Life Belt Programme – Financial Support for Families in Need

2012. június 01., péntek

The Hungarian Reformed Church (HRC) and the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid (HRCA) have launched a new financial support programme as a means to offer help to deserving families who have lost their homes due to the crash of their foreign exchange loans. The initial plan is to provide these families with a six-month support scheme. Along with a temporary solution for their accomodation, they will receive help in the fields of mental hygiene and life management. These complementary services will be provided by social workers as part of the Life Belt Programme.

The HRC and the HRCA created their own financial support base without the assistance of external aid to allow families in need the ability to move into their new temporary homes before the winter holiday season.

The official opening ceremony and press conference for the programme took place on December 6th, where RCH Presiding Bishop Gusztáv Bölcskei presented the thought behind the Life Belt Programme in light of the church's tasks during Advent, a period of waiting and expectation. What the church can offer in this world of despair and crisis is an often-recurring question. As the Head of the Reformed Church stated, in these days of uncertainty we experience the loss of stability not only in the field of economy, but also in our everyday routine. What we are facing is a whole cluster of problems, but the solution has to be specific. In the words of László Ravasz, one of Gusztáv Bölcskei's predecessors, "Our task is not to solve problems but to break chains."

In practice this means the prevention of social exclusion for families and individuals – a natural consequence of losing one's home. The programme will also provide protection against the disintegration of families, assistance in restarting careers and help establishing a decent and maintainable financial status.

As Dániel Osgyán, international and crisis-handling manager of the HRCA reported, presently six hundred thousand foreign exchange loans are registered in Hungary, out of which one hundred twenty thousand are considered "problematic," which means that in these cases the payment is 6-12 months overdue. Based on unofficial estimations, in Budapest alone 3,000 families are currently in danger of eviction. The eviction moratorium started on December 1st, but during the past months at least 100-200 families have become homeless.

In Gusztáv Bölcskei's words, the church has to feel responsible for people in need, but it is not the church's task to do away with the source of the problem. Now is not the time to investigate who is responsible for this unfortunate situation. Now is the time for action.

The Life Belt Programme has been created for people with both the desire and will-power to make a change in their life, to cope with the challenge they must face due their approaching eviction. Sándor Pál, Head of the Reformed Church Aid Advisory Board, highlighted two concepts in relation to the programme: responsibility and transparency.

Children from Györky family, who participated in the programme

Dániel Osgyán discussed the technical details of the Life Belt Programme. Families will submit an application to the HRCA and then undergo a certain kind of checking procedure. During this time, the foundation will examine if the families made a responsible decision when they applied for their bank loan and investigate whether their insolvency has an economic reason, or is a consequence of a change in life situation. Another important criterion is whether the applicants have taken all steps possible to find an agreement with their creditor. If a family suits all criteria, the HRCA allows it to join the programme, which will be launched with the involvement of 10 families. The number of supported families will ultimately be determined by the all-time budget.

The Aid has commissioned an external real estate office to provide professional help in the decision-making process. The foundation takes the families' individual needs and the local real estate market opportunities into consideration as it tries to find possible temporary homes. Before moving in, the families must sign a contract that will protect the interests of both renters and their landlords. The financial support system is not designed to cover the maintenance of the apartments. The families are obliged to pay their utility bills regularly. The foundation and the church will make sure to create the most favourable provider environment for them.

In the case of every family, the Aid will pay six months rent upfront to the landlords. The selected families will be given the opportunity to participate in the programme for half a year, and during this period, hopefully, they can reorganise their life and gain enough time to find new employment, if necessary. Children will be able to find their place in a new school community if the family has to resettle far from its old home.

The Aid's social workers will continuously observe the everyday life of these families. Their task is to provide the family members with sufficient information and life guidance, so that they can start a new phase of their life. The Aid is willing to involve hundreds of families in the programme if the budget allows it.

The Reformed Church would like to encourage its members to join these efforts and offer their own, inactive real estate properties to be used by families in need. The church promises to guarantee the volunteering landlords financially favourable rental conditions. As Gusztáv Bölcskei emphasized, the Aid is primarily expecting Reformed volunteers, but the denominational status of the applying families will not be taken into consideration in the decision-making process.

Prepared by Katalin Burns

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