How to organize assistance for refugees? What tools to use to improve aid mechanisms? What is short-term and long-term aid. We talk to Katarzyna Przybylska of the Habitat for Humanity Poland Foundation about the issue of aid.
Wiktor Bochenek: The Habitat for Humanity Poland Foundation is committed to providing assistance to refugees from Ukraine - how do you work?
Katarzyna Przybylska: We operate on several fronts. As a first line of response, we support the capital city of Warsaw, running a point at the eastern train station where we help connect refugees with people who have registered their apartments with the city 's base. We point out suitable apartments from the base and help get them to it. We have also supplemented this support by providing places in hostels and hotels - making it easier to find places for larger groups. We see that it's also important to prepare for what could be a problem in a few weeks or months - planning for further housing solutions, in the medium and long term. As part of the Social Rental Program, we have created a special path for people from Ukraine. We called this program Habitat for Ukraine.
We rent apartments or houses on the private market and prepare for people from Ukraine. We are approached by many companies that give their properties for free or for maintenance costs. We also want to start operating this program in Silesia. We want to comprehensively support these people, for example in the area of employment.
Viktor Bochenek: Should the assistance end with finding housing and providing supplies? What should be done after that?
Katarzyna Przybylska: There is no one correct answer to this question. Each case is individual. We see our assistance as providing housing, support in paying rent, providing social services to learn the language, find a job or take advantage of available health services. The most important thing for us is for such a family to be able to get back on their feet and cope without someone else's support, e.g. after a year.
Wiktor Bochenek: How many people benefit from your assistance?
Katarzyna Przybylska: At the point in the eastern train station, according to the latest information, we managed to help more than 250 people who benefited from the support of Varsovians and received shelter in apartments from the city base. In addition, we have referred more than 50 people to hotels and hostels. We have acquired an additional ten apartments for long-term purposes, we would like them to serve in the program for up to several years. We know that we can't directly help everyone, or even most. That's why we would also like to promote tested solutions to be undertaken on a wide scale. Habitat operates mainly in Warsaw and Silesia - but we can share our practices and solutions.
Katarzyna Przybylska - Advocacy Manager at Habitat fot Humanity Poland
Photo: Jemma Reit, © Habitat for Humanity Poland
Wiktor Bochenek: What should the refugee reception system look like. Today it's often a decentralized, grassroots effort. Could the mechanisms you are promoting, such as the Social Rent Program, have been used as quickly as the situation has required in recent weeks?
Katarzyna Przybylska: Thanks to the fact that we previously ran the Social Rent Program, we were able to quickly identify the need to adapt it to the needs of people coming from Ukraine. We recognize that many NGOs are conducting similar activities. On the other hand, it is very important to conduct such activities in a systemic way and to develop effective mechanisms for coordinating activities.
Wiktor Bochenek: Will you be sharing your know-how? Have you provided substantive support to local governments or NGOs?
Katarzyna Przybylska: Yes. Since last year, local governments have been able to create Social Rental Agencies - a new solution in Polish law, based, among other things, on the experience of our pilot program. So we are planning webinars or public trainings in the coming weeks to introduce this solution and answer the most common doubts. We would also like to offer consultations or prepare model documents that will facilitate many legislative processes. Nevertheless, for the effectiveness and use of this tool, subsidies to local governments would be greatly needed.
Alisa, 5, plays with teddy bears in the bedroom of a Warsaw apartment provided to the family by the Habitat for Humanity Poland Foundation together with the City of Warsaw. Preparing to flee Ukraine, the girl's mother said she could take what was important to her in her backpack. Alisa chose teddy bears.
Photo: Jemma Reid, © Habitat for Humanity Poland
Wiktor Bochenek: Could youhave prepared better for such a large influx of refugees? If so, how?
Katarzyna Przybylska: This is a difficult question. It is worth noting that the housing crisis existed in Poland long before the refugee crisis. These challenges were already big before that. When looking for solutions, it is also important to keep in mind the people who found themselves in a difficult situation in Poland. Such solutions must be helpful for all those who need to secure housing, as well as those who have been facing these problems in Poland for years. An example would be the amendment of housing allowance regulations, which should become a way to increase the availability of housing for all renters.
Wiktor Bochenek: What should be additionally done today to make the reception and assistance of refugees more organized and accessible to those in need?
Katarzyna Przybylska: First and foremost, rely on coordination and cooperation. For the first weeks, everyone threw themselves into the work. Now there is a moment when we should coordinate. It comes to a situation where activities are duplicated and others are not implemented at all. After coordination, the next steps should be planned out. It's great that the Poles have opened their homes and invited the incoming people to stay with them, but this is not a situation that will last long term. This is not a system. The government, local government, international institutions and NGOs need to plan the next steps, to implement solutions now that will begin to serve in three or six months. It is necessary to develop the housing stock, the existing one as well as the new one to be used. It is also worth adapting and renovating vacant land (both residential and otherwise). Last year, the Institute for Urban and Regional Development conducted a study of the potential of vacant land on our behalf, which showed that in numerous cases it could be used for affordable housing. Especially now, such activities are needed and could complement the necessary construction of new housing stock.
Wiktor Bochenek: Thank you for the interview!
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