“When thinking of the Verdi House, you imagine a cozy, old building where just a few people care for the homeless”, Han says. “But actually, 135 people work for our organization.” He explains further that the House was developed from a cloister. “That cloister was in the Verdi Street. Everyone in the region already knew the name so we decided to adhere to it.”
And yet, there is a very special link to the famous Italian composer. “Giuseppe Verdi once founded the ‘Casa Verdi’ [link] in Milan. That was a ‘riposo per Musicisti’, in other words a home for impoverished opera singers and musicians.”
Care Package SMO Verdi House
The ‘Casa Verdi’ in Oss offers a wide range of care for inhabitants in the region: shelter, (out-house) supervision and protected living. “At the moment, 300 clients are in our care. The day-, night and crisis accommodations are in our main building. We also have our head office there as well as a number of apartments for supervised inhabitance. There are also several buildings for supervised living in the neighborhood. And we also, of course, offer support to clients in their own homes.”
Han started out at the SMO Verdi House nearly twenty years ago. “I thought I would reach my sale by date after 7 years or so. So, this is much to my own surprise as well as that of my circle”, Han laughs. When asked for the reason, the director proffers several. The foremost is, in his opinion, that the notion of care has greatly changed in the last twenty years. “Every few years, my job becomes a different one, complete with a new job description.”
Han adds that the Verdi House also serves a wide range of target groups. The organization helps people with many different problems: from ex-convicts and addicts to people with mild mental handicaps or psychological problems. This is the reason that his work is so varied. No day is the same as the one which follows.
“Throughout the years, the laws governing care have also evolved. Nowadays, ‘social inclusion’ is the buzz word. You want to prevent relational, psychological, and financial problems from accumulating for a vulnerable person. That would make the hurdle enormous before someone is ready to return to society.” Care is now far more focused on prevention. “The length of the care is shorter. This is necessary of course, to keep it affordable.”
The change-over in employees at the Verdi House is limited, according to Han. When anyone has worked there for 12 and a half years, the director asks: ‘Why are you still here?” Han does not ask this to scare these employees away, but to really learn why someone appreciates their job.
‘To make a difference in someone’s life or to mean something to somebody’.
The answers Han receives are always engaged, for example, ‘to make a difference in someone’s life’ or ‘to mean something to somebody’. Such positive reactions are part of the culture that exists in the Verdi House. In it, room is made for creative solutions; employees are autonomous and regulations which limit initiative are minimal. “We approach fundamental care for each individual as a team. This can at times be difficult here in the Netherlands where ‘rules are rules’.
Shelterbags for the homeless
At the Verdi House in Oss, there is a great deal of attention for the homeless. “Especially the group that couch surfs with family, friends and acquaintances. That works for a while until flexibility runs out; then someone is immediately out on the street.” Han explains that these cases are different from the homeless that one sees in large cities. “Consider the stereotype ‘man with unkept beard’ who carries his possessions in a plastic bag. You see very few of these homeless here in Oss.”
“The number of ‘confused individuals’ with multiple and complex problems is growing in Holland."
Nevertheless, the 5 Shelterbags and Sheltersuits which were donated earlier are more than welcome. “The number of ‘confused individuals’ with multiple and complex problems is growing in Holland. As well, modern day life is changing ever faster. Not everyone can deal with that. Then there is the dramatic housing shortage at present. This has a negative effect on the flow of clients within organizations for the homeless. It is can really take time to find a temporary room or rent regulated housing.”
The organization attempts to help everyone with either shelter or a referral. “Unfortunately, the night shelter is sometimes full, or someone needs special care. In these instances, we distribute Shelterbags.” They are available at the main reception. “Another example? Now and then we receive a signal that someone is living in deplorable conditions at home. So, we also give out Shelterbags to them to be sure. Just like the Sheltersuit Foundation, the Verdi House tries to find creative, unorthodox solutions. The aim? To help vulnerable people along in a decent way.”