What is the current situation at the Stëmm vun der Strooss?
Alexandra Oxacelay: In terms of providing meals, which is just one of our activities, since the beginning of 2022, we have served 95,483 meals at our two sites in Hollerich and Esch-sur-Alzette. These are figures for the end of September, whereas in 2021 we served 100,000 meals over the whole year. So it is more than likely that we will exceed the figures for 2021. We are already at +26% compared to 2019 and +42% compared to 2021, bearing in mind that last year was still a covid year with restrictions and that we could not let everyone in.
How do you explain this increase?
We have newcomers every day, it's exploding.
Since covid I would say. During the health crisis we saw fewer people inside, but we were not less solicited because we worked differently and we never closed. We distributed meals at the front door. The explosion took place in Esch-sur-Alzette where we set up a second room after the one in Hollerich.
You have been director of the Stëmm vun der Strooss for 24 years, how do you see your work, have things gotten worse?
There is a constant increase in the number of beneficiaries of the association, since I started in 1998. There has never been a year when I have said: ‘poverty is going down'. On the other hand, I have noticed that the profile of people has become more blurred. Twenty-four years ago, we were better at listing people, finding them, recognising them because there were fewer of them. They were not so scattered all over the city, and we always saw the same people, the social workers knew the names, the faces, the stories of the beneficiaries. There was more of a link, we were closer to them. It was more qualitative work. Now it has really become like a factory.
These are people who work and who, on the 15th of the month, are happy to come and eat a 50 cent meal with us. We don't see that they are in need, it's a more hidden poverty.
Today, there are more beneficiaries, but is there more turnover?
There is still a base of permanent staff, but I would say that the new clientele has driven out the old. People who are on the street don't like crowded places with too many rules, so they don't come. That's why it's always important that there are smaller, more specialised associations that open up and meet the needs that no one else does
What is the composition of the clientele you receive?
There are a lot of foreigners, both asylum seekers and people from the Greater Region. And there are also new poor people who can't make ends meet. This is new.
In what way?
They didn't come before, they are people who work and who, on the 15th of the month, are happy to come and eat a 50 cent meal with us. It's a less visible, more blurred kind of poverty. It's no longer the young person who has dropped out of school, who has problems at home or who has a grudge against society, or the alcoholic, and so on. It is no longer that profile.
Did the divide widen during Covid?
Yes, that's when it exploded. I told myself that this was just the beginning of the crisis. I felt something happening, all these fears that everyone had, this whole climate of insecurity, of day-to-day management, of not knowing where we're going.
I don't even have a third of the people living on the street coming to us any more. Two-thirds are poorly housed or people living in hostels.
For Luxembourg residents on the minimum social wage, it also becomes very complicated with the energy crisis...
Yes, the problem in Luxembourg is to have the two extremes in terms of living standards, between very high wages and minimum wages. For me, there is no real middle class in the country, I have the impression that the divide is even greater here. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. There is nothing in between. And the wealth is not redistributed.
What percentage of your beneficiaries live on the street?
I don't even have a third of the people living on the street coming to us anymore. The other two thirds are poorly housed or people living in hostels. The real people who are on the street don't come here anymore, they go to the small structures.
Can someone on the minimum social wage find accommodation in Luxembourg?
No, they can't rent, let alone buy. Just for a dilapidated room the minimum is €500. And when you think that people are over-indebted, sick, etc., it's not a good thing. Unfortunately, the terrible thing is that more than twenty years ago they were already saying that, but things are still getting worse.
What does that mean?
The situation is the same, but as the cost of living increases, people are obliged to make do with the little they have, and they do even less than they did before. Fortunately, there are social grocery shops, free halfway houses, and I think there should be more aid adapted like that, more individualised aid. But for it to be really fair, it shouldn't be given to everyone. Why am I entitled to free care in halfway houses, when I would have all the possibilities to pay and I would find it normal to pay and for it to be free for others. We need a fairer distribution of wealth, that's what's missing.
From year to year, we tell ourselves that things are going to get better, but in the end we never get the chance to breathe.
The Wanteraktioun starts this Tuesday 15 November, do you think that demand will be even higher this year?
I am very afraid of it. We participate with the meals, and fortunately Wanteraktioun exists. Because when the year starts the way it did, it's an indicator for the rest of the year. From year to year, we say to ourselves that it will get better, but in the end we never get a chance to breathe.
How is the Stëmm vun der Stroos financed? We are subsidised by the ministry of health, but we always try to realise new projects with donations, so 10% of our budget is spent on activities financed by donations. We pay 12 salaries with donations, nine of which are people who are 50+. We financed the Stëmm Caddy 2 in Sanem with €1 million, and the state paid a little more than €5 million.
What is this about?
For reasons of organisation, efficiency and cost reduction, the Schweesdrëps and Caddy workshops as well as the Immo Stëmm department are now centralised on the same site. The site is intended to employ 100 people in vocational rehabilitation. The work was completed at the end of September, it is the biggest project we have ever had.
How many employees does the Stëmm have today?
We have 74 employees and 184 people currently undergoing professional reintegration. About ten people should be hired in the coming weeks or months.
The Stëmm vun der Strooss in brief
Founded in 1996, the non-profit organisation works to promote the social and professional integration of disadvantaged people. It offers a dozen services, including a social restaurant, the Stëmm Caddy, a post-therapy centre in Schoenfels, a medical consultation service, a social service, Immo Stëmm, the publication of a bimonthly magazine and a reception and day shelter service. More information on the association’s website.
This article was originally published in French by Paperjam. It has been translated by Delano.