Sun | 19.06.2016
Meet Ian Tiling, founder and president of Casa Ioana Association, Bucharest's oldest and largest independent shelter for women and children experiencing domestic abuse and family homelessness.
1. Dear Ian, please introduce yourself shortly to all our members.
I am the founder and president of the Casa Ioana Association, which was established in 1995. I am also the vice-president and Romanian national representative of FEANTSA (the European Federation of National Organisations working with the Homeless) as well as the chairperson of a European Working Group promoting the participation of people in the services that affect them. Prior to this, I had a career with in UK police service. All my work in Romania has been on a voluntary basis and I support myself financially with my police pension.
2. You came in Romania to stay for 2 years, but after 26 years you are still here, more connected than never. Why Romania?
Originally, I visited Romania in 1990 and worked with children and young people with profound disabilities in a state institution in Plătăreşti, Ilfov. I retired from the police service after several more visits to Romania before settled down at the beginning of 1992 to direct a two-year project that would see an apartment block in Ferentari, Bucharest refitted and nine foster care family units established to serve some of the children from Plătăreşti. The project eventually collapsed after the government broke its promises and we refused to pay "șpaga". I refused to give up the building, registered Casa Ioana as an NGO and eventually created a resource centre where local NGOs could manage their own social projects. Then I responded to a request from the General Mayor for Bucharest to open the country’s first night shelter for homeless older men in 1997 and it escalated from there. It was never supposed to be a life-project, but it reached a stage where I could not turn away from colleagues and friends who had struggled alongside me, nor could I abandon the people we were supporting. My life had morphed and I was intrinsically linked to my work and all that that meant. I am uncertain whether it was Romania that adopted me or the other way round, but Bucharest is the place where I have lived longest and Romania is the country that I now refer to as ‘home’.
3. Casa Ioana is aimed at creating opportunities and nurturing self-belief. You do that with an impressive success rate of 80%. What is the secret?
It is not so much a ‘secret’ as a well-tried and tested ‘formula for success’. Casa Ioana’s integrated ACASĂ program meets the particular needs of families and individuals over an extended period. We work with a broad network of both public-sector agencies and other service providers to help women and children resolve the issues that led to loss of their home while simultaneously helping them acquire the necessary skills and assistance they need to regain stability and affordable housing. Casa Ioana addresses the multiple underlying issues of domestic violence and family homelessness, rather than simply focusing on providing short-term emergency shelter.
The families and single women that we work with have complex and multifaceted needs. They see themselves facing an ‘insurmountable’ problem that has left them living on the street, very often with their children, facing daily challenges for food and somewhere safe to sleep at night. Hopelessness soon turns into despair.
Providing a safe place to stay and meeting the basic needs of our beneficiaries is the easy part. The real work comes with the professional psychosocial support aimed at getting children back into school, mothers back into work and eventually families back into affordable accommodation. We break down this seemingly impenetrable problem into smaller and thus manageable fragments, and then support the beneficiary in making an individual ‘action plan’ that will enable them to move on with their lives. This action plan will help beneficiaries resolve these smaller issues and find the resources they need to make it happen. The plan is regularly reviewed and adjusted if necessary. We further test the effectiveness of our services by regularly using an Outcomes Star to measure change in our as they move through the programme.
Although beneficiaries can stay up to one year, most are ready to move on within six to eight months. Our success criterion is high, meaning that successful beneficiaries will be those who leave in full employment and who have moved into affordable accommodation, or back to a supportive family. Although few former beneficiaries ever return to live on the streets, we do not consider other beneficiaries who move on into similar local authority of private charity services, or return to an abusive partner or family, a successful move on and they are not included in our success rate.
4. At the beginnings, your Ferentari neighbors named you “The crazy Englishman” because of your guts and determination in swimming against the current. Are things going better now in Romania when talking about charity social services?
Ah, that word again, ‘crazy’! It seems to follow me around! Despite the poverty and hardship, I have always believed that my four-years living among the impoverished Roma families was a very positive experience. I am not a big fan of Romanian politics and in particular, the government, so there will always be a certain tension between us when it comes to government policy, particularly in regards to women and children experiencing domestic abuse and family homelessness. Casa Ioana has amassed a wealth of experience and see our beneficiaries as ‘experts’ through their own experiences. We have a support programme that works because we involve the people we assist and share responsibilities. This approach is at odds with government who has a top down vision about service provision. Despite our experience and reputation, we are not consulted when it comes to developing a national strategy to combat the phenomenon. The local authorities are a little different though; they understand the value of what we provide and at the very least recognise and value our work.
Social ‘services’ are in the main delivered by charities with some in partnership with the local authorities, whilst state support is generally through wholly inadequate cash benefits. For example, the minimum income guarantee is worth around €35 each month. Poverty is increasing and homelessness, particularly family homelessness, is on the rise again, not just in Romania, but throughout Europe.
Government funding for our work has dropped from around 45% five-years ago to 13% for this year. Although companies can redirect 20% of their profit tax to charities, few Romanian companies do so, because they do not make a ‘profit’. On the other hand, companies that report to parent offices abroad generally have generous CSR budgets. The larger charities have recognised this and built strong fundraising teams to leverage this funding potential and this makes it difficult for the smaller, yet no less effective, charities.
5. Beside a shelter, Casa Ioana offers the victims of domestic violence the chance to study; moreover, you are developing your own internal educational program. Please tell us more details.
A serious and increasing form of domestic abuse that is often overlooked is economic exploitation. Abusers assert control over their partners by denying or impeding her ability to become economically self-sufficient. With economic concerns being voiced as the top barrier for survivors attempting to leave their abuser, there has become a crucial need for financial education programs.
Casa Ioana is developing its Financial Literacy Programme to include training in job skills that have been identified as important by HR managers in Bucharest. A training Coordinator will develop the programme and write the training needs assessments and training workshops based on the identified job skills' requirements, and deliver the workshops. HR personnel from local companies will be asked to provide advice on issues including CV writing, training in interview techniques, job shadowing and mentoring.
To improve personal financial management, Casa Ioana will enhance its Financial Literacy Programme by: allowing and encouraging women to return to formal education, developing a training needs assessment that will determine the areas where the beneficiary needs most assistance, initiating training workshops to improve beneficiaries' present and long-term financial well-being, providing practical advice on getting 'job-ready', improving the programme measurements to be more quantified and to track the beneficiaries' long-term success.
6. In the end, please a thought for NRCC members.
The Romanian business community has already accepted the need to recognise social and environmental factors when planning its development strategy and operations. For NGOs like Casa Ioana, it is very important to be assured of the necessary funds for developing projects. Moreover, we recognise that for companies the partnerships are only interesting if they consolidate a company’s role in the community, develop credibility and motivate their employees.
Poverty, injustice, discrimination: in a world where so many urgent social problems need tackling, two heads are surely better than one. Casa Ioana believes that collaborations between NGOs and companies, where money and expertise are combined in work on projects for social change, are increasingly popular with both sides.
For this change to be a genuine and long lasting, we believe partners must choose each other carefully, be honest about their real motivations in engaging and use their expertise to best effect. Ensuring that boards and CEOs of companies are committed to a partnership is essential, but a committed workforce can also do a lot to enable a particular project’s success. There have to be clear expectations on both sides and what each partner brings to the table has to be different but equivalent.
If your business is looking for a reliable partner to help create effective social change, then please talk to Casa Ioana. Our interest is to build long-term relationships to maximise brand and ensure effective and sustainable social change.
About Casa Ioana
Since 2000, Casa Ioana has concentrated on providing shelter and professional services to families and single women who have lost their homes. Domestic abuse is a leading cause of family homelessness. Each year, the organisation supports around 55 families and 10 single women. Casa Ioana’s professional psychosocial team is on the frontline of our work, building relationships and trust, opening doors for them and supporting them to move on with their lives. Through their unique ACASĂ programme, comprehensive services ensure that the family stays together whilst emphasis is placing on empowering individuals: a process by which people are supported to take control of their daily lives and exercise choice. Empowerment means that the people they serve have the power to take decisions in matters relating to themselves, their daily lives and their self-development.