Çorbada Tuzun Olsun Association (ÇOTUN) received a grant from our Institutional Fund in 2021 to improve its project development capacity and diversify its income resources, while working to reduce homelessness in Turkey.
Read below our interview:
ÇOTUN is receiving a grant from our Foundation for the first time. Can you tell us about the purpose and activities of the association?
We started working as an initiative at the end of 2014 by distributing soup to the homeless every night. We also tried to meet their clothing needs and helped a few homeless people reunite with their families and find jobs. But our main activities could not go beyond food distribution. In 2016, we established a Clothing Store that provided free services for the homeless. Later, we had to close this shop due to a lack of resources.
In 2017, we established the association to overcome resource shortages. Then, we formed a network of volunteers, mainly from university communities. Over 260 university clubs and 150 high school student groups are now our volunteers. Public institutions, the private sector, other civil groups, and academics voluntarily participate in our activities.
We developed unique models and programs for the problem of homelessness. By transforming these unique models and programs into an ecosystem named Homeless Friendly Society and City, we created a system for the homeless to participate in society without marginalisation.
Over 260 university clubs and 150 high school student groups are now our volunteers.
Every day, we support the homeless with safe and healthy food through mobile food banking and humanitarian aid for their basic needs. On the other hand, we established a Crisis Centre to evaluate the incoming notifications and include them in our ecosystem by mapping.
We enable the identification of the homeless so that they can obtain health insurance, and our volunteers help them benefit from health and social services. Through rehabilitation, housing, and employment (or placement in nursing homes in case of disability and/or old age), we integrate the homeless into society. We continue to follow up, even after people are housed and employed. Afterwards, individuals who are reintegrated into society can contribute to our work by volunteering.
We have established coordination among the public, private and civil sectors, the academia, all the institutions of the Ministry of Family and Social Services, and the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Thanks to this coordination, we also ensure that the public sector does not ignore the homeless, academia carries out related studies, the private sector creates resources, and civil society develops cooperation.
We develop strategies to reduce the risk of homelessness by both reducing the homeless population and working on extreme poverty with short, medium, and long-term scenarios.
Every day, we support the homeless with safe and healthy food through mobile food banking and humanitarian aid for their basic needs.
According to the United Nations report published in 2020, there has been an alarming increase in the number of homeless people around the world in the last 10 years. First of all, who are the homeless? Can you tell us about the causes of homelessness in Turkey?
Our experience suggests that 80-85% of homeless people have a family and a social circle from the past. Homelessness results from traumas and failure to recover; so, we are all candidates for becoming homeless. Many disadvantaged groups are homeless. There are refugees, drug abusers, victims of abuse, women subjected to violence, cancer patients, HIV positives, and disabled people. Some people were rich but lost all their assets due to depression after losing a family member. Some had a conflict with their family and started living on the street. Homelessness occurs for economic, social, cultural, psychological, and political reasons.
The main reason for the increase in homelessness in the last 10-12 years is the high immigration wave. But local homelessness is also a huge problem in the world. Apart from the migration wave, there are multiple causes of homelessness. Social and cultural individuation and the effect of turbo consumption culture result in isolation in our relationships. The economic contraction that started slowly in 2016, and the liquidity problem have an impact. We also predicted that poverty and homelessness would increase even more, but this happened faster and more unpredictably with the onset of the pandemic.
Homelessness results from traumas and failure to recover; so, we are all candidates for becoming homeless.
Two types of poverty emerged with the pandemic: Deepening and over-the-extreme poverty and widespread poverty in which the new poor emerge. A segment of the middle class became impoverished and homeless. Since no radical policy has been adopted, we anticipate that poverty and homelessness will increase and become more widespread in the future.
In addition to these, people who were released from prison due to the pandemic also increased homelessness in Turkey. Some students changed their housing arrangements by returning to their hometowns during the pandemic and then became homeless when they returned to their campuses due to high rents. Rent increases did not just affect students. We used to receive news of the homeless only from metropolitan cities, but now we get it from other provinces too.
You published the Biological Disaster: The Situation of the Homeless in the COVID-19 Pandemic and Strategic Planning for the Homeless report. Can you share the report’s prominent findings?
We prepared the report when COVID-19 first appeared. Therefore, the health-related findings in the report are about the first period of the pandemic. We evaluated COVID-19 as a biological disaster based on disaster literature. Our first recommendation in the report was to quarantine individuals in private/small groups. The second one was to create a quarantine area as a more crowded facility model. The third one was to quarantine homeless people who would not leave their living area or go to enclosed places for various reasons, in their street environment.
Two types of poverty emerged with the pandemic: Deepening and over-the-extreme poverty and widespread poverty in which the new poor emerge.
The first model was implemented by the Ministry of Family and Social Services as part of the Homeless Accommodation Project. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality implemented the second model by opening a metropolitan-scale pandemic facility.
For now, we can say that we have stronger coordination with the central government and local governments. We cooperate with the Beyoğlu District Governor’s Office and the Beyoğlu Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundation (SYDV) to deliver social services to the homeless in Beyoğlu. We have also started distributing shopping cards to families in deep poverty during the pandemic.
By cooperating with all institutions of the Ministry of Family and Social Services, we ensure that homeless people receive services. Working together with the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Health Department, we ensure that the homeless receive psycho-social support. We also started to cooperate with the employment office to find them jobs.
What are the support and service models for the homeless in Turkey? What role do public institutions and civil society organisations play in creating solutions for the homeless?
The central government provides homeless support through SYDVs, and local governments through the Social Services Department and the Health Department. They open shelters during the winter. CSOs focus on social and humanitarian aid. However, these mostly save the day and remain as temporary services. While giving a strong sense of solidarity in the short run, these services have a low impact in the long run due to inefficient use of resources and capacity.
We aim to build a homeless-friendly society that will reduce homelessness, go beyond limited social assistance and provide services all the time, not only in winter.
What kind of work do you plan to do with the grant we have provided in the 2021 period of the Institutional Fund?
We see social assistance as a tool and adopt a multidisciplinary approach based on social work and social enterprise disciplines.
Using the technological infrastructure of the Needs Map, we created a map called the Homeless Map. It is currently in the testing phase. With this map, we will anonymously map the homeless and the extreme poor who are at risk of becoming homeless. Our crisis centre will confirm the homeless notifications through the Homeless Map, identify and meet the needs, and efficiently make use of the resources (donations, volunteers) in this coordination. Then, we will reintegrate the homeless people into society through our programs. At the same time, the coordination of stakeholder communities and institutions will take place on this map.
We aim to build a homeless-friendly society that will reduce homelessness, go beyond limited social assistance and provide services all the time, not only in winter. To this end, we are building an infrastructure and strengthening our capacity to expand the applicability of our ecosystem.
ÇOTUN works to meet the daily needs of the homeless by providing basic humanitarian aid to ensure their recovery and integration into society. The association also aims to raise awareness on this topic using an approach where no one is left behind.