City: Caxias, Oeiras, Lisbon – Portugal
The Caxias Social Association aims to help families in need, solving social problems in households experiencing difficulties and/or with limited sustainability.
Photo courtesy of asocialdecaxias.blogspot.fr
The Caxias Social Association endeavours to provide solutions to social problems in the local community by transforming human capital into economic activities. Drawing on the principle that human initiative catalyses civil society and can preserve and renew the production fabric by self-dynamising via the local markets, creating micro-economies and establishing mutual-benefit partnerships.
Oeiras Municipality, like many other areas throughout the country, embraces a number of situations of social insecurity, and so far has no solidarity structure capable of responding effectively to cases of urgent need for assistance and other more structural problems which need to be tackled in-depth in the current situation of economic recession.
Having joined the Oeiras social network, the Association now deals with cases of urgent need in the local population by means of the work of the Welfare Assistants in the region. Cases to which there are no standard responses are referred to the Caxias Social Association, which immediately analyses, as un-bureaucratically as possible, possibilities for providing a quick, suitable response. Once the problem has been identified a solution is sought, i.e. a priority, emergency social response is pinpointed which may involve creating a special post under a “re-employment” programme, or using the “Social Emergency” service, which can cover needs in terms of food, medication, payment of household expenses, etc.
Creating new projects in the local environment, preventing waste of material, human and physical resources, and preserving the capacity to respond positively to all social emergency situations reported by welfare assistants in the social network.
In order to ensure the viability of all social projects and the achievement of their objectives, project sustainability necessitates obtaining and drawing up agreements, partnerships, capital gains, swaps, etc. It is also vital, to this end, first of all to investigate and take stock of all existing public or private derelict areas, which can subsequently be revitalised for the relevant purposes. A network of partners, including both private individuals and local businesses, and a network of volunteers are vital resources for the functioning and continuity of the social project; the volunteers must be committed both physically and mentally to the task at hand. It is therefore important for these persons to have a social and community conscience and to hear the message and grasp the basic social principle that many persons acting together can make a difference and, given the requisite capacities and conditions, achieve results.
Mutual-interest organisation, actions and partnerships
1. Cases of social, medical and food-related emergency
- Selective situations require distribution of foodstuffs or payment of medical, household or travel expenses which are vital necessities for the most deprived persons, as well as transport for medical appointments, visiting close relatives in hospital, job interviews, etc.
- Deprived families who are unable to afford the necessary commodities for preparing meals can have recourse to the emergency food programme in order to obtain the requisite food, which the Association collects and stores in warehouses or solidarity shops.
- In addition to such cases, many families regularly receive food hampers, which are assigned on the basis of analyses of the economic needs of such families and are delivered to households by a normal vehicle, without any identifying signs, so that the relevant persons do not have to travel to the specific location of the warehouse. This prevents stigmatisation linked to the situation of economic insecurity. The hampers contain foodstuffs from local partner markets or the Food Bank. The food is kept in a small warehouse rented for the purpose, although some items are available in the solidarity shops in case of emergencies.
- Temporary inability to pay certain household expenses such as electricity, water, gas or rent can trigger the Association’s emergency mechanisms, providing immediate action. For instance, gas canisters can be quickly delivered to needy households by a small network of volunteers.
2. The solidarity card
- The Association can subsidise the purchase of medicines or consultations with certain medical specialists not covered by the National Health System.
- The important point about this system for purchasing medicines is that partnerships are concluded with a number of municipal pharmacies. The pharmacies increase their customer numbers – the Association members contribute by paying quotas and become Solidarity Card holders, providing a special discount, and amounts above this limit can subsequently be claimed back from the IRS. The Association members are eligible for this discount, and in this way the Association guarantees that quotas are always paid and that it is in their interests to choose Association partner pharmacies. At the same time, it ensures that part of this discount is repaid into the fund for needy persons. It is a win-win situation, which is vital for the sustainability of the Association.
3. Occupancy of buildings and spaces
- Given the obvious existence of derelict spaces and buildings, both private and public, in Oeiras Municipality, the Association can negotiate the appropriate amounts of rent to be paid for the properties so that they can be used for the benefit of planned future activities. This has facilitated the setting up of food warehouses, solidarity shops, premises for storing donations, community vegetable plots and public social canteens. Opting for occupying or using derelict areas has meant that the latter can be revitalised, prevent waste of physical resources and enable the cost to be negotiated for rental or occupancy, for the benefit of all, also ensuring the sustainability of the actions carried out. This dual use of spaces is essential: it provides a direct and effective response to the needs identified and is simultaneously cost-effective and self-sustaining.
- The solidarity shops provide people with clothing, shoes, some furniture items, toys and childcare articles. All the commodities are supplied by the storehouse for donations, where they are collected, selected and organised whenever necessary. The prices are symbolic but necessary, paying the rental fee and overheads. The articles for children up to the age of three are provided free of charge. The solidarity shops have voluntary workers. However, these volunteers are eligible for a number of benefits from the Association, periodically receiving food hampers and transport subsidies, etc.
4. Job creation and exchange system
- Micro-enterprises: the Association promotes self-employment and employs long-term unemployed people able and willing to work and to make the most of such work. It helps set up micro-enterprises on a sustainable basis. It studies the motivation and the plan for the project, draws up the commercial strategy, finances the initial investment costs, secures the premises and negotiates the rent, provides legal and accounting support and becomes a partner in the company thus set up, closely monitoring the development of the business. After the initial investment has been paid, the company remains in a mutual-interest partnership. The Association maintains its support and in return receives items of potential value to the sustainability of the Association and its beneficiaries. Furthermore, the setting up of these micro-businesses revitalises the local economy, and the persons involved recover their financial autonomy and social inclusion.
- Vegetable plots: farmland which is to be abandoned is negotiated with the owner and sold to the Association for cultivation, and in return it defrays the costs of cleaning up other parts of the land used by the owner under his/her responsibility. Experienced, motivated persons who have been in long-term unemployment take responsibility for cultivating the plot purchased and the exploitation of the produce grown. The costs of seeds and the requisite equipment are covered by the Association; in return, excess crops can be sold on the market or are supplied to the social canteens or cafés, where they are transformed into soups for the users. The Council helps with cleaning and developing the vegetable plot area, providing any necessary machinery. In return, the Association concludes agreements allowing educational visits to the plots for all schools in the municipality.
- The beach café: a public area providing soup, sandwiches, coffee or soft drinks, just like any other beach café. Discount vouchers are made available for distribution by ordinary customers, and are also supplied by Social Welfare Assistants to persons in need. The vouchers are identical and entitle holders to the same types of food, thus preventing stigmatisation and ensuring that anyone in need can have a meal in the open air, in an absolutely normal environment surrounded by holiday-makers. These cafés provide employment for persons with the necessary skills who cannot find jobs by other means. The soups served are made from vegetables produced in the vegetable plots.
- The “Solidarity Magazine”: this is a small local paper advertising traders who are in partnership with the Association, micro-businesses and technicians from specific departments who carry out most of the work in partnership and co-operation with the Association. The Association also uses the magazine to promote its own work, thus encouraging the creation of further partnerships and the provision of social grants.
MAIN PUBLIC PARTNERS: Oeiras Municipality, Social Security Department, Institute for Employment and Vocational Training.