grant as part of the European Ending Street Homlessness Campaign. Karen has written a blog post to share her experiences with you.

Being part of the European Ending Street Homelessness campaign trip to Bratislava was re-energising. Sometimes we are guilty of underestimating the impact of getting together and having dedicated time, face to face with others, to reflect on being part of something bigger, like the ending European Homeless campaign. It’s so important to be able to meet up with organisations from other countries to learn about the different issues and challenges we all face and to support each other as we develop our services to combat them.

Meeting together in formal and informal settings over a number of days gave us more opportunities for honest and in-depth conversation then we would ever get through Skype calls and email. It was an invaluable opportunity to share the experiences of Leicester Ending Street Homelessness Campaign and to see how the connections weeks undertaken by charities across Europe have led to different innovations and solutions to the issues they identified. We were able to share with others who have faced similar challenges and innovate with those who are facing ones we would never anticipate in the UK.

A good example I picked up was the Barcelona campaign sharing strategies with the one in Bratislava to raise public awareness of the ‘We Are Not Invisible’ campaign, which had worked in Spain and the host country felt resonated with where they were at. We got to see the challenges and innovations of Bratislava’s campaign first hand. Slovakia offers little in the way of public health services so one of the campaign partners funds harm reduction projects with stock which may be going out of date as well as raising money to buy items for those in need. We met a local church with an ambulance service that goes out to the suburbs to provide free health care to those in need.

While in Bratislava and I learnt many residents do not have pensions to support themselves in rented accommodation and are therefore homeless in their retirement years, which is pretty shocking.  We also noticed that the and clean beautiful city centre, full of tourists and beautiful buildings, did not have any visible beggars or rough sleepers during the day and you would not believe they had a large homeless population at all. Homelessness in Bratislava is hidden across the river from the old town in the suburbs, I got the impression that as it is hidden away from tourists it is not high on the political agenda for the city.

Furthermore, the law in Slovakia does not recognise homelessness, nor does not have a statute definition. It is hard to influence a homelessness policy when one does not exist.

It was a tiring two days, but it has led to a greater understanding of experiences of homelessness across Europe. It also gave us all an opportunity to commit ourselves to future plans together and for our cities to continue to progress our campaigns for the end to street homelessness.

I’d like to thank our hosts in Bratislava for welcoming us to their city and World Habitat for giving us an opportunity to come together.