É Uma Vida – Refugee and asylum seeker integration through independent housing
Type of Information
Maria Carmona and Francisca Barreiros (Login to send email)
Contact Person Function
The ‘É Uma Vida’ projects, carried out by Association Crescer, target asylum seekers and refugees who are hosted under the Municipal Programme for the Reception of Refugees in the City of Lisbon (PMAR Lx). There are two projects—one for families and one for individuals. The projects’ focus is on independent housing, and project beneficiaries are integrated into shared, independent dwellings and accompanied by a case manager throughout the 18-month period during which they are entitled to support.
Issue/Challenge and Goal/Assumption
The beneficiaries of the projects are mostly people from East Africa and Western Asia who were forced to leave their countries because of armed conflicts, widespread violence or serious violations of human rights. They are in situations of vulnerability, far from their families and living in a country with an unfamiliar culture and language.
To help these asylum seekers and refugees establish themselves and rebuild their lives in a new country, the É Uma Vida projects aim to include them in Portuguese society by promoting independent housing and access to diverse community resources—health and social services, activities related to employability, education, sports and leisure activities and other resources that address their needs. The projects’ goal is to help the social integration of 100 asylum seekers and refugees.
How does it work
É Uma Vida draws on principles of Housing First, a methodology developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the United States to tackle homelessness. Housing First’s approach is to move homeless individuals and families directly into permanent housing, rather than emergency shelters or transitional housing programmes. One of the main objectives of this methodology is to promote the inclusion of the beneficiary group in the community.
For É Uma Vida, the Housing First method is adapted for the asylum seeker and refugee population, thus becoming an innovative response for this target group. É Uma Vida provides access to housing in the form of rentals on the housing market rather than in accommodation centres. The projects also promote neighbourhood relations, better Portuguese language learning, greater contact with local commerce and community services and access to the labour market.
The projects employ close monitoring, establishing trust between the project staff and beneficiaries. The main project activities include:
Assistance with housing
- Search for rental housing on the housing market
- Preparation of dwellings for move-in
Prior to move-in
- Medical history interviews
- Visits to living quarters
- Matching of possible housemates
- Assignment of case manager for each beneficiary
- Regular visits to the residence
- Referrals to social support services
- Registration at the community health centre
- Promoting professional integration
- Integration in the school system
- Assistance with administrative requirements (e.g., legal status)
- Promoting Portuguese language learning
- Psychological support
- Collection and management of donated goods
- Promoting civic participation in the community
- Outbound Interviews
- Over the past three years, the two projects have helped to integrate 142 people, 85 of whom were part of a family and 57 who arrived in Portugal as individuals. They were aged between 0 and 62 years.
- Of this total number, 52 people left the country before the end of the PMAR Lx support period.
- Among the remaining 90 people, 36 completed the É Uma Vida programme and have become independent, and 54 are currently being monitored by Association Crescer.
- Among the 39 adults currently involved in the projects, 21 are employed, 1 is a higher education student and 1 performs paid odd jobs.
- 5 beneficiaries are currently in the process of family reunification, and 1 has already completed this process.
Access to social services
All beneficiaries are enrolled in the National Health Service and have access to healthcare. Most beneficiaries have access to a food bank, besides those living in two civil parishes that do not provide this support. In general, people are integrated in the communities where they live and have access to services and practical needs like supermarkets and health and sports facilities. Some of the beneficiaries have set up social support networks with neighbours, co-workers and other contacts made during the integration process.
Project staff note that people come to Portugal with expectations that are not always met, namely regarding access to language learning. Association Crescer has tried to meet these expectations through alternative responses, regularisation of beneficiaries’ stay and labour market integration efforts. Staff members also note that the way beneficiaries approach the integration process and the relationship they establish with project staff impact the success of the inclusion process.
Every 18 months, each of the two projects is evaluated by the coordinating and funding entity (Lisbon City Council) with an intermediate report and a final report. In addition, there is monthly monitoring regarding the project team’s work with each of the beneficiaries, which reflects the number of visits, follow-ups, referrals and other activities that deserve attention.
Main indicators for project evaluation
- Number of people integrated in the independent housing programme
- Number of health and social services-related activities (referrals, follow-ups, etc.)
- Access to main public services
- Legal status obtained
- High employability among beneficiaries; more than 50% of people of working age hold a job
- Integration of all children in the school system
- Formal and informal partnerships established with community structures, thus promoting integration
- Integration into independent housing should take place as soon as possible. The project staff believe that integration into independent housing (rather than accommodation centres) has a major impact on the autonomy and integration of beneficiaries.
- Beneficiaries should reside in dwellings that are integrated and dispersed in the community. They should also be involved in the process of choosing dwellings. This promotes the autonomy and dignity of the beneficiaries, and also prevents the formation of ‘ghettos’.
- Intervention should be based on a close relationship between beneficiaries and the project team. Building this relationship entails conducting visits in a housing context, promoting a follow-up strategy from the beginning of the integration process and taking into account the objectives defined by the beneficiaries.
While beneficiaries’ opinions about the project can fluctuate due to the difficult situations they encounter, their opinion is mostly positive when they are able to distance themselves from these problems. The project staff attribute positive feedback to the relationships built and to the beneficiaries’ understanding that they have a team supporting them throughout the integration process. The fact that project staff understand and recognise the issues that can challenge integration strengthens trust.
Who will benefit?
The projects targets asylum seekers and refugees who arrived in Portugal under the Relocation and Reinstallation Programmes. Most of the beneficiaries are of Syrian, Iraqi or Eritrean nationality, and there are also some stateless persons.
Source of funding and Resources used
Both É Uma Vida projects are funded by the Lisbon City Council. The project for families has a budget of €180,000 and the project for individuals has a budget of €210,000.
The project staff consist of technical team members (including one coordinator) and project monitors who assure daily activities. The team also has the support of interpreters who speak the languages of the beneficiaries. In addition, volunteers support the beneficiaries in Portuguese language learning.
The projects also developed partnerships with other organisations for various forms of social support—food, leisure activities, language, etc.