Study visit of Barka to Dublin, 7-9 November 2011
- Dagmara Szlandrowicz, Barka Foundation for Mutual Help, Poznan
- Andrzej Sydoruk, Barka UK, London
- Ewa Sadowska, Barka UK, London
The study visit to Dublin was organized by the representatives of the Mendicity Institution Trust from Dublin, Betty Sisson and Charles Richards.
The visit embraced a number of meetings and encounters with representatives of homelessness agencies, charities and religious orders and public institutions.
On the first day we met with the staff of Crosscare. Magda, a native Polish speaker, has been working in Crosscare with the homeless Poles in Dublin for several months. Magda explained the aid system in Ireland and the situation of Polish and Central&Eastern European migrants. The largest group of homeless A10 nationals, we were told, currently stays in the Santa Maria Hostel Hostel in Charlemont Street. The hostel is operated by the Depaul Ireland in cooperation with the Dublin City Council. The hostel will be available until January 2012. Then the residents will have to return to the streets of the city. Andrzej Sydoruk shared the story of his overcoming homelessness and addictions and how he now runs his own enterprise in Poland and found a new purpose in life. Andrzej explained his role as a Barka Leader working alongside other “Leaders” (former homeless people and recovering addicts) on the streets of London and Hamburg building trust-based relationships with the rough sleepers there. Thanks to the work of Andrzej and other Leaders and Assistants of Barka, we reconnected over 1,600 most vulnerable Eastern European migrants from the London streets to rehabilitation and vocational training programs in home countries and families in the last 4 years.
In the Santa Maria Hostel we met with a group of 20 Polish residents. Most of them have been in Ireland for at least 4 years and Dagmara Szlandrowicz remembered many of them since she had worked with Barka in Dublin in 2007/2008. In the Hostel we spent a few hours and listened to the stories of people eager to talk and share with us. We also introduced the history of Barka and Andrzej shared his personal experience of homelessness, his new life and his working abroad as Leader.
In the evening we went on a soup-run carried out by a religious group. On the route we met one Polish man who has been sleeping rough for a year. He said he was not interested in returning to Poland due to unsolved legal issues.
The second was started with meeting the Eastern Europeans who come to the day center run by the Mendicity Institution. Majority of them we met on the previous day in the Santa Maria hostel. But there were also some new people who currently stay on the streets, squats and some said they were renting a room. The people were generally friendly to us and willing to talk. The Centre is commonly known among the people as the “Polish Place”. This is because of the Polish cook and the hospitality and warm welcome the homeless men and women receive from the staff. Polish homeless compatriots are by far the largest group. After an early lunch at the “Polish Place” they usually go to the next Day Center which is Merchants Quay Ireland.
We met with Merchants Quay Ireland representatives as well: Alan Dolley and Andrea O’Reilly with whom Barka worked in Dublin in 2007. They were interested in the present situation of Barka – what was the potential for Barka’s work in Dublin and what plans we had. We explained that we had been invited to Dublin by the Mendicity Institution due to the deterioration of the situation of homeless Eastern Europeans. MQI asked Barka to send them our plan of work and proposed ways for a joint work in the area.
At 4 P.M a meeting was held with a representative of the Dublin City Council – Gerry Folan. Betty Sission , a Trustee of the Mendicity Institution, a representative of Crosscare and Depaul Ireland also participated in the meeting. Gerry Folan explained the changes that have taken place in the social policy of Dublin since the previous working period of Barka in the capital of Ireland. “In 2007 the economy was still good and there were jobs available. A lot of migrants worked in building and carpentry “– said Gerry Folan. Currently the A10 migrants are in a more difficult situation, the economy has gone down and the migrants are the first ones to be affected. The City Council sees it a challenge to deal with an increasing number of homeless people in Dublin. The number of deaths has increased significantly in the last year. Ewa Sadowska presented the work of Foundation in Poland and the projects of Barka UK in London over the 4,5 year period , the method of financing and the results. Dagmara Szlandrowicz and Andrzej Sydoruk introduced the path that a person reconnected to Barka Centres follows upon return to Poland. They explained a range of options that each person is given while in Barka Network, starting with detox and rehabilitation, vocational training and an opportunity to establish their own social cooperative or to join an existing one. It was suggested that the Dublin City Council and the Mendicity Institution would jointly support the 6-month pilot project of Barka in Dublin. Ewa Sadowska was asked to submit a draft application to the Dublin City Council. It was proposed that Barka would work in the Santa Maria Hostel, where there are the largest numbers of Poles. Magda from Crosscare recognized that Barka would be very useful in Dublin because it would enable people to be reconnected to a safe place and rebuild their lives.
In the evening we visited the Santa Maria hostel once more to continue building relationships with our countrymen there. We showed a film “A Piece of Sober Heaven” on the Social Integration Centres and Social Cooperatives of the Barka Network in Poland and on our projects in London. Later in the evening we joined another soup-run and we met one Romanian national who was begging and whom we introduced ourselves to. He spoke a very good English and said that his whole family was in Dublin and he was determined to find a job in Ireland.
The meeting with Alice Leahy, the CEO of The Trust was inspiring. The lady runs a small hospital for those in greatest need and is extraordinarily committed to improve their health. She attends to their feet and wounds. Alice was very outspoken sharing the history of her family involved in social work. She showed recent media coverage on The Trust and presented us with several books she had written. We reciprocated Alice’s generosity by sharing the book on Barka.
We had a privilege to be received by the Missionaries of Charity who run a hostel for 9 men all of whom were from Eastern Europe. Emelda, Mother Superior explained the challenges the Sisters face with the Eastern European homeless residents and expressed hope for a joint work with Barka. We exchanged contact details and left a book “The New Beginning of Barka’s Social Economy “(summary of the work of Barka from 1999-2010).
The last meeting took place in the Mendicity Board room where the Mendicity’s Board of Trustees gathered with the aim to get to know Barka and to better understand its objectives and the work philosophy. Charles Richards first reported on the three-day study trip of Barka to Dublin and Betty Sission shared the impressions of hers and Charles from the study visit to Barka projects in London in September. After the presentation of Ewa Sadowska there were several questions from the Trustees e.g. what were the links between Barka and the African communities, where the funding came from and what the Barka project in Dublin would look like in practice. Gerry Folan from the Dublin City Council joined the meeting at a later stage expressing an interest of the Council to commission Barka to work with the homeless Eastern Europeans in Dublin. The Chairman of the Board and other Trustees of Mendicity were also in favor. The chairman said, however, that the final decision on Mendicity’s involvement was to still be made by the Board.
The seriousness of the situation of the Eastern European homeless in Dublin is reflected by the fact that a core group of the homeless men whom we met 4 years ago, has not made any visible progress in their social and economic situation and have not moved on with their lives. The group has become dependent on the street life, the free meals and the relief services. The Poles whom Barka met in Dublin a few years ago have not noticeably deteriorated in terms of their physical appearance and this is a result of a very good care and a wide system of food distribution and a relatively easy access to different types of services. During the conversations, however, it was easy to recognize their high degree of dependence on alcohol and hopelessness connected to a long-term unemployment. Most demonstrated an attitude of passiveness which makes them to hold on to the current status quo and a lack of strength to overcome this deadlock situation and bring about change. There is a need for a strong support group to assist the men to help them break the vicious circle of drinking and dependence on services.
The situation of vulnerable Eastern European nationals in Dublin can be changed once we join hands and build the partnership to provide favorable conditions for a dignified reconnection of homeless migrants. Recently a homeless man, whom we met on the streets of Dublin 4 years ago, moved to Hamburg. There he met the Leader of Barka Reconnections Scheme. Barka in Hamburg helped the man to return to Poland. Currently he enjoys a new stage of his life staying on the farm in the Chudobczyce community of Barka in Western Poland. We strongly believe that other Eastern European homeless people in Dublin will, with the assistance of Barka, return to rehabilitation and social enterprise schemes in home countries and transform their lives.
We are very grateful to Charles Richards, Betty Sission and the other Trustees of the Mendicity Institution Trust for their commitment and determination to support our countrymen. All Eastern European homeless men we met were deeply thankful to Charles and Mendicity for doing their best to help them.