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Personalities go homeless for YMCA

TV hosts Moira Delia and Peppi Azzopardi get a taste of the homeless` perspective at the launch of the Homeless Personalities event in Valletta yesterday. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

TV hosts Moira Delia and Peppi Azzopardi get a taste of the homeless` perspective at the launch of the Homeless Personalities event in Valletta yesterday. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

They may not be sleeping in cardboard boxes on the high street, but the homeless do exist in Malta. They live, out of sight, at Dar Niki Cassar, the YMCA shelter in Valletta, where social workers and volunteers help them rebuild their lives.

To raise awareness of their plight, and that of thousands of others who turn to the YMCA for help every year, a host of local celebrities will go homeless and sleep on 12 mattresses in Republic Street to fund-raise for the YMCA Valletta Homeless Project from 10 a.m. next Friday to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

The 'Homeless Personalities' stunt - this is the third such event - is part of the YMCA's Twelve Appeal, which will culminate in a concert by Live 8 hero Bob Geldof on June 28.

Participating personalities, who will live on bread and water for the duration, include singer Ira Losco, Scream Daisy frontman Jotham, TV hosts Peppi Azzopardi, Moira Delia, Ray Calleja and Rachel Attard, journalist Miriam Dalli, L-Ispjun's Ian, MPs Justyne Caruana and Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, footballer Carmel Busuttil, Daniel, Owen and Sander of Zinners fame, actor John Montanaro, athlete Xandru Grech, and police and Civil Protection officers.

On Friday night, 12 of Malta's top musicians will jam under the stars in an all-night unplugged session. On Saturday morning, Eighties fitness pioneer and charity fund-raiser Doris Cusens will lead keep fit sessions on Great Siege Square. Anyone can join in against a donation.

The Twelve Appeal was launched yesterday by YMCA, which also revealed statistics of social work programmes for 2005. Last year, YMCA made 6,405 interventions benefiting 9,000 people, an average of 25 cases a day involving an average 36 people. Individuals assisted last year amounted to 781.

These astounding figures mean YMCA needs Lm12 an hour to operate. The charity, founded in 1976 and part of the YMCA International Network, runs a range of services for the homeless. Some 300 people are homeless every day in Malta. Most actually have a home they cannot go to: YMCA's clients include people from troubled families, victims of domestic violence, and people living in sub-standard or dangerous housing.

YMCA, chaired by the indefatigable Jean-Paul Mifsud, employs five full-time and five part-time staff, including psychotherapists, social workers, youth workers, psychologists and counsellors. Just recently, the Housing Authority stepped in to help by sponsoring a salary for a year.

YMCA works with incredibly modest means but the staff are backed by an army of remarkably resourceful volunteers, all professionals in their fields - teachers, designers, accountants, lawyers - who help out with the paperwork, legal advice and fund-raising.

About 50 people walk into YMCA's Valletta drop-in centre, which is open six days a week from 8 a.m. till late, seeking advice or help. Project workers in attendance assess cases and determine which YMCA service - social work support, job seeking, food, furniture or clothing donations - is required. Where more specialised services are necessary, YMCA will refer clients to other bodies. Under its Generic Social Work Programme, YMCA helps people access services and facilitates links with government departments, legal advisors or utility companies.

Some 2,000 people benefited from the YMCA's food donation programme last year, which includes food donated by the EU.

YMCA also runs an in-house food programme. Clients who seek its help to pay outstanding bills are guided into paying their own debts in instalments and are given the equivalent value in food. YMCA does not hand out cash: instead clients are motivated to assume their own responsibilities.

Last year 700 items of food were distributed among 164 people and their dependants. Also last year, 92 items of furniture benefiting 190 people were distributed, and 246 people benefited from clothing donations.

Dar Niki Cassar can accommodate 22 people but last week alone the number fluctuated from 28 to 31 to 25, including some children. Residents live as a community and share chores. Children under 16 go to school and older youngsters are encouraged to attend training courses to learn skills to make them employable.

The shelter is spartan, to say the least, but for people laden with emotional baggage and a portfolio of problems it is a sanctuary from where they can hope for a better future. Mr Mifsud says most residents move on to greener pastures within three to six months, although a handful take longer.

At Dar Niki Cassar, residents are taught a variety of basic skills, like food and money budgeting and problem or anger management. YMCA also liaises with other organisations like the Child Protection Unit (CPU), the Red Cross, Appogg and Sedqa to follow up on individual care plans.

Last year, Dar Niki Cassar operated at its full potential and accommodated an average 20 clients a month. An average five clients moved on each month and were replaced by an average five every month. The shelter had a cumulative total of 243 clients and offered a cumulative total of 6,932 bed nights.

Benefactors may pledge Lm2 by texting 50619088 or Lm5 (50619212). People may also collect a form in Republic Street and sign up to make one-time or monthly Lm1 donations from their credit or debit card accounts to sponsor a bed at the YMCA shelter. Food donations for YMCA will also be accepted by the celebrity homeless next weekend.

The Twelve Appeal is supported by Vodafone, HSBC, Coca-Cola, Radisson SAS Golden Sands Resort and Spa, Progress Press, Typecult, Keith & Co, Classic Rock Promotions, KSU and timesofmalta.com, among others.

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