Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Belgrade homeless people can take a shower, get help at a mobile bus center

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP). On a sunny autumn day, a group of people wait patiently next to a blue bus parked under a bridge in Belgrade. This will be a rare opportunity for them to shower, wash their clothes or undergo a medical examination.

Three times a week, a humanitarian organization working in Serbia opens its mobile bus center for the homeless, offering basic services and assistance to some of the thousands of people living and sleeping in the capital of the Balkan country.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency project has gradually developed over the past four years. But its importance has grown since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which has pushed already vulnerable communities further by the wayside.

Igor Mitrovic, executive manager of the ADRA group behind the project, estimates that there are 7,000 homeless people in Belgrade alone.

“(The homeless) are now even more vulnerable,” he said.

The homeless in Belgrade, who regularly suffer from chronic illness, mental illness or substance abuse, are mostly undocumented and live out of sight of the state. According to Mitrovic, ADRA strives to discover as much as possible, offer immediate assistance and try to get them back into the system in the long term.

“Almost all of them were abandoned by society,” he said. “They were left with no IDs, no connection to the health or welfare system.”

While the sight of homeless people sleeping in parks and on the streets is common in most of the world’s capitals, it is relatively recent in Serbia, following the violent collapse of the former communist Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the post-war transition period.

Mitrovic said that Belgrade’s homeless are thus mostly people aged 50 and over who find themselves lost in the chaos of economic destruction that followed the Yugoslav wars and the collapse of the socialist welfare state.

“We have about 1,000 people (whom) we try to help relatively regularly on a daily basis, and perhaps 2,000 people whom we, at least once a year, help in some way to reduce the negative consequences of living on the street”, – said Mitrovic.

Belgrade, with a population of 2 million, has urban shelters, but its 100 places are usually fully booked in advance, and this is far from enough. Authorities have pledged to open an additional shelter and have installed temporary structures in various parts of the city.

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According to Mitrovic, part of the international ADRA network in Serbia was working on the bus project in partnership with the Belgrade authorities, the US and Slovak governments through USAID and SlovakAid. The bus, dubbed “Drumodom”, which roughly translates to “Home on the Road,” is intended as a temporary stop on the “way back home” for the homeless.

“This is the first goal – to protect their health, to try to find some kind of shelter or to speak for them in the government shelter so that they can be accommodated,” Mitrovic said. “And secondly, and more importantly, find some kind of long-term or medium-term solution.”

Mitrovic explained that with no income anymore, vulnerable groups such as the homeless found their options even more limited during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has widened existing social gaps. This has exacerbated their isolation, especially during the almost complete isolation last year.

“Even these minimal opportunities on the brink of public life, such as collecting anything or using any recyclable waste for resale, have been dramatically reduced,” Mitrovic said.

Slavko Antonić, 64, who said he is a former pilot from Bosnia, told the AP that the pandemic restrictions prevented him from returning home to the northwestern city of Prijedor, where he has little disability income after being injured in the 1990s war. years.

Showing what he said was a copy of his Bosnian ID, Antonik said he now has no money or the ability to travel and lives in an abandoned camping trailer with no electricity or running water. According to Anthonik, a restaurant nearby is storing food leftovers and can be kept clean thanks to the ADRA bus.

“I gave up, I never thought I would ask people for money, but now I give up and good people give me money,” he said. “I feel like I can’t remember who I am anymore.”

Nation World News Desk
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