The Solidarity Lockers initiative began in Lisbon, as a result of conversations that ACA volunteers had with people living on the streets. It became clear that homeless people are waging a daily battle to prevent their money, documents, clothing and belongings which have a sentimental value from being stolen and that they needed a safe place to keep their belongings. “In the street, there is no trust. It’s every man for himself, you just have to find a way to get by.” These solidarity lockers are offering trust to the homeless people who receive one.
After a long design process with a local company, the first solidarity lockers were set up in Lisbon in 2015. In 2018, 60 lockers were offered to homeless people who agreed to sign a contract which included an obligatory weekly meeting with a social worker. The results are impressive: over two-thirds of those who have left the scheme have been able to find work, housing, a rehabilitation centre or a reintegration community.
Emmaus Alternatives is responsible for setting up the first solidarity lockers for homeless people in France. In partnership with the city of Montreuil, near Paris, and the Portuguese Association ACA, 12 lockers were installed in October 2018, and an additional 12 in November 2020.
With its simplicity and immediate positive impact, this project complements the work Emmaus Alternatives has carried out since 1991, supporting people living on the streets, or those alienated from the labour market, in accessing their rights and finding employment.
Far from keeping people on the street, this project is a new reintegration tool, targeting those who are most excluded. Indeed, although the solidarity lockers aim to meet a specific, fundamental need, the social support work and the social links created around access to these lockers are essential for forging a path to gradually help people get off the streets, following a step-by-step process.
Identifying the public
The new beneficiaries are identified by means of visits made by social workers to the area concerned. Some individuals volunteer to join the scheme spontaneously.
• A locker enables the beneficiary to safely store their personal belongings. Each beneficiary receives a key so they have access to their belongings 24/7.
• The beneficiary is supported by a specific social support worker who offers a weekly meeting to support them in their reintegration process. This commitment (to attend the meetings and take the necessary steps) is set out in a contract signed at the time of handing over the key to the locker.
Registered address: We have made the decision not to systematically register all the beneficiaries at our association, but to direct them towards to the CCAS (Community Social Action Centre) in Montreuil, in order to maintain the link with the mainstream services. In total, 7 registered addresses have been set up.
Administrative support: When the scheme was set up, those receiving a locker had been living on the streets for several months, some even for several years, and they no longer engaged in administrative procedures. They did not ask for help from support services.
The administrative support that we provide should help them to regain confidence and, with our support, to agree to carry out administrative procedures (identity card, access to health care, etc.).
Healthcare support: For 7 of the beneficiaries, setting up health care support was required and was a prerequisite to all reintegration efforts. This provision is carried out systematically through physical support (for medical appointments and specialised services for addiction). We have also taken steps to ensure access to health-related rights.
Finding housing: Our initiative involved completing Interview and Evaluation Sheets (13 beneficiaries) and calling the 115 emergency social services (11 people). The majority of those supported do not want us to start finding them accommodation, as they are worried about the conditions in which they might be housed (shared housing, put out onto the street in the morning, etc.).
Street support alerts: During the lockdown, the social worker was able to make 3 alerts to the Mobile Aid Teams (REMA) using “the street support alert form” set up by our partners at 115 (emergency social services) and the integrated reception and guidance service (SIAO). These teams were also able to provide help (food parcels, essential clothing, social contact) to 3 locker recipients who were facing grave hardships due to the closure of the services they normally frequented, particularly in the evening during this period.
Food aid: We took action to help 7 users who expressed a need for food aid, either internally (distribution of food parcels every Friday at the association’s head office) or by directing them to the Restos du Cœur [French association which provides free meals].
Clothing and equipment assistance: All the beneficiaries have received clothing vouchers enabling them to find suitable clothing as required for the season from one of our clothing shops. For 7 of them, we provided other essential items (sleeping bags and covers), to improve their living conditions on the street.
Professional reintegration support: 4 people state they have a professional activity: 1 person has a part-time, permanent contract; 2 people have interim/temporary work and one person is part of a reintegration scheme. One person has been referred to our reintegration scheme to become a volunteer.
Financial support: We provide users without income with financial aid to improve their daily lives (payment of fees to renew their national identify card and French classes).
End of care
Ms M: She left the scheme with a personal solution and a permanent job. Her situation is still precarious, access to independent accommodation remains impossible until she starts divorce proceedings.
Duration of care: 14 months.
Mr N: He never adhered to the scheme. For him, it was simply a question of storing his belongings safely. He refused to have any discussions or interaction with the social worker. We stopped his care. Duration of care: 10 months.
Mr E: Mr E was a very independent individual who had very little need for a social worker. Throughout the support period, he shared the numerous plans he was able to put into effect by himself. He found a job which he then lost two months later. Shortly afterwards, he was removed from his home (a squat), and that is when he turned to his social worker. Very quickly he once again refused any offers of support. He made abusive and threatening speeches. He emptied out his locker himself. Duration of care: 14 months.
Mr C: Mr C’s request on joining this scheme and throughout the support process was to be able to find housing and look for a job. The support focussed on looking for accommodation by trying to remove the long-term obstacles (duplicate residence permit, psychological care) which slowed down the fulfilment of his plan. The care period ended when Mr C was imprisoned for a long period of time. Duration of care: 17 months.
Mr Y: Mr Y’s support mainly concerned gaining access to his entitlement to Revenu de Solidarité Active (Active Solidarity Income) and medical care (fragile health). He showed no desire to leave the streets and find a job. The key was return by mutual agreement. Today, he stays with his brothers from time to time and he continues to receive treatment. Duration of care: 15 months.
The average duration of care was 14 months for the individuals supported.
A social worker who is provided with portable IT equipment so that the online procedures can be carried out in the street (telephone, computer, internet connection).
His work and development are supported by the Director of Social Action and Housing, who is also responsible for developing and sustaining this scheme.
Partnership is a fundamental aspect of the care we offer as part of this scheme. The issues that must be addressed require collaboration with local partners (mostly based in Montreuil).
Our principal external partners:
– Services of the city of Montreuil
– CCAS (Community Social Action Centre) of Montreuil
– Pass ambulatory service CHI (Centre Hospitalier Intercommunal) André Grégoire
– P.R.O.S.E.S association (Risk prevention, social guidance, needle exchange)
– CAARUD (Reception centre and support for risk reduction for drug users)
– CPAM (Primary health insurance fund)
– CAF (Family allowance fund)
– Le Pôle Emploi (Job centre)
– Capass Cite (association providing specific care)
– Bol d’air
– La Boussole
– Les Maraudes 115 (emergency social services)
– Social worker at the police station of Montreuil
– Drop-in centre (food, shower, registered address)
– RSA (Active Solidarity Income) instruction and reference service
All the individuals are isolated, 3 have children who are not dependent on them.
The majority of individuals supported have spent a long time on the street.
It can be observed that for all beneficiaries, an event has occurred in their lives which has led to them living on the street: the breakup or loss of structural elements in their lives triggered the loss of reference points and subsequently led to homelessness.
When they joined the scheme, all the individuals lived on the street or in a shelter within 2 kilometres of the lockers.
Of the 16 individuals involved, 6 had a national identity card, whereas 4 did not. 2 had a resident permit. In addition, one person had a resident permit which had expired.
3 beneficiaries were undocumented in France and some had been here for many years.
4 individuals were working.
On joining the scheme, 3 people had no rights. For the 13 others, their rights were active or in the process of being renewed.
*Cimade, legal aid, public finance department
We can observe that the key requests involved rights and being listened to. Lack of housing is an issue which is not widely expressed, despite the fact that they are living on the street during their initial interviews.
The team was able to highlight the value of the solidarity lockers for all people living on the streets. Emmaus Alternatives has just received a grant of 255,000 euros to develop this scheme throughout France. This sum was transferred to the association as part of a call for projects by the ‘La France s’engage’ Foundation, founded by the former French president, François Hollande.
The association plans to target cities with over 100,000 inhabitants, where proposals for solidarity schemes with the homeless are included within a participatory budget. It also intends to rely on the associations in the municipalities concerned to provide social support for the beneficiaries.
Emmaus Alternatives hired a development officer in January 2021, for the purpose of rolling out this scheme in fourteen cities in France. We are preparing to install 24 lockers in Paris, including 12 from 2021 on the square in front of the Georges Pompidou Centre. 12 lockers will also be installed in Clermont-Ferrand in mid-March 2021.
Objectives for 2023: “Create a network of solidarity lockers to pool best practices, for example, in order for social workers not to feel alone”.
October 2018: installation of 12 solidarity lockers in Montreuil.
Between 15 October 2018 and 30 September 2020, 16 people have benefitted from a locker.
November 2020: installation of 12 new solidarity lockers in Montreuil.
The city of Montreuil now has 24 solidarity lockers. Thanks to this scheme, nine of the twelve initial individuals still benefit from this scheme, and those who were undocumented and had no health care coverage, have now been able to obtain an identity card and Universal Health Coverage (CMU, for its initials in French).
Awarded ‘La France s'engage’ Foundation funding in 2020
Le Parisien 30/11/2020 Montreuil : les sans-abri trouvent un casier et une main tendue grâce à Emmaüs - Le Parisien
France Inter – 08/12
On the road to autonomy
Situation on joining the scheme: Mr K, 39 years of age, joined the solidarity locker scheme in April 2019. He had been homeless and socially alienated for several years. He talks about his family ties as non-existent. Before becoming permanently homeless in 2016, he had lived for 4 years in residential accommodation. On joining this scheme, his social and administrative status was no longer up-to-date. He no longer had a national identity card, his rights to RSA (active solidarity income) had expired, he was not aware that he was entitled to CCS (supplementary health insurance) and that he was entitled to a Solidarity Transport Card. He was not registered with the Job Centre. He stated that it was difficult for him to begin taking any administrative steps. Another significant obstacle that he shared with us, was the difficulty he faced keeping his belongings and administrative documents safe from being lost or stolen.
Support and actions taken:
It was a relief for him to store his belongings safely in a locker. He told us that being given a locker was a load off his mind. The flexibility of the scheme meant that we could meet very regularly in an informal way (no need to set up compulsory meetings). We met or saw him at the foot of the lockers, in a café or at the day centre when he came to have a shower. Gradually a bond of trust was created. The first step was to physically accompany him to the different offices to renew his national identity card (photo, purchase of the tax stamp thanks to a refundable financial advance from the association, civil status appointment). After obtaining his national identity card, Mr K asked the social worker to initiate other administrative steps. He agreed to be enrolled with the SI – SIAO to obtain accommodation. He became a little more active. He reported the difficulties he was having with his bank and the social worker went with him to the bank. He transferred branches, got his bank account details, he was also able to order a bank card to withdraw money. After regularising his situation with the bank, he was able to complete his request for RSA (active solidarity income) through the Emmaus Alternatives dedicated service. Another important point related to his social security status. He thought he did not have any entitlement, so he had never consulted a doctor or been to the emergency department, even though it was necessary for his health condition. Once again, he was accompanied to the CPAM office (primary care medical insurance), he was able to connect to his AMELI account (online health insurance) and see that he was entitled to health care rights. Over the following days, he made a dental appointment and a medical appointment to treat his injuries due to multiple aggressions.
During lockdown, the social worker did not hear from him, he was no longer at his dwelling (a squat in a car park in Montreuil). The social worker’s daily rounds led him to find Mr K. The latter stated that he was very dispirited by the health situation, and he spoke of his feelings of loneliness and exclusion. He was informed of the possibility of having a shower and a meal through a scheme started and managed by Emmaus Alternatives thanks to the provision of a gymnasium by the city of Montreuil. He agreed to go and the relationship was re-established. After the summer, Mr K mentioned that he would like to find a job (while living in the residential accommodation, Mr K had always worked), but he emphasised that it was difficult to live on the street and stick to working hours. We suggested that he join the ‘Premières Heures’ Scheme (hourly and progressive work). Mr K agreed; before starting, he will have to complete an application, provide all the necessary documents and create a CV. He will start on 5 November 2020, 4 hours per week.
Today, Mr K is keen to work but he has expressed some concerns about returning to employment (fear of not being able to respect working hours and the work environment). Mr K’s aim is to progress in his professional reintegration and to access independent accommodation.
From key to trust
Situation on joining the scheme: Mrs B, aged 45, joined the solidarity locker scheme on 28 January 2020. She had become homeless after being evicted from her apartment. This eviction was due to the behaviour of people that she housed (neighbourhood disturbance). Due to her physical state and her addictions, she was unable to manage the situation which very quickly deteriorated. She then found herself alone on the street, very angry and only her Adult Disability Allowance for income. Her family relationships are very complicated and unreliable. She says she used to work for the commune of Montreuil but now she has been out of work for several years. On joining this scheme, Mrs B was very angry, sad and very often under the influence of alcohol, as she expressed that she felt that she had never been listened to.
Support and actions taken: The first stage involved signing the contract and issuing the key to her locker. This step was an important one for Mrs B. She thanked us for the trust we had placed in her. Over a number of weeks, trusting and listening to her have enabled her to express her expectations: to stop drinking, suffering and to get back to life as it was before. The first step was to sort through her papers. This step helped her to get organised and to see things clearer. A registered address at Emmaus Alternatives was set up. This enabled her to centralise all the administrative procedures and avoided her paperwork being sent to different places. This step allowed her to ensure that she had access to all her rights. Over the weeks, the daily support and availability of the social worker enabled her to find the listening ear that she seemed to be missing and to create a relationship of trust. She was able to express her suffering due to her addictions. The option of detoxification was discussed with her. After a few weeks, she asked to enter a treatment programme herself. For this step, she had to write motivation letters and look back at her history. This work required a lot of effort. She found the motivation and energy to undergo the medical examinations required. The social worker was present at the various appointments. In August 2020, she started treatment at a hospital for a period of two and a half weeks. Following the treatment, two requests to enter a therapeutic community were made - one in the Paris area, another in the provinces. However, after several interviews she was refused admission into a therapeutic community. Too much time passed between being discharged from hospital and the possibility of entering a therapeutic community. She started to drink again. Her condition is no longer compatible with these services.
Conclusion: After discussions with the social worker from the therapeutic communities, it was agreed that she should start the course again but to anticipate the continuation of treatment. She will start treatment if she has a place in a facility following her discharge. Work with structures such as Intermezzo (an emergency and transitional service for all people suffering from addiction, who are sober and abstinent or sober and receiving substitution treatment) or a therapeutic community should be carried out before starting treatment. Today, Mrs B is in a different state of mind, she is making plans. Although she is still fragile, she dares to believe. She told us that being supported has enabled her not to give up. Efforts to find a post-treatment facility continue. Mrs B is even thinking about professional reintegration.
Since 2018, we have been identifying needs, particularly in terms of human resources to enable us to develop the scheme at a national level. Being awarded funding from the ‘La France s’engage’ Foundation has enabled us to respond to this need.