Nuestra Casa is a unique shelter for the homeless, supporting and encouraging their clients on their way back into society. The organization provides affordable food and shelter for 30 homeless men in Santiago and organizes activities to reintegrate them. They generate 51% of the home's income themselves, doing various kinds of jobs.
We found a unique project in Santiago de Chile, working with adult homeless men who live in the capital, called Nuestra Casa. They strive for social reintegration and independence, and have been quite successful over the years.. In Nuestra Casa, the residents take care of themselves to some extend, and are not treated as charities. All the activities the center organizes revolve around getting the clients back into their roles as responsible citizens. We immediately like what we are told when the director, Isabel, introduces us to their mission.
About 7,000 people are homeless in Santiago, according to a 2005 census that excluded most of the street children, who were hiding from the authorities. The big Christian organization "Hogar de Christo" runs hostels for the homeless, where they accomodate between 5,000 and 10,000 people. In the winter, there is an additional emergency hostel for 200 pesos (0,40 USD) a night. In August, the people sheltered there are released to the streets again. This service, although being a necessary refuge, reaffirms the helplessness of the homeless and has been taken advantage of by people who could afford a place of their own.
One of a kind
Nuestra Casa is the only initiative of its kind in Santiago. It is not religious or political, and focusses on reintegration the homeless, rather than sustaining their desperate situation as street dwellers.
Nuestra Casa was founded ten years ago, when a couple of college student organized a charity event for the homeless. As it showed successful and grew bigger, it become an organization reaching out to a significant number of Santiago's homeless.
The administrator and the cook of Nuestra Casa used to live on the street. Also, a member of the board of directors is currently living in the house.
One of the pathways towards social reintegration is the temporary residency program. About thirty men aged between 18 and 60 years live in the house. They can live there for a period between six months and two years.
dinner in Nuestra Casa
For 1100 pesos (2USD) they get bed and breakfast for a day, while 500 pesos buys them a single meal which, on a side note, is delicious as we had the chance to taste it during our visit to the house. The homeless men trickle in every day and make use of this service, learning discipline and receiving mutual respect. This is where the real work of Nuestra Casa begins, their efforts towards social reintegration.
Much of the work around Nuestra Casa is done by the residents. They are also encouraged to take courses to learn specific skills they could later apply in a job.
Another beautiful initiative of Nuestra Casa is that the homeless people living here help more destitute homeless people to rebuild there lives, by setting a positive example and working in their center.
Futból de Calle
The hombres de Calle play well
Twice a week there is a football workshop for about 30 people 16 years and older. In a cancha, an indoor soccer-sized grass field to be entered only with a sporting outfit, the "Hombres de Calle" receive soccer training.
Last year in september, Brazil organized the Soccer Worldcup for homeless people, and the experienced Nuestra Casa team participated. They went to Denmark in 2006, South Africa in 2007 and Melbourne in 2008 to compete in earlier editions of the Homeless Worldcup. They might not have taken home the first prize, but they had a great time, and the side-effects of social recognition, the feeling of participation in society are obvious.
This time there is a friendly game going on between the Hombres de Calle and employees of a company that is currently supporting the Nuestra Casa initiative, and we cheered for the homeless men who showed excellent soccer skills and won 4-0 in the end. On the soccer field, prejudices are quickly overcome, we realized while watching wild tackles, lucky headers and taking photos from the other side of the fence of the "cancha".
Jueves Solidario (Solidary Thurday)
Nuestra Casa also organizes Solidarity Thursday in la Vega Central (Recoleta), a large urban square famous for its homeless people, where they combine distribution of breads with social counseling. People are treated as equals, and are offered an opportunity to share their problems. They bring about 150 breads, and serve an estimated 100 people each time.
The initiative is part of a number of social programs targeting homeless people to promote their human rights, as well as their obligations as citizens. If you reflect upon their situation, the partial lawlessness of the homeless is a de facto human rights violation:
"A las personas en situación de calle se les excluye hasta violar sus derechos humanos. A nivel ciudadano, por el solo hecho de no tener papeles de identificación, las personas que viven en la calle quedan fuera de los beneficios sociales que entrega el Estado a quienes viven la indigencia. Por no contar con residencia fija no pueden acceder a servicios básicos de salud, educación, vivienda, etc., y con ello estamos en presencia de una clara y masiva vulneración de sus derechos humanos. "
(The homeless are being excluded up to a point where their human rights are violated. Because of the fact that they don't have an ID, the homeless cannot use social benefits that the State has designed for the poor. They don't have access to basic services like healthcare, education, shelter, etc, and that means a clear violation of their human rights.)
Nuestra Casa is also active around the Central hospital of Santiago and in other areas.
Support and Outlook
Nuestra Casa is supported by some local companies and about 100 private sponsors. We make a modest donation on behalf of Charity Travel, and hope to connect the initiative to other cities, since it definitely deserves a Certificate of Excellence.
Nuestra Casa is currently looking for a small place that can accomodate up to eight people as part of their reintegration program.
They are welcoming international volunteers, preferably those who speak Spanish (but courses can be arranged). After an interview, volunteers will be placed in one of the centers. If you are interested contact Nuestra Casa through their website.