Arctic conditions, with night time lows dropping to – 30 degrees Celsius in places are making life difficult for people around the country. For homeless people the conditions are life-threatening and charity organizations are scrambling to meet the challenge, expanding the capacity of their shelters and seeking out homeless people to offer assistance. Even so, six people are reported to have frozen to death since the onset of Arctic conditions last Thursday. I spoke to Pavla Vopeláková from the Czech branch of the Salvation Army about what is being done and whether the emergency measures taken are sufficient.
“It is really sad news that there are still people freezing to death on the streets in the Czech Republic. I believe there are sufficient beds; the question is whether everybody knows about it. The Salvation Army has been providing emergency accommodation since December, but in this Arctic weather we have increased our capacity and there are other places available. Even if our night centres and our day centres are full, we still have a list of other accommodation facilities, so we can forward the client to another place where a bed or a chair is still available and where they can spend the night in a safe environment.”
I know that some homeless people don’t actually want to go to shelters. Are you able to help those who don’t come to you by getting food or medicine to them?
“We have a night street programme, street workers who make the rounds at night looking for these people. Of course, our primary aim is to try to get them to a shelter, because if they stay on the street, it can really lead to death. It is a life-threatening situation. Of course, we can provide blankets, we can give them basic food or a hot cup of tea or coffee. But our aim is to provide accommodation, to give them shelter, so they don’t stay on the street.”
“Yes, during these bad weather conditions people can spend most of the day at our centres. There is one hour when they have to leave so we can clean up the centre. But after that they can return and spend the rest of the day and night in the warmth.”
And do you offer hot food, hot drinks?
“We offer hot drinks and also hot soup because that’s essential for people to warm up. We have also increased the capacity of one of our hostels in Vackov in Prague, where people can get blankets. So when they come for the first night, they get a blanket and they can keep it. If they lose the blanket we still have some more available, so they can get another one. I just want to say that we are very grateful for any kind of donations from the public, especially warm shoes, warm coats, scarfs, gloves, anything that can keep people warm.”
How many homeless people are we talking about in Prague and how many beds do you have for them?
“According to available statistics there are approximately four thousand people living rough in Prague. I think the shelter capacities are sufficient, of course we don’t have a capacity for four thousand people, but some of them are living in squats or other kinds of shelters. And we always find room for those who come to us. As I mentioned, we are increasing our capacity and using day centres as night shelters as well. We can fit up to a hundred, a hundred and twenty people on chairs into our day centres so there is really no need for anybody to be on the street. I would just appeal to the public, if you see somebody homeless, please tell them that there are possibilities to contact the Salvation Army or another NGO in the city, so that they are safe, because if they stay on the street in this weather, it is really life-threatening.”