Mental health centres will offer help to Algeria's homeless
By Said Jameh for Magharebia in Algiers – 18/06/08
Given the growing number of the homeless in major Algerian cities, the government has laid down new mechanisms to offer immediate assistance to that bracket of society.
The cabinet endorsed a measure on June 3rd which would establish five public institutions in the main capital of each region – eastern, western, centre, southern and south-western – the function of which would be to receive, guide and treat the homeless of all ages and both genders.
Minister of National Solidarity Djamal Ould Abbas admitted to the press that the problem of homelessness has worsened over the past few years. According to government figures, there were 31,200 homeless individuals in Algeria as of May 2008. Nine thousand are women, including single mothers.
The homeless often resort to begging. Moreover, homeless marriages have multiplied in recent years, and whole families have been started on the street. This marginalised sector of society has long been left on its own. Social solidarity facilities have typically intervened only in emergencies or during the month of Ramadan, offering homeless citizens a place to have breakfast.
Now, however, Algeria is targeting the problem by setting up these new resources specifically to assist this endangered population. According to the new law, the regional facilities will receive emergency homeless cases with no domicile. Psychological specialists and physicians will be recruited to provide such individuals with appropriate mental health intervention and other attention they might need.
Psychological experts will contact families of the homeless, if any, to reconnect them, knowing that many who desert their homes as a result of social or domestic problems end up on the streets.
The government also set up a new hotline to get prompt assistance for homeless citizens. Minister Abbas encourages "benevolent people" to call the hotline (1527) to report any homeless cases or individuals with social or physiological problems so that institutions equipped with financial and mental health resources can lodge and treat them.
"The hotline will be open around the clock. Specialists will receive phone calls and then take immediate action, to transfer the homeless to preliminary institutions to offer them proper therapy," said government spokesman and Minister of Communications Abderachid Boukerzaza.
This measure was hailed by human rights activists as a positive step that would serve to reduce the number of the homeless in Algerian cities.
Houcine Kheldoun, member of the Algerian Parliament and the Algerian Consultative Commission for Promoting and Protecting Human Rights, told Magharebia that "the decision to introduce institutions to take care of that section is a score, registered by Algeria as part of aligning its legal framework with the International Agreement for the Protection of Vulnerable People". Of great significance, he says, is Algeria's alternative to criminalising homelessness.
"The new law prefers social solutions to repressive actions, through finding mechanisms to handle the homeless rather than punish them as stipulated by the Algerian penal code," Kheldoun said.
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