Bistro Střecha changing lives.

Bistro Střecha a vegan restaurant
changing lives.

Nearly six hundred years ago, the famous Czech Military commander Jan Žižka and his army were surrounded at Kutná Hora by the Roman Empire. With determination, guile and some fearsome farm wagons, they managed to punch their way out of encircling forces and went on to win a famous victory. Now, in tribute to this and numerous other military victories, a huge statue of Jan Žižka sits proudly on Vitkov hill casting his one good eye out over Prague. We’re talking of course about Žižkov and this bustling little area, which is home to nearly sixty thousand people, contains countless bars and restaurants, shops and charming little bistros.
If you happen to find yourself in Žižkov it is worth visiting an rather unique little Bistro located in Miločova, here you can while away the time, eating their terrifically good value lunch offerings. This in itself is not that unusual, the set-up however is:
The Bistro Střecha is a cooperative vegan restaurant.
The Bistro was founded by people who have had direct experience with homelessness or whose lives have been adversely affected by their social backgrounds, their employees are homeless individuals and ex-prisoners. Anyone who has had experience of either of the two predicaments will be only too aware of the vicious circle of homelessness or the stigma of having spent time in prison and how they can prevent an individual from moving on with his or her life. Here then is while not a solution to the problem, it is at least a leg-up for those in most need of it. If they manage to work at Bistro Střecha for six months they are entitled to become part of the cooperative, however this can also cause problems, those who are indebted to the bank can find their part in the cooperative removed and taken over by the bank in question, a heartless and cruel thing to do, these individuals struggle with earning a low wage and they are expected to pay off debts to the bank before they eat. Working in a vegan establishment also means that the employees as well as the patrons are playing their part in the painfully slow movement over to sustainable and greener eating options, the benefits are therefore environmentally sound, as well as material.

Bistro Střecha couldn’t do this without help. of course, and it works with two non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). The first of these is ‘Rubikon Centrum’ and they help ex-cons to integrate back into society, to try and overcome any financial debts they may have and to be an organization ex-prisoners can turn to. The second NGO is called ‘Jako Doma’ and they help homeless women, standing by their side and encouraging the recognition and removal of inequalities that homeless women face, these range from experiencing terrible violence to struggling mothers in desperate need of a long term solution to their predicament. These NGOs provide the workers for Bistro Střecha, they have only been open for eight months and in that time they have hired eight people who now have the chance to build something better for themselves. Such is the success of the project that they have decided to open a catering business in order to help more people.
The restaurant is developing further incentives, such as a 50% discount to people over 65 years of age, which is slated to begin next year. Great food, excellent prices and superb service also comes with the knowledge that the food you’re eating is sustainable, which generates a satisfaction in the soul and in the stomach!
Sadly in the Czech Republic there are over 68,000 homeless people, the figure in Prague is seven thousand and unless you’ve been walking around with a blindfold on you can’t have failed to notice. Debt, alcoholism and unemployment are major contributory factors. There are NGO’s, which exist to try and help the situation but they face a chronic shortage of governmental support and social workers, contributing to the malaise. In addition to the existing number of homeless people on the streets, there are nearly 120,000 people on the edge of being homeless. If you are living on a small pension you are unlikely to be able to afford the two month’s deposit required by most real estate companies and social housing is scarce and difficult to obtain, so the only option for some is to live in a rented room or stay with a friend and only if they are lucky enough to know someone with available space. Since prices continue to grow relentlessly, the problem will only get worse.

As a result of unpaid bills and the unfair and unchecked fees levied by debt collectors, ex-prisoners accumulate debts on average of 250,000CZK while they are inmates. These debts can quickly escalate and get out of hand, leading to desperate situations. There are also health insurance and social security costs to pay and while state programs offer inmates the opportunity of working and earning money, 50CZK an hour will do little to dent these debts, let alone pay them off. Quite often an ex-prisoner will end up back inside because their dire situation leads to committing a crime just to try and get out of debt.
We can do our bit to try and alleviate the situation by supporting worthy causes such as Bistro Střecha. Spread the word to your friends and family, follow them on social media and head into Žižkov to try them out, homelessness is a terrible stain on today’s society and it is society which must lead the way in reforming and eradicating the awful predicament that will be faced by thousands this Winter.
Photo credit to @gejdiv for Bistro Střecha