How one expat couple is helping the homeless warm up in Prague

Organizing the distribution of food, warm clothes, and toiletries to Prague's homeless has become a regular part of Carmina and Ben Ardelean's weekend routine

Here in the Czech Republic, a number of programs exist for helping the homeless including pay-it-forward lunches and public refrigerators and wardrobes.

But one expat couple is taking a more hands-on approach by organizing a unique meet-up that lets volunteers connect face-to-face with those in need.

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Spouses Carmina-Andra Ardelean and Ben Ardelean, originally from Romania, moved from England to Prague in 2016.

“We moved here to be closer to our home country, but also to be able to live in a city as vibrant and as rich in culture as Prague, where we could pursue our dream job while interacting with a vast community of foreigners,” says Ms. Ardelean.

The small business owners quickly noticed that there was a darker side to the Golden City whose homeless population — an estimated 5,000 — desperately needed help.

“We started the Help Prague’s Homeless project on New Year’s Eve 2017, as a kind of ad-hoc act of kindness, not a long-term project,” Ms. Ardelean says of the couple’s early outreach efforts which involved asking friends and family to meet at the park near Prague’s Main Station to pass out clothing, non-perishable food, and toiletries.

The park is one of many “homeless hotspots” which the couple has since plugged into an interactive map.

Carmina-Andra Ardelean and Ben Ardelean

The project has grown into a regular event with a Facebook community of close to 1,000 people.

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“We meet every Saturday at 4 pm and by that time people are already queueing up, often in groups of 50 or more, waiting for us to begin distributing the food, drinks, and other donations. We try to make this a safe place for them to meet and spend dinner time together, socializing,” says Ms. Ardelean.

Attendance at the event is currently at an all-time high especially with temperatures regularly dropping below 1°C. Luckily volunteers have risen to the challenge, with donations on occasion proving greater than demand which means attendees can leave with provisions for the following day.

At times, however, low volunteer turnout, particularly in the warmer months, can mean the Ardeleans must dip into their personal finances to feed the hungry.

“We do not have a fixed income or a budget for this project and we rely mostly on donations of goods from other volunteers. There have been events where no other volunteers came and we have only catered for half of the number of homeless people that have attended, so we had to improvise and buy additional food from supermarkets to make sure no-one leaves the event hungry,” Ms. Ardelean says.

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Other challenges include the language barrier.

“It has been quite difficult to create connections due to the language barrier; some of them speak several languages, so we were able to communicate a little bit.” So far she says the majority of volunteers are foreigners in Prague.

But the experience has also been incredibly rewarding for the couple who shared a number of personal stories from the event:

“One of the volunteers that has supported us was running a few similar events in different parts of Prague and we discovered later on that he used to be homeless as well, yet other people’s kindness helped him get back on his feet.”

The Ardeleans have even gone so far as to take a homeless man, a Romanian national, on holiday with them to help him collect the documents he needed for legal employment in the Czech Republic.

“We kept asking ourselves: What if he was a criminal? What if he would try to rob us? The trip to Romania was actually incredibly fun and since then he has returned to the Czech Republic where he works full-time.”

The couple has also come across special cases that have touched them personally — sick people and pregnant women on the streets and in need of additional support. They remain determined to help:

“After having recently gone through the loss of a dear friend who was homeless we are determined to raise awareness regarding homelessness and the unexpected reasons why some people end up on the streets, because, despite the mainstream belief, not all homeless people are junkies or alcoholics. This misconception is the main reason why most people refuse to get involved.”

To participate in this Saturday’s event, join the Help Prague’s Homeless Facebook group; the events are held in the park outside of Prague’s Hlavní nádraží on the Muzeum side at the last row of benches. 

“It has been amazing to bring together such a variety of people from different backgrounds, struggling to get over language barriers, and working together to provide well-organized events,” says Ms. Ardelean.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the total number of homeless people living in Prague.

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