A night-shelter for people experiencing homelessness has been running in Seraing for twenty years. In response to an emerging need, the existing day-shelter opened in 2009 to offer people in distress a place to rest during the day. Initially, the shelter stayed open only during winter months, then its opening period was extended from September to July. Today, its role is not only to welcome the homeless, but to ensure that everybody in need and facing precariousness can find there a professional with whom to address their problems, may it be of housing, administrative procedures, relational issues, debt management, health…As Laetitia Di Maira, the shelter director, points out:
Many people who live precarious lives may still have a place to stay, but often precariousness depends on housing conditions: it is not unusual that accommodations have no water nor heating; or that people are not capable of paying the bills….
In 2019, the day-shelter welcomed 8.447 people from January to December, except in August when it was closed. The rate of 79,2% of men and 20,8% of women is consistent with data in the Walloon region for access to emergency services, as well as the prevailing age group, between 30 and 39 years. Most of them accumulate hardships that originate from personal hardships, mental illnesses, addiction, over-indebtedness, domestic conflicts, and social marginalisation. According to staff members, three categories of users are welcomed: those who have found a stable condition but continue to visit the shelter to maintain social relations and find support with administrative issues; those who are in an irregular situation, without a permit, and come to eat, get warm and participate to activities but find no solution to their main problem; those who, often coming from the night-shelter, look for help to find accommodation and fix their precarious situation.
To address the needs and the requests of day-shelter’s users, the service is organised around the idea that anyone is welcomed inside to re-energise oneself, socialise, recover or find orientation toward other services. The day-shelter is open from Monday to Friday, 9 to 12 am and 1 to 5 pm; it provides shower and laundry facilities, a soup kitchen, support from social workers and educators, assistance on employment and training search, housing and administrative procedures; it also offers the possibility to participate to activities, trips and briefing sessions organised by partners.
Staff members are a director, a social worker and two educators. Their mission is to help anyone knocking on the door by addressing their needs in the immediate and possibly in the longer term: “We have a broad mission, but on a daily basis it is a case-by-case”, Di Maira says. They face growing difficulties linked to an increase in requests for assistance over the years. Furthermore, requests come from a population whose problems are more and more layered and deep-rooted, making it more challenging to help solve them. In Di Maira’s words,
The problem with contemporary society is that every person must fit into a predefined box (…). It is our mission to help anyone who needs it to refocus her or his path without being stigmatised for not being in the right box.
However, their work “includes a permanent risk of failure. Many of those we encounter and help, they come one or two years later with more serious problems to fix”.
 Interview with Laetitia Di Maira (7 June 2021)