human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

A shelter to recover dignity

Run by Ukranian Caritas Sambir-Drohobych

One brave passer-by changed the life of young mother Inna by protecting her from being beat right on the street by people who forced her to beg. Immediately after she found shelter at Our House, an initiative of Ukranian Charitable Foundation Caritas Sambir-Drohobych, where she is now a cook and a pillar of this community of former homeless people.

Her 5-year-old son, Ihor, was soon rescued from Inna’s former exploiters by a priest, thanks to the intervention of Our House’s director. Ihor was in a very bad state: he had an infected eye, was not speaking and could not take care of himself. He went through medical examination and received psychological attention. Now he is better and has been admitted to a kindergarten.

In the last 10 years, the lives of over 200 people like Inna and Ihor had been changed for the better by Our House and the committed team working there, which still includes the original staff. The number keeps growing as 40 more live now there and a construction of a second annex home has begun.

Nested in the countryside near the town of Drohobych, in the Lviv region, the shelter is a stripy green and yellow building. It is now hosting almost double its original capacity for 22 people. Close by is the shell of what will be the two storage second home with capacity for 80 people. The walls are now bare brick but the structure got recently protected by a roof thanks to financial support from Caritas Italiana. Seasonal volunteers from abroad come to work in it but progress is slow while need for shelter grows in Ukraine due to economic crisis. If you are interested in helping, please write to caritasdroh@gmail.com

A self-sufficient shelter

Our House is a farming community.  We grow potatoes and other vegetables; and we have cows, horses, goats, hens, pigs. The people we host here have many skills and talents, the only thing they lack is understanding, opportunities and support.  Most of the community members have received some kind of training, including basic computer skills for everyone. Many work as carpenters and as specialists repairing old furniture. The community has two social shops where we sell second-hand collected and repaired clothes and other items. The community lives and works according to strict rules and norms that provide order. Our members receive the constant support of a psychologist and a priest.

To live and die with dignity

Our motivation is simply that we feel we should always help when a person needs shelter and protection. Behind someone who is homeless there are many different stories and circumstances that have put people in very vulnerable situations.

We have helped former homeless who only needed some support from the community to start a new life. Many are now fulfilled and successful people with families, jobs and big plans for the future. Some others have realised here a very particular dream that homeless people often have: to pass away in dignity, with a roof over their heads and surrounded by a community.

Testimonies from our residents

Inna and Ihor

Inna, 24, joined our shelter after she was being beaten on the street and one of hundreds of people passing by stopped, rescued her and brought her to Caritas.

Her father died when she was 3 years old. Her handicapped mother sent her to an orphanage where she was brought up. When she was 15, her mother died. She was then sent to Boryslav where she graduated from college and became a cook. Shortly after she met her future husband and father of her child, Ihor. After getting married, Inna move in with her husband’s family but there she suffered three years of abuse.

She decided to leave and go back to her mother’s old house but found that some relatives had turned it into a drug den. Inna went to an aunt to ask for help, but she refused to host them. That was the moment of despair for Inna and her son. They hid at a bus station. There they were noticed by a group of beggars who offered them shelter at a nearby place. The first days passed calmly but soon Inna was asked to beg for her living. That way she started two years of begging near churches in Lviv, Sambir, Stryi, Drohobych. Inna’s child was taken from her and stayed at the house. That’s why she always had to come back with the money collected. During this years she suffered all sorts of abuse until that horrorific life ended thanks to a brave person who defended her from her exploiters. Inna came to Caritas alone and Ihor was rescued soon after.

Now this little family is living a completely new life. Every member of the community adores little Ihor. Inna receives great support in his upbringing from other dwellers and from the professional psychologist. They both are very open-hearted and are always ready to share their story.

Ivan

Ivan, 44, grew up with his family and received higher education. He led a good life but in one terrible year everything changed. In a short period of time, all his family members passed away: mother, father and brother. He went through a depression and decided he could not live alone at the family home. He sold it and bought a flat in another region, where he met a single mother and started a relationship. She and her two children moved into Ivan’s flat.

After three years, his partner started asking Ivan for a bigger place, which he could not afford. Trying to improve his income, Ivan migrated to work in Moscow, where a friend had found him an informal job at a factory. There, Ivan fell into a trap: his documents were taken away, he was not allowed out of the factory, had to sleep on chairs and receive a meagre pay. The situation worsen when the war conflict with Russia began in eastern Ukraine. When Ivan demanded his salary, he received death threats. Finally, he was kicked out of the factory with his documents.

For a month he lived at the railway station in Moscow, where he earned money for food by carrying people’s luggage. He applied to the local social center for help and got money for his trip back to Ukraine. When he arrived home he found that his partner had sold his flat and disappeared. He had lost everything: shelter, family, money, work.

As many other homeless, he went to the railway station for the night. At the station he met a priest who advised him to travel to Lviv and to ask for the shelter in the community Oselya. At that time Oselya was overwhelmed and he was sent to Caritas in Drohobych. Here he joined Our House. Ivan says during this most difficult period of his life what he needed the most was to feel like a person, with dignity. He says that psychological and spiritual support was and still is much more important for him than food.

Now Ivan helps in the administration of the community. He says that his big aim in life is to rescue from the street as many people as possible.