Leaders and representatives of Settlement Houses from Sweden, Finland, Austria, France, Hungary, the United Kingdom and the USA met online to share news about the situation in their countries and discuss the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on community centres, neighbourhood houses and community work in general. The virtual meeting took place on March 31, 2020.
The meeting organizer, IFS Helsinki office gave each one of the 28 participants time to talk about the situation in their countries, cities, work, and how they are coping with this critical time.
The participants were presented with the following questions:
- What is the current situation in the field?
- What are the impacts of the coronavirus on your work?
- What are the challenges, responses and actions taken?
- Italy: Italy was represented by Franco Uda and Adriana Persia of ARCS Culture Soildali, the largest secular association for cultural promotion in the Italian Third Sector. All the ARCS community centres and neighbourhood Houses are closed. Community workers are working from home and doing their best to provide help to the most vulnerable such as elderly, sick homes, etc. “We are in complete lockdown. We go out only for necessities, says Adriana Persia who works and lives in Roma.
- Understanding the virus and how to bring home all the workers and volunteers stuck abroad.
- Inequalities emerging more than usual
- A sudden interruption of exchange projects
- Reorganizing and digitalizing the entire work system.
- Creation of different initiatives to cope with the crisis and its impacts such the campaign called “Viral Resistance” that shares information on operations by ARCS workers such as support to elderly people, isolation, loneliness and different online activities offered.
- Advocating with the government about the many workers facing economic related issues such as loss of employment, etc.
According to worldofmeters.info/coronavirus/, Italy has now 110,574 of total infected cases, 80,572 active cases, 13,915 deaths and 16,847 recovered from the virus.
- Austria: According to Eva Bertalan of Wiener Hilfswerk, the government reacted faster and the associations are organizing help and support for those in need. The biggest challenge is that the funding available is not able to cover all the costs. The focus is on counselling and connecting people
- United Kingdom: From social distancing to lockdown, and closure of most of the community centres to the public. There is an increase in outreach services for the at-risk and most vulnerable. The focus is on reconfiguring services to deliver services through online means or telephone support. Locality mobilizes volunteers to work with the local government to get essential supplies to those in isolation in their houses. Some of the members are supporting vulnerable women in a domestic violence situation etc. Our focus is “coming together to face the crisis, and one of the challenges is funds scarcity, said Ruth Breidenbach-Roe of Locality in the UK.
The UK has now 29,474 total infected cases, 26,987 active cases, 2,352 of total deaths and 135 of total recovered.
- USA: We are in the same situation as most of the other countries. Said Melissa Aase from University Settlement. We are advocating for the right support from the government, but we are also losing funding, Melissa added. The other challenges are the lack of food and isolation for seniors. The actual threats are depression, anxiety and violence. Most of the services are being moved online, telephone or virtual process. There lots of negotiation, discussion, and arguing with the government for the right support to the citizens. The mental health services have been successfully moved into telephone and video-based assistance with the help of the government. Food supply to older people has been successful. We are making sure that the government understands the needs of the citizens, and that their way of working is not always practical, and that our work is to bring people the necessities, pointed out Susan Stamler of UNH. In Ohio, the Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Centers Association still has four workers in the office and rest are working from home as the virus is spreading rapidly. The work in collaboration with other NGOs but most of their programs are closed and moved to online services. The USA was represented by members from New York City such as Melissa Aase of University Settlement of New York, Lynn Appelbaum and Susan Stamler of UNH and Allison Wallace of Greater Cleveland Neighborhood Centers Association in Ohio.
The USA has currently 215,357 infected cases, 201,366 active cases, 5,113 total deaths and 8,878 totals of recovered.
- France: Like many other countries, France is going through a tough situation, and it is getting worse. There are substantial economic risks, loss of employment and most of the community centres are closed. The French Federation of community centres is working lots of initiatives and projects with other NGOs. They are in contact with local community centres to collect and share information on best practices during this difficult time. In collaboration with the local government, they work to share information with communities by email and social media. The challenges are reaching the most vulnerable, the weight of isolation and violence in families. Mourad Chalal of the community centres of France informed that 5 of their colleagues contracted the virus and most of their members are in the same situation. The amazing thing is that communities’ members are taking actions to cope with the challenges. Their strong message is “What our children need is love”.
France has currently 56,989 total cases, 42,022 active cases, 4,032 total deaths and 10,935 total recovered.
- Hungary: The excellent news in Hungary is that people are self-organizing services and helping each other. The bad news is that Rural areas and small villages are facing segregation, mostly Gypsies and Roma people. Community centres are helping by sharing food, school equipment etc. NGOs sent petitions to the government to help those who are losing employment.
Hungary has now 585 total cases, 522 active cases, 21 total deaths and 42 total recovered.
- Finland: We have made a total and fast “Digi-jump” said Regina Järg-Tärno of the Finnish Settlement Houses. We are cooperating with different organizations and have moved faster as our community colleges are independent. The biggest challenge would be losing our community colleges’ funding. All the 43 local associations, most of the daycare and schools are closed. Our members are facing problems in parenting. The biggest challenges are anxiety, and violence in families, loneliness and isolation, mostly for our older people, added Maia Fandi of the Finnish Settlement Houses. The Finnish government has taken strict decisions and isolated the capital city from other towns, but we have adapted quickly to the crisis and created seven active working groups that provide distance assistance and if needed outreach services to our members. The working groups are meeting two times a week to discuss and report.
Finland has a total of 1,518 cases, 1,201 active cases, 17 total deaths and 300 total recovered.
- Sweden: Most services and institutions are open except for high schools and universities. Students and pupils are homeschooled temporarily. Guidelines from authorities are mostly built on recommendations, not restrictions. People are self-organizing services to each other, and the government is somehow helping those who are losing employment. Our community centres are open and young people are meeting to talk. There are few attendances though. Older people are provided with needed necessities, and there are many online activities. The Sweden Settlement is also advocating for financial support to civil organizations.
Sweden has now 4,947 of total cases, 4,605 active cases, 239 of total deaths and 103 of recovered.
The meeting lasted 2 hours and every participant willing to share was given the opportunity to do so. The numbers of COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC given here are from worldofmeters.info/coronavirus/