15th December 2021

Life on the streets – how can we help homeless people?

For 25 years, Stëmm vun der Strooss, a non-profit organisation, has provided support to people in need. The non-profit organisation collects food before reaching its use-by date and distributes free meals to people in need. Two restaurants, staffed by 170 people, welcome 368 people each day.

1. Each year, you provide 110.000 meals to people in need. During the pandemic, we were told to stay at home. This is impossible when you do not have a roof over your head. How did Luxembourg’s homeless people manage Covid-19?

Throughout lockdown, Stëmm never closed its doors and continued to provide access to food to anyone in need, although, between March and June 2020, we were obliged to serve our free meals in the street. Later, up to 20 beneficiaries were allowed to enter the social restaurant and stay for 30 minutes. On the one hand, these measures were taken to comply with social distancing rules; on the other hand, we wanted to make room for the next group of beneficiaries.

Naturally, with these measures in place, maintaining the usual level of social contact was not possible, and yet this is what those who come to Stëmm are looking for. The chance to talk, to be treated with respect, to spend time with other people, to rest somewhere safe, or simply to have a cup of coffee – none of this was possible during the pandemic and that is what had the biggest impact on both our beneficiaries and our teams. The Covid period has made everyone aware of the importance of social contact, and our service users were grateful to us for remaining open for them.

Many businesses and individuals supported Stëmm vun der Strooss during this time. A hairdresser came to cut their hair in the street, restaurant owners prepared meals, caterers gave us their supplies – all of these contributions  brought a little happiness.

For those who had a place to stay, even if it was basic, lockdown was as difficult as it was for those who were living on the streets. Cut off from all social contact and unable to work, those who were stable before lockdown relapsed back into drugs, alcohol and medication. Their health worsened quickly, and tragically, there were more deaths than in previous years.

We also saw the arrival of a new group of people in need: those whose temporary or fixed-term contracts were not renewed. Demand for our services changed, meaning we needed to adapt quickly in order to deliver the best possible response.

As the free medical consultations, cloakroom and showers had to be temporarily paused, many clients felt adrift. Their health and hygiene declined at an alarming rate.

2. What are the reasons that lead to homelessness?

There is no single answer to this question, as there can be many different reasons. Often, the lack of a family structure during childhood can lead people to make poor life choices. Combined with a lack of education, this can result in people finding themselves living on the streets very early on in life, which makes it even more difficult to escape – especially if this life is all they have ever known. When a child does not learn social norms, means living and working with others becomes difficult.

However, even those who have a stable life, a job and a family are not spared from the possibility of ending up on the streets. Experiencing tragedy, being sacked, or going through a divorce can turn lives upside down.

Of course, many people living on the streets suffer from mental health issues. When people have suffered violence in the past, it makes them take a conflict-based approach to others, leading to their exclusion. Similarly, a lack of self-confidence prevents homeless people from believing that a situation can change and the lack of stimulation leads them to resign themselves to their fate.

3. You’ve launched a new project. You’re currently constructing a building in the municipality of Sanem. What’s the plan?

In 2016, we realised that our Caddy and Schweesdrëps workplace reintegration workshops had reached their capacity, far below the level of demand for their services. Each year, the Caddy work life reintegration workshop uses 125 tonnes of unsold food items from supermarkets to make sandwiches, fresh fruit juice and food boxes – all in strict compliance with health regulations. Each week, the Schweesdrëps workshop washes 4.700 sports kits from 40 football clubs. This translates into families not having to wash them at home on the one hand, and providing work for 40 people who are reintegrated into work life on the other. As the buildings in which these workshops are located were not designed for logistics activities, our teams redesigned the way the work was organised to create therapeutic workshops.

The new building aims to achieve two main goals. Firstly, workplace reintegration, which both provides work to those who are in need, who are dependent, or who are outside the labour market, and prevents crime by rebuilding links with society. We offer these people work so they can gain experience, be part of a team and develop their practical and social skills.

Our second aim is to combat food waste. We ensure that 125 tonnes of still-edible food is not wasted every year, and this new project will save up to 500 tonnes per year.

The new building will recover the heat energy emitted by the refrigeration units and use that heat to dry laundry in the other workshop. It will employ 100 people who are re-entering the labour market.

This 2.400 m² building will be opened in September 2022. It’s a national project to combat poverty, because we distribute free food boxes via approximately twenty charities working in the centre and south of the country, and it also combats food waste, gets people into work and helps the poorest in society.

 

4. To fund the essential equipment for this ambitious project, your goal is to raise EUR 500.000 in donations by July 2022. So far, you’ve managed to raise EUR 110.000. How can our readers support you?

We appreciate any help we can get. If you would like to contribute to this social, environmental and economic project, please visit our website where you can view a list of the equipment  that we need.  needs on the charity’s website.

You can also make a donation directly on our website or via bank transfer to our account: LU63 0019 2100 0888 3000 BCEELULL.

Word of mouth is also a really important tool for this type of project, and Stëmm would be delighted if more and more people got talking about it.

5. Christmas is coming and the weather is cold. Outside of your project, do you have five tips for how to help homeless people?

Five tips to help homeless people:

1. Open up your wardrobe and sort your old coats, hats, scarves and blankets. Any clothes that are useful for winter will be even more useful for someone who is living on the streets.

2. Do you have extra sleeping bags or do you want to set up a collection among your colleagues? Stëmm would be delighted to take your donations and hand them out to those in need.

3. Have a few extra euros? Why not give some hot soup to a homeless person? Giving meal vouchers means we can organise free themed days.

4. Next time you’re buying food, get an extra croissant or sandwich and offer it to the person begging outside.

5. Winter is also the Christmas season, but our beneficiaries don’t get presents like you or I do. Make a donation to Stëmm, which will buy and give out 400 presents to homeless people at the traditional Christmas celebrations on 16 December 2021.

About the blog:

 

There is an urgent need for rapid transition to Global Environmental Sustainability. Thanks to changemakers, progress is possible. "Why does it matter?" is a bi-monthly series that takes a quick look at the forefront of today's trends around  sustainability. From May 2021 on, we aim to elucidate this important topic through the eyes of our experts. 

 

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