About 300 thousand homeless people in Poland are struggling to survive the winter. The below-zero (Celsius) temperatures of the new year signify the most difficult period for the homeless, not only because of the cold but also because of the diseases which attack them.
In November, two people died from hypothermia. Recently in Warsaw, a man died after an explosion in a warm shaft which he used as a shelter from the cold.
According to law, each homeless person has the right to help from local authorities. This includes shelter, warm meals, clothes and medical service.
From the end of October to February, the homeless can count on extra warm meals, shelters and free phone numbers from which they can gain information where they will find help. Street workers within the program called “Winter” are trying to persuade the homeless to spend nights in shelters. Unfortunately, many homeless people don’t accept the help.
They prefer freedom to security.
Shelters have rules: a time for waking up and a time for turning off the lights. In the winter, the shelters relax the rules by accommodating all people ? including those who don’t fulfill the alcohol abstention condition.
Doctors warn that alcohol can be a greater danger to human life during cold weather.
“The opinion that alcohol warms the human body is deceptive,” said Warsaw Dr. Marek Niemirski. “The alcohol widens blood vessels and gives the feeling of warmth. However, the temperature from the wider blood vessels runs down quicker.”
Kitchens offer nourishment and warmth to those don’t want to stay overnight in shelters. In Warsaw, 12 kitchens serve about 3,000 meals each day.
“The hot soup is served for people who don’t want to spend cool days in the shelters,” said Teresa Sierawska from the social politics bureau in the Municipal Office in Warsaw.
The kitchens also deliver soup to the suburbs and to the Vistula River, where homeless people gather. In the Mazowsze region there is a special day-night phone number 92-87 for people who need shelter or food. Jacek Polanczyl of the Mazowsze Province Office said the phone has been ringing much more often recently.
In Warsaw’s, shelters can house 2,000 people, with accommodations for another 1,000 being prepared.
In Krakow, according to the Municipal Office for Social Help, there are about 2,400 homeless. The local council has budgeted almost 4 mln zloty for assistance. There are eight shelters for men and five shelters for women and mothers with children.
The most widely known organization in Poland that helps the homeless is the non-governmental, Catholic charity organization called St. Brother Albert’s Aid Society. It was founded in 1981 to help people recover from homelessness through social work.
The society has 62 homes in which about 3,000 people can find shelter.
According to the St. Brother Albert’s Society web site, the homeless are mostly Poles, but also foreigners, especially those from across the eastern border.
There are more men than women in the shelters, most often divorced husbands and fathers. They include alcoholics, drug addicts and ex-prisoners, but also men who have lost their jobs as well as elderly people left alone by their families and people with mental disorders.
In many cases, the mental problems resulted from miserable childhoods spent in pathological families or orphanages.
Among the homeless women, the largest groups are unmarried mothers rejected by their families and closest friends, women ill-treated by their alcoholic husbands, and elderly women abandoned by their adult children.
According to St. Brother Albert’s: “There are needs that individuals cannot be deprived of by the general public, and these are: bread and the roof over your head.”