In Uruguay, Adriana Abraham is creating an innovative and comprehensive center to combine service to street people with programs to prevent vulnerable populations from falling into this condition.
La idea nueva
Adriana Abraham launched the Center for Human Promotion in order to provide new tools for social re integration to people who live on the street. She works to coordinate and enhance the existing food and shelter options for those who are already homeless, but she also identifies groups of people whose circumstances are becoming precarious, then offers support, job training and references that will keep them from falling all the way into indigence. Her objective is to combine direct services to street people with prevention strategies for other vulnerable groups, thereby contributing to their social reintegration, encouraging them to exercise their rights as citizens, and rescuing them from a negative cycle of marginalization and self-destruction. Adriana seeks to guarantee them a more dignified life and facilitate the reconstruction of ruptured social relationships. To achieve this goal she is using an interdisciplinary approach, addressing their physical, psychological, and social needs.
Adriana has also led an informal coordination among existing shelters in order to share experiences and information about the search for a broader solution to homelessness in Uruguay. Her Center is pushing a debate with government entities to implement the proposals that emerge from this inter institutional dialogue. Over the past few years, despite her youth, she has emerged as a champion in the quest for unified responses to the problems of homelessness and social alienation.
Despite many outward signs of "development," Uruguay is still a country of extremes, in terms of wealth and opportunity, with a significant proportion of the population whose income does not cover their basic needs. Some of these men and women now survive on the street, while others are poised to join them. Over the past few years, citizen organizations have begun to respond to the needs of this population, by opening shelters; Montevideo now has four night hostels in the central zone of the city, mostly supported by religious institutions which offer food and lodging to the homeless for limited periods. However, there is an excess demand for these services, and even if their capacity were increased, they would continue to constitute little more than a stop-gap measure.
Those who seek refuge in the hostels tend to be youngsters from rural areas who came to the capital searching for a job, or orphans who left the National Children's Institute. There are also many unemployed adults, elderly people, abused women, former convicts, and people suffering from mental illness. Despite differences of gender, age, and social origin, they share the stigma of homelessness, are frequently from under educated backgrounds, and often lack other basic amenities such as formal identity documents. To complicate matters, there is very little available in the way of government assistance to people living on the street in Uruguay, let alone programs to offer them training or rehabilitation.
To face these problems, Adriana has developed a dual approach, striving to strengthen the network of organizations working on homelessness by including an advocacy component, while at the same time establishing Uruguay's first daytime service center to seek comprehensive and lasting solutions to the problems of those who look to the shelters for help. At her insistence, the groups operating shelters are now working together to evaluate problems, articulate actions, and formulate strategies using a common database with information they gather at their respective sites. As a result of these efforts, they have reached out to other private and public institutions for collaboration in providing specific services required by the population they serve, including interventions on AIDS, alcoholism, and domestic violence. They are also working on a joint information center that will help homeless people learn about relevant legal processes, documentation, and access to community resources. Most importantly, they have been meeting regularly with elected officials to discuss public policy responses addressing the problem of homelessness in Uruguay. Adriana was recently invited to collaborate with the parliamentary Commission on Human Rights in the drafting of legislation to provide government services to the homeless.
In creating the daytime center, Adriana seeks to move beyond service to prevention, addressing the longer-term needs of the homeless population and those at risk of joining it. Though the Center will provide a safe and warm option during the days for the adults with nowhere to go before the evening shelters open, its objectives are much broader. Firstly, using trained teachers and staff, it will offer childcare to mothers who have nowhere to leave their children while seeking work, offering them material assistance won though negotiation with state agencies. Secondly, it will address the employment issue through the creation of a job bank, provision of training in basic job skills, assistance with applications for microloans to those interested in launching businesses, and advocacy around job creation with public and private entities. Thirdly, taking advantage of Uruguay's rich tradition of cooperative, self-managed housing construction, the Center will work with the at-risk population to form building teams, while assisting with their applications for funding from banks and subsidized credit agencies. Finally, acknowledging the wounds occasioned by the precarious lives they lead, the Center will offer homeless people educational and leisure activities to promote their social integration and personal development. Funding has already been provided by both public and private sources.
Adriana came from a very poor family from the outskirts of Montevideo. Because of her Christian formation, she was always involved in works of the Catholic Church, giving help and advice to consumer cooperatives, gender groups, and children's nutritional and educational centers. Increasingly committed to such issues, Adriana decided to become a social worker, so that her professional life would be consistent with her sense of personal vocation. She began to support her family financially by taking jobs from the age of sixteen onwards and completed her classes at night.
When she finished her university course, she began to work in the state prison, helping inmates by creating "job schools" that would offer new professional opportunities upon their release. At the Pablo IV Hostel, where she has worked since 1993, Adriana met her most difficult challenge, engaging herself in the struggle for solutions to the problems of marginalized people. Drawing on her conviction that even the most intransigent challenges can be addressed with creative thinking, she decided to look beyond the immediate needs of the homeless population to imagine longer-range preventative measures. It was in the course of her ruminations on this challenge that her current idea was born.