The London Housing Foundation is very proud of our long standing partnership with Depaul International. DPI do excellent work in Eastern Europe with vulnerable and homeless people. Depaul is using an LHF grant to help expand their work in Croatia. We asked them to tell us about one of the very many people they have helped in the country.
This is Marko, 33, and his story is one of perseverance, personal development and strength.
When he was just three years old, the centre for social welfare took him from his mum due to her chaotic lifestyle. He could not stay with his father or other family members either and so he was brought to a children’s home. Like so many other children, he received some level of support, but not the level needed to prepare him for making decisions about his life. When he left the care system at 18, he had no idea about how to live by himself, how to find a job or manage his finances – he was left on his own, without the social support he needed.
At this point, he managed to reconnect with his father. However, his situation was far from ideal. After a serious illness he had lost his job and flat and he had moved into social housing. These rooms are generally only slightly better than those you’d find in derelict, abandoned buildings. This is the sad reality of the grave lack of affordable housing in Rijeka, the third largest city in Croatia, located on the Adriatic coast.
Marko stayed with him for about four months but eventually decided to sleep on a friend’s sofa. By the time his friend told him to leave, his father had lost his housing, and so Marko experienced his first nights out in the streets. Still 18, he found himself sleeping on a bench in a park.
What followed were years of temporary jobs, spells of sleeping in abandoned buildings, on friends’ floors, the streets, a garden shed and rented rooms whenever he could afford it. Today, Marko reflects on this time and says that he was his own worst enemy, running away from difficult situations and so ending up back where he started. But back then, it felt like life was stacked against him; it was as if he was caught in the same bad routine over and over again.
Things changed at an unlikely moment. He had just run away from a therapeutic community and was walking back to the day centre of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Rijeka, where he had found the support and warmth he had been looking for. He walked for 30km and says that during this walk he found his spirituality and his life fell into place. He arrived at the day centre that day a changed man; committed to his future, dedicated to leaving the streets behind and with the deep belief that he could overcome any obstacle in his path.
The Sisters of Charity became his vital support network – helping him to face challenges rather than run away from them. Marko found a room in a Salesian convent and spent his days volunteering at the day centre of the Sisters, becoming a valuable member of the team. And when Depaul Croatia was established in 2017 in partnership with the Sisters, new staff were needed to grow the services on offer to homeless people in Rijeka and beyond. Marko was the first new employee!
Today, he is the assistant cook, but so much more too: managing the smooth running of the day centre. He talks to clients when tensions arise, listens to them tell their story and helps them to move forward. Here, his past experiences on the streets mean that people trust him; they believe him when he says there is a way out. And when he says “I understand” – they know he does.
For more information about Depaul International, go to https://int.depaulcharity.org/home
If you would like to apply for funding from the LHF to support your work, go to https://lhf.org.uk/programmes-and-grants/