Poland’s 2004 Act on Social Assistance defines a homeless person as someone who “is not living in a dwelling” and “is not registered for permanent residence or is registered for a permanent residence in a dwelling in which they have no possibility of living.” The nation and organizations are taking several steps to address homelessness in Poland.
The Root Causes of Homelessness in Poland
In Europe overall, some researchers have found that “drug misuse, especially when co-related with mental illness, is a major factor in causing homelessness.” However, this does not mean that all homeless people have drug problems or mental illnesses. From January 2005 through June 2006 in Poland, experts conducted a study on the links between substance addiction and mental health diagnosis in homeless people. The study concludes that out of 200 homeless people, 57.4% suffer from substance addiction or a mental illness. Though not direct causes of homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness serve as contributing factors to homelessness, especially if there is little to no assistance to help them overcome or manage their conditions.
In Poland specifically, homelessness is largely linked to a lack of affordable homes on the market, placing adequate shelter out of reach for many. According to Habitat for Humanity, “Poland lacks about 1.5 million affordable homes.” In addition, about 70% of Polish families cannot afford the costs of a mortgage and Poland’s “rent market accounts [for] only 6% of the total housing stock.” Due to these circumstances, many struggle without adequate shelter.
Nonprofit work with a focus on homelessness helps to transform lives, ensuring that 40% of Polish citizens (around 15 million people) no longer have to live in inadequate and cramped housing.
Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity is a global nonprofit organization that began working in Poland in 1992. The organization’s vision is “a world where everyone has a decent place to live.” Habitat for Humanity’s work centers around providing assistance to impoverished people who lack shelter or live in substandard housing.
Habitat for Humanity has established the very “first nonprofit rental agency in Poland,” which aims to improve “access to affordable housing” for impoverished Polish people. The organization also raises awareness of homelessness in Poland and advocates for amendments to legislation and policies to increase access to affordable housing in Poland.
On the ground, Habitat for Humanity assists impoverished people in constructing and renovating housing. The organization works with the individuals in need as well as partners, donors and volunteers to achieve these goals. Habitat for Humanity also supports “homeless shelters, centers for victims of violence, nursing homes for disabled people, orphanages or youth facilities” through reconstruction or renovation work that ensures Poland’s most vulnerable groups reside in adequate conditions.
Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program provides opportunities to global volunteers to construct housing along with families in need. The program runs in several countries with severe houses crises, such as Poland. During the months of March through September, the Global Village program hosts construction projects in the Polish cities of Warsaw and Gliwice.
Since its establishment in Poland, the organization has constructed 120 housing units, among many other efforts to address homelessness in Poland on a broader scale.
The Future of Homelessness in Poland
Recognizing the struggles of the homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Polish government allotted more than PLN 17 million ($4.2 million) in 2020 to assist the homeless. Through the Streetwork Academy project, more than 4,200 homeless people received support during COVID-19 through funding worth PLN 5.45 million ($1.3 million). From June to September 2020, the project distributed more than 20,000 protective face masks to the homeless.
With ongoing commitments to address homelessness in Poland, there is hope for one of the nation’s most disadvantaged groups to live a better quality of life.
– Kyle Swingle