The London Housing Foundation has supported and worked with Depaul International for over ten years now. During that time, the partnership has helped the charity to grow significantly in its reach to homeless people across Europe.
It all started a decade ago in Bratislava, with an impressive local leader and a near miss car crash.
The LHF trustees, who make regular study visits to understand the response to homelessness in different contexts, were visiting Depaul in Bratislava. During the visit they were profoundly impressed by Depaul’s Slovakia Director Juraj Barat and his team. At the time, Juraj was one of just a handful of people in the country responding to homelessness. A forceful combination of passion and pragmatism, Juraj explained the dangers of Bratislava’s streets, on which dozens of rough sleepers froze to death during winter. The legacy of communism constrained society’s response, with a prevailing assumption that the state dealt with such social issues, even when it didn’t. The LHF trustees were so impressed with Depaul Slovakia, they offered a £20,000 grant during their visit. Juraj almost crashed the car when he heard! And so started the partnership between the LHF and Depaul.
The LHF has continued to make grants to the Depaul International based in London to support the growth of Depaul’s services and creates services in new territories. The LHF has also made grants directly to Depaul’s operations across east Europe.
John Stebbings, an LHF trustee, was part of the group visiting Depaul projects in the Ukraine. His detailed account of earlier trips can be found here https://lhf.org.uk/blog/report-study-tour-depaul-international-slovakia-and-ukranian-projects/. On the more recent visit he recounts one of the people they met being helped by Depaul:
But the most moving case was that of Tatiana. She had a severely disabled child who was 14, but looked much younger, and three other children. Her husband worked on a building site, but they were unable to afford to get out of the camp, barely able to pay the rent for the cabin they were in. She had been told that another family were going to move into her cabin and she would have to share. It was impossible to see how another family could be accommodated in the space. Her situation was desperate. But she was not alone, we met others sharing their sleeping places with strangers. There was no way out for any of them because they couldn’t earn enough to pay rent privately and there is no social housing. They have lost everything. We came away from that encounter thinking that while the problem was much bigger than anything Depaul could hope to tackle alone, their project with children seemed the right approach.
He also commented on another Depaul project, this time in Sniatyn, west Ukraine.
We visit the Zaluchia Orphanage with 130 kids many of whom have profound multiple disabilities housed in a barrack type building where the access facilities are a nightmare. Seven Depaul staff working together with the local government staff are making a tremendous difference on a £30K budget. The government manager seems genuinely grateful for the benefits that they bring and their warmth and kindness shine out of them. Children previously confined to their beds now playing happily in the sunshine and as we leave we are asked “will you come tomorrow….”
At the end of his visit he concludes:
The projects we saw are truly inspiring. They are helping people who have no one else to help them. I’ve no doubt people would die were it not for the efforts of the project workers. Depaul spend annually £280,000 in the Ukraine. It is a small amount of money for an essential service.
There is tremendous progress being made on many fronts for Depaul and in particular having a permanent office in Odessa. There are remarkable people mainly young and all enthusiastic and dedicated. The LHF continues to get many ‘bangs for our bucks’ and we should celebrate the relationship we have with DPI…
Some people might say that the LHF should prioritise its money on London homelessness. However, the European work is highly relevant to the LHF’s wide remit given the high volume of east European nationals on the streets of London. The more we can support the work in eastern Europe the more we can understand the reasons for homelessness and the ‘push factors’ behind people coming to London. There is also much to learn from the responses to homelessness by the voluntary sector in these countries, which due to the lack of public funding are imaginative and innovative. New ideas can often come from those with little resource.
The LHF were crucial early supporters of Depaul’s entry into Ukraine. This initially helped kids sleeping on the streets of Kharkiv, in the east of the country. These kids, some as young as seven, actually slept under the street, next to heating pipes to keep warm. Almost a decade later, Depaul Ukraine now works across three cities helping thousands of people each year. When the conflict broke out in 2014, the LHF redoubled its commitment as Depaul Ukraine was overwhelmed by people fleeing the violence who ended up sleeping rough.
The partnership is so much more than money. The LHF trustees have visited every country in which Depaul works to learn from the various responses in some of the world’s major cities. The LHF trustees have also regularly offered their technical skills and strategic advice, becoming a vital resource for Depaul. Simon Dow, the LHF Chair, presented to Depaul’s senior management on social housing as a tool to ending homelessness. LHF trustees also recently travelled to Dublin to provide consultancy advising on the housing association model to Depaul’s team in Ireland.
One of the most critical interventions came several years ago. The LHF helped to facilitate a visit of Ukrainian officials to London, introducing them to how the city government forges partnerships with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to address homelessness. This was influential in how the Kharkiv government increased its then limited response to rough sleeping. It also led directly to a new memorandum of understanding between the city government and Depaul, allowing new services to open and existing ones to grow. This coordination between the government and the voluntary sector was novel at the time, but crucial in the improvement of homelessness provision in the country.
Separately and more recently, the LHF made a low-interest flexible loan to Depaul UK to finance its head office move and refurbishment; a switch which saves hundreds of thousands of pounds on rent over the coming years. These kinds of innovative interventions have underpinned the multi-layered LHF-Depaul partnership over the years.
Depaul employees working in the UK have regularly participated in the LHF annual leadership course. In fact, DPI’s current CEO was on the very first course over twenty years ago.
Continuing this partnership, the LHF were quick to support Depaul’s latest venture, into Croatia. The grant will support the expansion of the charity beyond the western port city of Rijeka into the surrounding regions, which are grindingly poor, as well as other major cities.
A ten-year strong partnership which continues to flourish! We have come a long way since Juraj almost drove into a ditch with shock.