Getting involved: As temperatures drop, Wanteraktioun gives Luxembourg’s homeless a warm place to sleep.
Wanteraktioun (winter action) was initially launched by the ministry of family and integration (MFI) during the winter of 2001-2002 at a small location in Hollerich to provide shelter for the homeless during the coldest winter months. Since 2012, with the help of Luxair and Caritas, the initiative has been based in larger premises at Findel airport, where 200 beds are available for those needing shelter during the night. Last winter it provided refuge for 674 people.
“The Wanteraktioun is coordinated by the MFI and supported by Inter-Actions, Croix Rouge [Red Cross] and Caritas,” says the family and integration minister, Corinne Cahen, who herself was a Winteraktioun volunteer several years ago. “Other NGOs such as Stëmm vun der Strooss are also closely involved in supporting the action.”
The shelter provides individuals with a light evening meal, a bed for the night and breakfast in the morning, as well as showering facilities. “The facilities are very basic and some rooms house more than 70 beds, which is not ideal,” explains Cahen. “However, the ministry of family and integration is currently looking to build its own facility for December 2016 close to the current Findel location.”
In addition, the Red Cross runs a shelter at Dernier Sol in Bonnevoie, where a warm meal and refuge is offered during the daytime. During the 2014-2015 Wanteraktioun, 1,174 different people made use of those facilities.
Stëmm vun der Strooss also provides food and shelter for the homeless via its “Restaurant social” programme, which has locations in both Luxembourg City and Esch-sur-Alzette. “The Restaurant social is open all year,” says William Anstett, manager of the Hollerich site. “We are supported by the ministry of health, donations and Auchan, who donate more than 110 tons of food a year.” As it is a year-round initiative, there is a small charge to use the restaurant: €0.50 for a meal and €0.25 for a drink.
“The meals are prepared by those currently supported by government social programmes, so there is a benefit not only to the homeless, but those who are getting back on their feet,” Anstett explains.
In 2013, they served 56,512 meals to those in need. The not-for-profit restaurant also provides showering facilities, free clothing and access to medical care once a week. The sites are open from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. “Often people come here to get some sleep for a few hours because it is warm and safe,” he adds.
Whilst there are several foyers (shelters) in Luxembourg City that offer accommodation for the homeless, these are usually reserved for those who are registered with Luxembourg’s social welfare system. But in 2015, 42% of those in the Wanteraktioun programme were non-EU citizens. “The action is open to everyone,” notes Cahen. “We do not ask for identification or the reasons why people need shelter and food; we are just there to help.”
Pets important factor
“It’s very difficult,” says Dom, a refugee from Algeria. “There are only so many beds available in the shelters, so we look forward to the Wanteraktioun, just to be warm.”
For Philippe, a homeless EU citizen, the situation is more complicated: “My dog is my best friend; I love him and trust him, but he is not allowed in Findel or in the Dernier Sol at Bonnevoie. What am I meant to do? I don’t want to leave my dog; he only knows me.”
Cahen says pets can be billeted overnight at the Gasperich animal shelter and “we are looking into other solutions”. The Stëmm vun der Strooss canteens do accept cats and dogs. “For many of the homeless, this is the only love they have ever received,” explains Anstett. “Animals offer them unconditional love. If we did not let them bring their pets, they simply would not come.”
Winter action runs from 1 December 2015 until 31 March 2016 and when temperatures drop below 5 degrees for prolonged periods of time.
If you speak Luxembourgish or French, contact Martine Drauden: