Interview With Social Worker Zuzana Csontosova, From The Shelter For Homeless People 

Last week, we met Zuzana for a visit around the ground floor of the shelter for homeless people in Brno. She familiarised us with the main activities of the shelter, those of welcoming, providing the first necessities (food, shower, clean clothes) and emergency accommodation. In order to highlight the personalities behind the scenes of the shelter, Brno Daily spoke to Zuzana to find out about her background and what led her to become a social worker. Photo credit: Lou Kaemo / Brno Daily

Behind her professional desk, Zuzana is worried about her serious appearance, which she says is far from the reality of her work. Zuzana is from Slovakia. She is about 45 years old and it has been six years since she started working in the shelter for homeless people in Brno, initially as a social worker, but now as the person in charge of the shelter day centre. 

The shelter is part of one of the oldest charities in Czech Republic, Charita Ceska Republika. The modern form of the Diocesan Charity of Brno has been taking shape since its re-establishment by the Bishop of Brno, Vojtech Cikrle, in 1992. Since then, this Christian charity has expanded its activities in many social sectors such as medical care, senior care, families and children, people with disabilities, and homelessness.

Could you explain which position you hold here?

I am the coordinator of the day centre and the social workers, so I am managing the day centre to see if everything is as it should be or is the best we can do. It means that I must check that we have enough food for clients, enough clothes, and enough space. It means observing if everything works within the team, that we are a strong team, very professional. Besides my management tasks, I am also a social worker, so I must work with the clients at the same time. You know, I started working here as a social worker first.

Why did you choose this place?

27 years ago I was 18. I finished secondary school and I went to England for a one-year voluntary program. It was something really special at that time and I wanted to experience it. I had to choose an area of work and I chose to work with children. But then, when I was supposed to start working, they told me the place was cancelled and there was only one place left working with homeless people who have alcohol problems. They told me I could have this place or I couldn’t be in the program. So, I decided to go to England anyway, and I really liked it there. Actually, I was very lucky that this happened. I was lucky, yes…. It was in Birmingham. Even though it was a long time ago, when I look back, it was still a more professional and modern centre than I see here now. 

From my past experience, I believe in the longest future for me here because I know how interesting it could be to work there. I spent a year over there and then I decided to study social work in Bratislava. When I was at school, I already wanted to work with homeless people. I helped to start a street paper called Nota Bene. It is like the Big Issue in the UK. I was working there, but just for a few years, maybe six years. Then I went abroad and I worked with children. So, I already had experience with homeless people and I wanted to continue. By chance, I searched on the Internet and found this place. So I came here for the interview and I got the job. I was just very lucky and I also had the experience from abroad.

Lockdowns Have Made The Issue Of Homelessness Much More Visible

These past two years of lockdowns and Covid restrictions were difficult for Zuzana and the shelter. The City of Brno responded to the urgent need to provide shelter for all homeless people during the lockdown. Indeed, the city provided land where homeless people were able to set up equipped tents. Although there were some concerns about this emergency accommodation, particularly about the adaptation of the homeless to these new locations, in the end everything went well and the concept was very well received by the beneficiaries. They appreciated the safety and the airy setting of their temporary accommodation, much better in these circumstances than the usual dormitories of the shelter.

When I asked Zuzana what she remembered from this period of lockdown, relating to homelessness, she explained that it wasn’t actually as bad as we might imagine. Because everyone was home most of the time, the homeless became much more visible than they had ever been, meaning that society became more aware of the issue of homelessness in Brno and across the country. Despite the general European trend of increasing donations to charity since the Covid crisis, this is unfortunately not the case for the shelter in Brno. The positive thing is that people became more aware of the issue and some new projects were established.

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