Barka IE’s Reconnection Project specialises in helping people from Central and Eastern Europe who are homeless in Ireland. Our approach has three elements: Outreach, where we seek and find these individuals; Engagement, where we earn their trust, counsel them, and help with their immediate needs; Reconnection, where we guide them into longer term help.
Our team works in close partnership with local housing and social services departments, and a number of other organisations working with the homeless. We also work with consular staff, local churches and the police, hospitals and prisons day centers.
An important feature of the way we work is that it is “Peer-led”. Our team comprises a “Leader” supported by an “Assistant”. The Leaders are ex-service users who themselves had been homeless or slept rough. They will have been through the Barka rehabilitation process, and have themselves recovered from alcohol or drug addiction, or a mental illness, and then gone through a training programme to have become Leaders.
Our current leader is Polish and Russian speaker. The Assistant is Polish and English speaker, and, together with qualifications in social work, rehabilitation and psychology, have an in-depth knowledge of the services available and an individual’s eligibility for them.
The team starts a conversation, develops a relationship, and establishes trust. The homeless person’s problems will be assessed by the Assistant, and they will be offered help with their immediate needs. They can be given advice on a range of issues covering health, benefits and accommodation. They can also be accompanied to a GP or hospital where they can receive medical attention and treatment, and they may be found temporary accommodation, and if appropriate enrolled in a Detox programme in Ireland.
The example the Leader can give of their own experience in this regard is particularly important here. It is vital that this decision for repatriation is made voluntarily by the individual themselves. The process from engaging with someone to them deciding they want to go home can take from a few days up to a year of patient and painstaking work.
When an individual makes the decision to go home, we liaise with the appropriate organisation in their home country to set up their rehabilitation and reintegration programme, we usually have to work with their consulate to obtain travel documents for them and then book them on a plane. For anyone who needs the additional support we will also arrange for someone to accompany them on this journey and make sure they arrive safely. We also provide clothes, toiletries and food for the journey.
For people returning to Poland, this help is provided by The Barka Foundation for Mutual Help, which for thirty years has been working in Poland with excluded and vulnerable members of the community including homeless people, and people suffering mental illness or from drug and alcohol addiction. It runs a variety of projects from self-sufficient therapeutic communities and social enterprises to vocational schools for the unemployed, and an accessible housing programmes. People can stay as long as they want to or need to, and are given the appropriate help they need to overcome the problems that led to their homelessness.
Those who wish, receive support to rebuild relationship with families to be able return to their families in countries of origin.
We collect information daily monitor the progress and effectiveness of our work on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis against a number of indicators including:
the number of reconnections we facilitate, the number of clients who complete rehabilitation in their countries of origin, the number of clients helped with passports, before connection, and the number of reconnected clients who have entered into vocational training programmes and into employment in Poland, Romania and other counties of origin.