Streetworking: Bringing hope and help

They are known as street people because they hang out not at home, school or at a cafe but on the street.
They include young people with nothing particular to do, the homeless and prostitutes, both women and men.
Although most social service agencies still focus mainly on the home, some are trying to help street people.
Helping young people
Marcin Dziurok, Bettina Gerhardt, Lukasz Hobot , Hanka Krochulec, Karolina Ulbrych and Jacek Krawczyk have formed two-person teams for their work. Each team is assigned to one of two areas. One area covers the Prokocim, Wola Duchacka and Piaski Nowe districts. The other covers the Rzaka, Kozlowek, Kurdwanow  and Biezanow districts.
They have been helping young people from housing complexes in the suburbs, so they work out of an office there.
They are part of a project called, ?Street Work ? Effective Contact With People.? The City Center for Social Help (?Miejski Ośrodek Pomocy Społecznej?) started the program in 2006. The European Social Fund has come up with part of the money for the effort.
Each team?s job is to make contact with young people who are spending their time uselessly outside their apartments. The goal is to try to help those who need it.
The usual approach is to catch a young person?s eye, then ask how it?s going.
They won?t approach anyone who seems threatening or under the influence of alcohol or drugs because the number one rule of street-working is not to interfere if unwelcome.
Their goal is to remember everyone they meet and know what their problems and needs are.
After the ice is broken, they try to develop insightful relationships with the young person.  
At the end of each day, they put together a report that covers how many people they saw and how many they talked to, including the young people?s identities and needs. In weekly staff meetings they decide whom they should help first ? that is, which problems are of most immediate importance.
Many young people are bound to their district, sometimes to the extent of being afraid to go outside it. Many don?t know what they want to do with their life or how to fight for their rights. Street workers help them find answers.
?When someone said that he and his friends would like to have a new basket for their basketball court, we went with them to a meeting of the district council — to the surprise of adults — and encouraged them to say what they wanted in an open, straightforward way,? said Krochulec.
Street workers also check which institutions are available to young people. They then organize activities for them, including basketball games at schools, graffiti wall painting or Valentine?s Day events as the street workers? offices.
The third team in the center?s project has an office on ul. Felicjanek, not the suburbs, because its works with the homeless, many of whom are in the center.
The teams focus on the Main and Plaszow train stations, the Planty area downtown and the Nowa Huta and Krowodrza districts.
?They live in the gardens of Krowodrza and Nowa Huta, then come to the center to pick up scraps, beg or go to soup kitchens,? says Lukasz Filek, one of the street workers.
?We spend half of our work time in the field — around 5 hours — and for two hours the office is open,? Iwona Kafel said.  ?People can come and talk here, get some food, cleansers or ask for specific help.?
The street-workers try to strike up a conversation with a homeless person, introduce themselves, describe what they are doing and ask if they can help in any way.
?Very often our clients are brought by others with whom we have made contact,? Filek said. Although they walk on the street in pairs, there is a third person in the office ?dealing with problems like organizing documents for our clients, applying for an ID in the Municipal Office.? These are things that the homeless ?are afraid to do by themselves, afraid they will be sent back again and again.
?Right now we work with around 140 people, know their names, give them concrete feedback,? Kafel said.
Most of Krakow?s estimated 2,000 homeless are men around 40. Many have alcohol problems, are unemployed or have been evicted from their homes.
Women in prostitution
Street-workers from the group Center for Prevention and Social Education UMBRELLA (?Centrum Profilaktyki i Edukacji Społecznej PARASOL?), try to help prostitutes, both women and men.
The group grew out of a workshop on harm reduction in 1998. This project has been focused from the beginning on helping prostitutes working the streets.
Marcin Drewniak, a member of the organization, said harm reduction involves helping members of society whom many would consider in hopeless existences, such as prostitutes and drug addicts. The goal, as much as possible, is to try to keep them out of harm?s way.
For example, if someone is a prostitute, ?we try to teach them how to lower their risk of HIV infection,? Drewniak said.
In Parasol?s two years of work, the staff has developed trust among many of the sex workers they?ve meet.
The highest number of sex workers prowling the streets of Krakow on a given day is estimated at 100. That is less than it used to be because after Poland joined the EU the number of prostitutes from Ukraine and Russia fell.
Parosol members try to be helpful but not intrusive.
?We use professional language unknown to these women,? Drewniak said. ?Usually they don?t know the difference between the terms oral and anal sex, asking us very often what they mean. They use their own slang. Different language can mean a different attitude. As a result, they can start to treat themselves more respectfully.
Parasol staff teach the women about contraception and things they can use to make sex easier or cleaner, such lubricants and hygienic wipes. They also teach them how to protect themselves if clients refuse to use condoms. Parasol workers are always ready to listen to the stories of the prostitutes, including their regrets. They become something of a moving confessional, listening but not being judgmental.
If someone wants to get off the street, Parasol workers explain how they can.
?It is a myth that prostitutes earn a lot,? Drewniak said. ?In Poland oral sex costs 40-50 zloty and vaginal 50 to 60 zloty. At the beginning women earn 80 zloty and think that they will soon stop. In reality they become dependent on the small amounts of money they acquire each night. So the first step to get them back in society is for them to learn how to save money.?
Men in prostitution
Parasol started a program to help male prostitutes in 2004.
It is difficult to estimate how many men are sex workers in Krakow. Most started as the teen lovers of so-called sponsors. After the sponsors exchanged them with friends and friends of friends, they ended up on the street at about 19 or 20 with no job skills and no self-preservation skills.
About 40 male sex workers gather in a park area called ?Pikieta? each night to wait for clients.
?Many potential clients come there completely drunk,? Drewniak. ?They are scared of revealing their true sexuality and possibility of being recognized.?
Although Pikieta is still a prostitute-client hookup place, the gay prostitute culture has also moved to nightclubs. Parasol has started an educational project to bring sexual awareness to those in the nightclub scene, too.
?Krakow is attracting many people with a different sexual orientation to come in the Malopolska region,? Marcin Drewniak said.
A new law forbids school teachers from discussing alternative sexual orientations in their classrooms, Drewniak pointed out.
Because of this law, which Education Minister Roman Giertych is enforcing, ?coming out? will be difficult for many young gays, Drewniak said. One thing is common among all street-workers: They help those whom society has marginalized or essentially excluded.
?In order to help, we have to be open and honest, always ready? for contact with those in harm?s way, Marcin Drewniak said.

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