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Homeless people. A home to restore dignity, autonomy and trust

The first figures on the Housing First trial program, promoted by the Italian Federation of organisms for the homeless – FIOPSD – were presented in Turin. 510 people are finally recovering their dignity, independence and confidence in small homes, thanks to 33 pilot-projects launched nationwide. The Ministry for Labour and Social Policies has allocated 50 million Euros for the period 2016-2019. But it’s equally important to be engaged in the battle against prejudice al local level

Also in conditions of serious marginalization there is a possibility for redemption, to recover self-confidence, personal dignity and life: to stop being “invisible” and make a fresh start. It started with a proposal. On March 1 2014 the Italian Federation of organisms for the homeless – FIOPSD (representing 110 bodies including diocesan Caritas, local Councils, religious organisms, social cooperatives, the Emmaus Association and Arca Foundation), that marks its 30th anniversary in 2016, launched in Turin the National Housing First trial Programme that envisages direct integration of the homeless in apartments so as to gradually promote their autonomy and integration, inviting all those organisms engaged in overcoming situations of serious marginalization to promote initiatives and projects based on this innovative approach. Thanks to the Housing First Italia network, over 500 people in severe homeless conditions were given a home (people without shelter, lonely adults, families without homes, single fathers, ex-convicts…). Today on the occasion of the International Housing First Conference, promoted by Fiopsd, the first results and the good practices, with special focus on the challenges that lie ahead, will be presented in Turin, where it all began. Thirty-three pilot projects have been carried out so far, from the southern town of Acireale to Pordenone, in the north. The theme of the meeting, which summarises the goal of the Federation, is: “There is only one road: a home.” In the meantime, after Richard Gere, the #HomelessZero campaign has a new testimonial: US actress Susan Sarandon.

From experimentation to structured reality. Past October 4 the website of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy published the first tender notice to finance initiatives for the homeless, to be carried out in the period 2016-2019. Allocated resources amount to a total of 50 million Euro and will serve, said FIOPSD President, Cristina Avonto, “to implement targeted interventions for the upgrading of the service network, to provide material support for the homeless, and to develop innovative measures of accompaniment towards full autonomy.” In other words, to

“turn the #HomelessZero campaign into action: from trial to structured reality.”

Starting from home. Paolo Molinari, social researcher at the Social and Economic Research Institute in Friuli Venezia Giulia (Ires-Fvg), and Massimo Santinello, professor at the Department for Developmental and Socialization Psychology at the University of Padua, presented a preliminary balance of the past months to SIR. The pilot project has been implemented in ten regions (Piemonte, Lombardia, Liguria, Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna, Toscana, Calabria e Sicilia). The Housing First Italia network comprises 53 organisms – including local Councils, ecclesiastic or religious bodies, social cooperatives and other not-for-profit organizations that provide services aimed at countering serious situations of marginalization and exclusion.

Data up to March 30 2016 shows that 510 people, whose physical and mental conditions are “far below the national average”, were offered a housing facility: 343 adults and their 167 children. 68.2% are men; there are 73 families.

They were given 176 homes, 29.6% of which are shared by several people; 60% were purchased on the real estate market, 21% via organizations linked to the network, 19% were recovered from public property assets.

Towards autonomy and integration. Six months after they entered the apartment, Molinari said, “76% of those given housing facilities said they met people with whom they shared coffee or lunch/dinner together, 63.8% made new friends, 38.3% took part in events organized by the community”; 80.85% said they “feel at home now.” One of the qualifying aspects of the path towards independence “is the sharing of expenses.” In fact, after a while, 47% of adults involved in the program manage to share the expenses of the personal project. Eugenio, almost 60, from Calabria, married, with a son, divorced in 1996: that’s when his descent into the streets and alcoholism began. He found a safety net in Rimini, where in the meantime “he found a shelter”: the Pope John XXIII Association welcomed him and found a home for him, assisting him and helping him recover his independence. Eugenio trusted them and started a treatment program to overcome his addiction.  He now autonomously runs his home, cooking also for the volunteer-workers. Anna, from Eastern Europe, had a similar experience. She used to work as a carer, but after losing her job and having become a widow, she fell into a spiral of loneliness and alcohol. In Rimini she found hospitality at the “Capanna di Betlemme” (“The Hut of Bethlehem”), which eventually provided her with independent lodging. Now she has a new job, while Rimini’s local Council has allocated 70 thousand Euros for Housing First projects for the period 2017 – 2019. Roberto still lives in Verona, in a small apartment provided by the Social Cooperative “The Samaritan”, set up in 2006 in the wake of Verona’s Ecclesial Conference. “Now – he said in simple words – I can count on a basis of serenity that helps me feel less alone. Having my own private spaces makes me feel good and at the same time it helps me integrate with other people.” “I experienced a dramatic decline”, confided a guest who spent the past four months hosted by Opera San Francesco per i Poveri (Work of St. Francis for the Poor), founded in Milan by the Capuchin friars, part of the Housing First program since 2014. Our interlocutor, who wished to remain anonymous, said:

“the streets swallow you like the sea.”

The Program’s social workers highlighted the importance to be active at local level to step up the feeling of belonging and to counter prejudices. “From parishes to cafes, people need to know that their neighbourhood is actively involved in this project.”

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