Habitat et Humanisme Loire: a group house in the heart of the city
Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes - Saint-Etienne
Integration through housing
Since 1992, the Habitat et Humanisme Loire Organization (Housing and Humanism) has been providing support for the poorly housed and homeless. Owner of around sixty council houses, it has just reached a new level with the opening of a “group house”.
Marc Bonneville, president of the organization for the last four years, explains: “We belong to the French national Habitat and Humanisme Organization which has been proposing low-rent accommodation to people in delicate and precarious situations for the last 25 years. The purpose of this long-term project is to privilege the autonomy and integration of the individuals that we accompany. ” Habitat et Humanisme Loire depends on its a hundred or so members, which includes twenty active volunteers: “Their task is to ease everyday life for the people that we accommodate, by helping them with their administrative procedures, their shopping, home repairs, etc.”
The organization is funded through private donations, solidarity-based savings schemes and the support of bodies such as the VINCI Foundation. “Because of the reduction in public subsidies, we have to rely on the solidarity-based economy,” emphasises Marc Bonneville.
In November 2010, the organization inaugurated a “group house”, rue Malescourt, in an old renovated building, in the centre of Saint-Etienne. It is the first structure of this type to be created in the Loire department. The establishment provides private accommodation, for people who are struggling with autonomy and social integration, on premises that work like a boarding house, with shared spaces – kitchen, dining room, garden – run by “house managers”. Aurélie Begon, who has trained as a specialized educator, and Marylise Granger manage this project with the help of volunteers: “We’re here to create links, to favour community spirit and to end residents’ loneliness. Our work is simple yet very enriching.”Supervising life in the house, privileging activities, get-togethers, sharing both inside and outside the house, for example “proposing group meals twice a week, breakfasts, informal discussions, festive activities. Making people feel at home and listening to them are essential in our work.” The house managers have their weekends off, so the inhabitants are invited to look after themselves, to go out, to move around the city.
Mourad arrived at the transition centre after dialling 115, the emergency accommodation phone number: “I left my family and I ended up alone in Saint-Etienne. I had some bad experiences trying to live autonomously in an apartment so I requested to be placed under legal guardianship. Today, I feel protected.” Like Mourad, Clémence and Tony have had a chaotic life. Clémence, a disabled worker, spent her childhood in homes and would now like to find a job. Tony was hospitalized for deep depression following a separation: “Here I’ve found a good social environment and guidance that’s reassuring.”
A solidarity-based garden project
It was Jacques Dorin, Head of the Robat Company, part of VINCI Construction France, who got the VINCI Foundation involved in the adventure: “I had known Habitat and Humanisme Loire for almost twenty years and it was thanks to a friend that I took the plunge! Their strength lies in their overall guideline for the homeless cause. From the very first meeting, I felt at home with the team.” Jacques Dorin very quickly became the sponsor for the organization and helped it obtain two subsidies from the VINCI Foundation for the group house: one in 2008 (for financing part of the work), the other in 2010 (for purchasing equipment and furniture).
“It’s the type of atmosphere that reminds you of a boarding house. It’s a really good step for regaining confidence, recovering one’s self-esteem and slowly but surely one’s autonomy,” adds the really enthusiastic sponsor, even if he sometimes feels a little apart from the site itself: “I plan to visit rue Malescourt to share a meal with the residents, I want to meet them, and to be as close as possible to them.” And he has not stopped there: “I’ve also become vice-president of the Communication Committee. Every year we organize a major event with conferences and an open-day. Marc Bonneville has real know-how; he knows how to find help. He’s a dynamic and convincing professional!”
The latest project: to rehabilitate and convert the garden into a vegetable plot for the residents, local inhabitants and the children from the neighbouring school. “We’re doing everything in our power to ensure that our residents can envisage an untroubled future,” concludes Aurélie Begon.
March 2011 © Reporters d'Espoirs news agency
VINCI Foundation works with Reporters d'Espoirs, a French news agency, to highlight and share the innovative social initiatives that it supports. The arrangement includes the writing of articles and exchange on topics that lead to solutions. Thus presented, the initiatives, validated using the criteria of the editorial charter of Reporters d'Espoirs, are intended to demonstrate their development and results.