As the poorest country in Europe, the issue of poverty and poor housing is one of many problems that Romanian society has to face. The fall of the dictatorship revealed the scandal of the Romanian orphanages and the fact that, after leaving the orphanages, many children ended up living the street without any help from the government. 25 years later, the situation is changing all too slowly, as revealed in the report by FEANTSA (European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless), which ranked Romania 24th out of 28 in its study on poor housing within the European Union. Those affected by the issue of poor housing often have very restricted access to basic needs such as food, hygiene, security and education.
In response to this situation, several French associations linked to Emmaus began setting up soup kitchens in 1997 in Iasi, a city in the east of the country which is the capital of the poorest region in Romania. Meetings between French and Romanian people who wanted to become involved in helping Iasi’s marginalised population were what laid the foundation for this Emmaus community.
Every evening of the week, the soup kitchen team head to four locations in Iasi: Copou, where many families live in extremely deprived conditions, the centre and the station, where many homeless people gather, and the Rossetti hostel that provides temporary accommodation for 50 people and permanent accommodation for 100.
The soup kitchen operates non-stop throughout the year. More work is carried out during the winter, whether due to the quantity of food being distributed or the number of people involved in the project.
At the soup kitchen, we hand out a meal made up of a sandwich, a piece of fruit, hot soup during the winter, and a cup of tea throughout the rest of the year. In total, 100 meals are distributed each night (and between 150 and 200 in winter).
Two times a month, we also hand out a large quantity of clothing, shoes, blankets and candles to those with inadequate housing.
Finally, we work to maintain a social link with those who benefit from our work, supporting them in various administrative and medical procedures. More specifically, we try to help with child and adult education, helping them to complete their files when they need to renew pensions or identity cards. We also deal with burials for those who have died on the streets.
It tends to be at the soup kitchen that we approach people who meet the necessary criteria for joining our community.
- A civic service volunteer in charge of soup kitchens
- A civic service volunteer to coordinate the administrative side
- A paid social assistant and social worker that support those in need with administrative procedures
- Several companions who are involved in preparing and distributing meals
- A dentistry student who offers care free of charge
- Romanian and foreign students who regularly help out with distribution
Our group’s activity is financed by two organisations external to Emmaus:
- MERGEM is a Belgian association that has been very involved with Romanian orphanages for more than 20 years. The company pays for the sandwiches, apples and tea distributed through the soup kitchen, and also pays the salary of our social assistant.
- HEAVEN SOLUTIONS is a Romanian company that set up a partnership with PLACINTE and that pays for the soup we distribute.
- Several large businesses in Iasi (e.g. Kaufland, Auchan) occasionally make donations of food, particularly at Christmas time.
Other partners involved with what we do:
- PLACINTE is a Romanian restaurant that supplies soup for our soup kitchen. The chefs volunteer their time to prepare this soup.
- The PROVIDENTIA hospital covers the medical fees of homeless patients and provides free-of-charge care.
- The Iasi INSTITUT FRANÇAIS does a large amount of publicity concerting our social activity and regularly organises for the collection of clothes and food for us.
The community’s aim is to take as many people as possible off the streets and to help the homeless in the best way possible. We therefore want to broaden our scope of action through creating more distribution points (Copou, the centre and the station are all more or less in the city centre). We also feel it is necessary to improve the quality of the food we distribute to ensure it meets the nutritional needs of those we help.
For several months, we have been working on opening a social-medical centre – a day centre where those in need can have access to medical care and help with administrative procedures free of charge. We work closely with the city council to ensure that those in need are made aware of their rights within Romania.
For us, success is in managing to take someone off the streets and get them to join our community, giving them back their social dignity and providing access to housing, work and training. Joining our community is a first step towards independence and social rehabilitation. Since Un Coup de Main d’Emmaüs started, 250 companions have either passed through or established themselves within our community. Families have been created, some have found work and, we hope, none of them will return to the streets. Over the years, we have also managed to create a bond of trust between the community and the city’s homeless population. This bond helps us to prevent the social isolation that this population often suffers from.
We have identified two key needs for improving our activity. Firstly, in order to develop the soup kitchens, and in particular to increase the number of distribution points and improve the quality of food, we need to source more funding and find more people willing to get involved with the project.
Secondly, we have various needs relating to the day centre. These are mainly of an administrative and financial nature, but are stopping us from rapidly implementing this project.