From 12 to 14 June, a delegation of cities from EUROCITIES visited Timisoara to offer peer support to further improve the host city’s action plan for Roma inclusion.
The three days of site visits, workshops and fruitful discussions led to a constructive feedback to Timisoara, which in turn, committed to take on board a set of actions to improve its Roma inclusion action plan for 2019. This mentoring visit proves the added value of mutual learning between peer cities as the best way to build capacity of local authorities for improving policies and practices with a positive impact on local communities.
The visit involved 10 representatives from 5 cities (Budapest, Cluj-Napoca, Ghent, Glasgow, Gothenburg) and a representative from the European Commission (DG EMPL). The visit was organised according to the ‘critical friend review’ methodology: the visiting city experts acted as ‘critical friends’ to provide constructive feedback to the host city.
The first day of the visit saw the host city present the policy context of Roma inclusion in Romania and what Timisoara is aiming to achieve through its action plan, adopted in early 2018 within the framework set by the National Strategy for inclusion of Roma minorities 2015-2020. A panel debate with representatives from Roma community, civil society and organisations followed the presentation. The social services department is acting upon an integrated approach with targeted actions for the Roma community, demonstrating that improving the living conditions of Roma people is a key priority. Timisoara is also participating in the URBInclusion project, part of URBACT III, with the objective to reduce poverty in its most deprived areas.
Day 2 saw the ‘critical friends’ visit four sites featuring good practice projects for Roma inclusion.
Firstly, the peer reviewers visited the Kuncz neighbourhood, one of the most deprived areas in Timisoara with 53.2% of inhabitants being Roma. They had the chance to visit three households and openly speak to them, making it an eye-opening experience enabling them to learn first-hand from Roma people about their struggle to get out of poverty and exclusion.
The second field visit was at the 'Potter’s House', a social centre for children from families living in poverty. The centre is managed by an NGO called 'Chosen Foundation' that works with volunteers carrying out non-formal learning activities for children of different ages, such as workshops of crafts, reading, cooking and painting, among others, taking a life-cycle approach of continuous mentoring support.
An amazing visit to the social centre Casa Olarului (part of the foundation Chosen). Here is where the disadvantaged youth of Timisoara can grow, learn and dream a better future! Also thanks to the many volunteers cooperating.#StudyVisit #EUROCITIES #RomaInclusion pic.twitter.com/62WedydMjf— EUROCITIES network (@EUROCITIEStweet) June 13, 2018
Thirdly, the city experts went to general school nr. 15 to see in practice some after-school activities offered by the 'United Way' organisation. Besides the 48 children at risk of marginalization that the after-school programme attends, it also works in parallel with vocational guidance and counselling to parents. For example, the critical friends had the chance to personally meet a group of mothers participating in a 12-week course for family counselling.
Finally, the critical friends visited the homeless centre that provides integrated services and rehabilitation plans for homeless people, including shelter, food, health check-ups, support for entering the labour market and/or obtaining retirement benefits and social work support.
Last two stops of our on-field visit in Timisoara: at the general school n. 15 we could learn about the good practices of #RomaInclusion in the education system. Then we visited the city homeless centre, a functional, effective good example of solidarity.#StudyVisit #EUROCITIES pic.twitter.com/9zsWj6k45r— EUROCITIES network (@EUROCITIEStweet) June 13, 2018
The critical friends concluded that positive results are already being achieved with the Roma inclusion action plan, but there is still room for improvement in some areas. The commitment of the social services department, together with the involvement of NGOs and civil society, surely empowers the process of social inclusion. As strengths to build on, the critical friends identified the good practice of job fairs held in the neighbourhoods where Roma people live, the parental literacy courses and women empowerment initiatives, the social ambulance used to reach out to people in need on the streets, the focus on early-school prevention and the structures already in place for the Local Roma Action Group and the wider Local Consultative Group for Roma inclusion.
Exchange of feedbacks and ideas for a solid impact on citizens' lives!— EUROCITIES network (@EUROCITIEStweet) June 14, 2018
In Timisoara, discussing concrete actions for #RomaInclusion. Critical friends review methodology and SWOT scheme to provide effective change, from cities, to cities, for citizens.#StudyVisit #EUROCITIES pic.twitter.com/ga12ShmYF3
The critical friends also identified some areas for further improvement, which the host city warmly welcomed and showed commitment to take on board:
• Giving Roma people access to permanent IDs. The problem identified is that many Roma people only have a temporary ID that expires after one year and some do not have any identity documents at all because they lack an address as they do not possess property documents for the houses in which they live. The 'Copenhagen model' of setting a generic address for the entire neighbourhood could be a solution which the head of social services department welcomed to look into its feasibility.
• Support to Roma people with former criminal record to enter the labour market: the municipality intends to work closely with the judicial county authority and public employment services to develop specific incentives for employers.
• Setting up a longer-term plan based on need-assessment and Roma involvement. It is assessed that the current action plan for Roma inclusion in 2018 is a good starting point, but for the future the action plan should be designed for a longer timeframe of three years to allow for measures that go beyond one-off activities and build towards sustainable inclusion of Roma.
• Need more resources to improve outreach by social workers. It would be beneficial to have more social workers involved in street outreach activities and monitoring Roma families situation on a more regular basis. However, resources are very limited; for this reason, the critical friends offered their support to involve Timisoara in joint projects funded by EU programmes, like ROMACT.
Both the host city and the critical friends were very pleased with the outcomes of the mentoring visit. In fact, not only the municipality of Timisoara could find solid suggestions, constructive feedback and trustworthy partners to keep on improving, but also the other cities’ delegates themselves could learn about good and innovative practices to be ‘transferred’ to other parts of Europe.
A special mention goes to the rich cultural programme prepared by the host city to present the Roma culture, including dances, music and traditions, as well as local customs from the region of Timisoara, which the visiting cities have truly enjoyed discovering.