We started a new round of city labs under the title Inclusive Zagreb. Third session was dedicated to people at risk of poverty where we explored sources of social exclusion that families at risk are facing. This included lack of formal and informal support, digital, legal, economic and social factors. We specifically discussed position of homeless people, recipients of social assistance, elderly at risk of poverty, youth not in education, training or employment (NEET youth), and then based on these discussions, 5 community projects were implemented in December 2022 and January 2023.

Virtual Place

Hybrid Pop-Up CityLab: Platform & Location Department for Social Work at the Faculty of Law, Nazorova 51, Zagreb


Start: 09.11.2022
End: 09.11.2022


City of Zagreb

13.00-13.15 Introduction 13.15-14.15 moderated group discussions in separate five groups: Homeless people (two groups), recipients of social assistance, NEET population, elderly at risk of poverty 14.15.-15.00 conclusions from sessions, overall conclusion.

December 2022 and January 2023. Implementation of community projects

Total participants: 89 Total students: 42 Total Staff members: 6 Total representatives of societal stakeholder: 12 city representatives, 24 professionals, 5 not specified.

LACK OF LEGAL SUPPORT FOR HOMELESS POPULATION The selected problem refers to economic and legal factors in the Maksimir city district. It refers to the insufficient legal framework that regulates the rights of the homeless, which also has financial consequences, i.e. (not) receiving benefits to which they are entitled. On the legal side, the most significant problem can be highlighted as unregistered residence and/or residence, and thus the impossibility of possessing an identity card, which is a legal document required to acquire all other individual rights (e.g. rights from the social welfare system). On the other hand, the economic factors are dominated by low or almost no income, bad redistribution of money due to the consumption of alcohol and other intoxicants, and difficulties in employment. If one wants to start from the very "core" of the problem, one should first look at the very definition of homelessness, which does not specify well enough which persons belong to that group. From this only a series of problems continues, which accumulate and are solved rather slowly and with difficulty. There is a law for the exercise of rights, but the extent to which it is sufficient and whether it is used appropriately remains under a big question mark. As practice shows, this is not the case. The main problem in this lies in the fact that homeless people do not have a registered address, and therefore no place of residence, which is related to having an identity card. In addition, there is sometimes resistance from social welfare centres’ employees when it comes to reporting the addresses of individual users, which further complicates the situation. There is an issue of the health care system because homeless people without health insurance and a doctor cannot get a referral, medicines, they do not know who to turn to for help, and thus their ability to meet basic life needs is threatened. A frequent problem is the so-called criminalization of the homeless, i.e. receiving fines for sleeping in public places such as parks, stations or squares. The law itself is quite rigid and vaguely defined, which leads to more difficult implementation, ambiguity and inadequate application of the same. This is followed by the mentality as a problem, because the experts in institutions do not want to do anything other than what is within their competence. Therefore, the intersectoral cooperation of experts dealing with the problem of homelessness is extremely bad and requires certain changes. In addition, the wishes and needs of the homeless as beneficiaries of social welfare are in many cases put aside. The user's perspective should be the guide, but unfortunately this is not often seen in practice. Assumptions about what users need lead to users themselves creating a bad image of the workers and the entire welfare system. Users do not have knowledge of their rights, and past experience shows that little is being done to change that. In order to make progress, it is necessary to make the public and the profession aware of the issue of homelessness itself. It is still considered a "sensitive" social topic. It can be said that the relationship between the homeless and society as a whole is based on discrimination and lack of interest of people and experts. The status of the homeless in society is marginal, they have no social and political power, and precisely because of this they are vulnerable and at a significantly high risk of being stigmatized. They are forced to live in an environment where they are automatically labelled with adjectives such as laziness, danger, addiction, unreliability, disease and a number of others. Because of the stigma that accompanies them every day, they do not have the opportunity to realize their rights, nor to show the community that they are not what they are considered to be because of some long-standing opinion. Let us note that the homeless people were not even in the social welfare system until 2011. Non-profit organizations and associations are of great help, but they still cannot influence the Law or the experts working in social welfare centers, who have the greatest influence on the realization of the rights of the homeless. In conclusion, it is necessary to lay the foundations for good practice, in order to be able to implement services and finally enable adequate solutions.

IMPLEMENTED COMMUNITY PROJECT: Educational workshop with homeless people in city association ˝Dom nade˝ about their social rights.

FORMAL AND INFORMAL SUPPORT FOR HOMELESS PEOPLE: According to the data of the Croatian Network for the Homeless in the city of Zagreb, there are 700 to 1,000 people who are on the street, and the Main Station in the area of the city's Donji grad district is the largest shelter where 70 to 100 homeless people stay. According to a survey on homelessness from 2012, 48% of respondents have never started a marriage or cohabitation, and 80% who have had the experience of marriage do not contact their family (Galić and Pavlina, 2012). Also, 30.6% of respondents do not have a person they would call a close friend, and 41.5% had no contact with friends within a week of data collection (Galić and Pavlina, 2012). Informal support has a great impact on the entry of a person into homelessness, but also on the exit from homelessness. Family and friends are the ones who provide us with support in solving problems and overcoming difficulties, and the homeless are a vulnerable group that usually does not have this support available. In addition to all material and health factors, according to research data, the lack of informal support is one of the main causes of homelessness. Homeless people within their vulnerable group also do not have particularly close contacts, but their conversations are based on passing on information about services and other resources they can use. The citizens of Donji Grad meet the homeless much more often because this group is the most visible in this part of the city, but the homeless do not have developed relationships with the neighborhood, nor are they involved in the decision-making process in the community or in informal gatherings. According to research data, 70% of citizens meet homeless people in their surroundings and in their daily lives, but the vast majority agree with the statement that the quality of the community is impaired if homeless people live in it (Družić Ljubotina, 2021). When we talk about forms of assistance to the homeless, citizens are most often ready to provide donations and financial resources, and rarely use any active form of assistance, such as volunteering and establishing physical contact with this vulnerable group (Družić Ljubotina, 2021). According to research data, only 7% of citizens volunteered in institutions and associations that take care of the homeless, and 58% of them gave money to the homeless on the street (Družić Ljubotina, 2021). Considering these data, in this project we considered that one of the important methods of work is physical contact, and not only the collection of material resources, which are often not enough for the homeless, nor do they help them overcome the circle of exclusion and poverty. In order to overcome this circle, interdepartmental cooperation of experts is needed, as well as increased awareness and sensitization of people for this problem and this vulnerable group. By visiting the community, we confirmed the results of the research because we saw that the homeless mostly gather in front of the public kitchen in Branimirova. On Tuesdays and Fridays, they wait for hot meals distributed by the Savao association at the Central Station, and during the day they are at the Importanne center, where they distribute the Ulični fenjeri magazine. Citizens no longer even pay attention to the homeless on the street and often bypass and avoid them. Encouraging volunteering and active forms of assistance plays an important role in improving informal support. In the city of Zagreb, there are a large number of associations where citizens can volunteer, but it is necessary to consistently inform the public about the activities through which citizens can help this group. A positive example of volunteering is the volunteer program of the Volunteer Center, which in 2009 held creative workshops with the homeless in the city of Zagreb's hostel and spent free time and activities with the homeless (eg going to the theater). Stigmatization of the homeless still exists because among the perceived causes of homelessness, personal reasons and factors (addiction) are at the forefront; and not lack of social justice or material/financial situation (Družić Ljubotina, 2021). Citizens find intimate relationships with homeless people unacceptable, but they are ready to accept them for formal relationships such as colleagues at work or neighbors (Družić Ljubotina, 2012). The attitude of the general population is also that the homeless are single people, people who do not have children. people who have never been employed, people who have never been married. Research tells us exactly the opposite. Homeless people mostly have experience of marriage (44% are divorced), 60% have children and have an average of 14 years of work experience (Družić Ljubotina, 2021). We conclude that when working on this problem, it is important to work on improving family relations and resolving disagreements, because the homeless are not people who never had a family, but people who lost family support in the most difficult moments and the social network did not help them in unfavorable circumstances such as unemployment. When working with families, it is important that there is agreement and willingness of both parties to improve relations due to the depth of family problems and difficulties. Some of the homeless in Donji Grad are people who came from other parts of the Republic of Croatia, and many of them have completely lost contact with their family and natural support network. When working on informal support, it is therefore important to enable the homeless person to get in touch with his family if the person has the will to contact the family again. In conclusion, following all of the above, it is important to point out that homelessness is not only material deprivation, but also social deprivation, which is evidenced by the damaged relationships of the homeless with their families and the lack of support from their social network. Shelters located on the outskirts of the city or outside the city also have an impact on the lack of informal support, and this contributes to even greater stigmatization and makes it difficult for the homeless to integrate into the local community. This factor encourages the self-stigmatization of the homeless, which often leads to a damaged self-image and damaged mental health. It is also necessary to work on the availability of psychological support for the homeless, which would lead to a greater awareness of the homeless about the importance of mental health and self-esteem. Homeless people often have no one to have informal conversations with or come to hang out with, and this leads to reduced social and communication skills. Due to all of the above, in this district there is a basis for working on the problem of lack of informal support, because people in this local community meet the homeless more often, the homeless are more visible due to their greater number in this part of the city, and it is possible to encourage volunteerism and physical contact through various contents.

IMPLEMENTED COMMUNITY PROJECT: Sensitizing citizens about the position of the homeless in society: street work with citizens

ELDERLY AT RISK OF POVERTY: The problem is the non-involvement of older people from the local community in programs of lifelong education. Although there are programs in the community that are offered to older people, the programs are either within institutions, for example, homes for the elderly or within associations that have their own users who attend this type of program. Those who are not involved in the work of civil society organizations in the area of neighborhood Trnje or who are not in the home are actually not included in their lifelong education programs either. Also, given that these are elderly people with low incomes or pensions, even if they would like to join the lifelong learning program that is available to all people in the community and beyond, and which is offered by the University for the Third Age, the program is too expensive for their income and have more priority things for which they use their pensions. That is why it is important to include people from the local community in free programs conducted by experts in the field, so that this inclusion does not represent another burden on their budget, but opens up an opportunity for socializing, spending free time, learning and improving personal competencies. Those who recognized this problem are the elderly themselves, experts in the field of social welfare and students of social work. Experts who work with elderly people recognize this problem as important mainly because they are in direct contact with them and are familiar with their desire for life-long education programs that can be diverse and with different topics that would improve their quality of life. During the work on the project, through communication with experts from several areas from the local community, we gained insight into how experts are aware of this problem and how some have already acted in this direction, but there is no program in the city district of Trnje that is implemented continuously, except Universities for the third age of life, which, as we have already stated, are financially inaccessible to our population. They are aware of the fact that technology is advancing more and more every day, that young people are learning more and more every day, which is why older people are lagging behind and there is a gap between them and the younger generations. It is important to note that such a program would also offer continuing education for older people who would have the opportunity to advance in terms of occupation or retraining, which would open up the possibility of working on a smaller scale (e.g. 4 hours a day), which would allow them to get a job somewhere in the local community and also be involved in the work of the community, and at the same time improve their financial situation. The possibility of learning foreign languages or mastering some new skills (eg sewing, drawing) or improving knowledge of existing skills would open up for them, which would complete their everyday life. The individual causes of the problem come from the lack of awareness of the elderly about the benefits of lifelong education, as well as the determination of their priority list about daily activities, whereby the avoidance of such situations (e.g. participation in a project) occurs due to fear or embarrassment, as well as the lack of motivation to get involved. With regard to the political or structural causes of the problem, we can say that the biggest impact is the non-identification of the problem by the community, the rest of society (eg at the city level), but also the authorities' lack of interest in that area of activity. The social origin of this problem refers to society's ignorance of the needs of the elderly, as well as their insufficient awareness of this population. The problem is also the insufficient number of experts who would primarily deal with this problem and their positive trend of change. Regarding the institutional causes, we can say that the main role is played by the orientation of the institutions towards the users of these institutions and the preoccupation in the institutions, while the neglect of other stakeholders of the local community, i.e. the elderly. An important role in this part of the origin of the problem is volunteers, of which there are not enough, but also the lack of ideas on how to include the elderly in lifelong education programs.

IMPLEMENTED COMMUNITY PROJECT: Digital workshop for the elderly in local centre for elderly

NEET POPULATION: The problem that this project deals with is the invisibility of the NEET population, that is, the impossibility of reaching the NEET population. Namely, only 57% of the NEET population is registered with the employment offices, and there is no other unique database through which the NEET population could be monitored and recorded. The problem stood out as valid in practical work with the NEET population, because existing projects, programs and services have difficulty reaching the target population, their response, and thus questioning their expediency. It is primarily seen as a problem by persons/institutions that are in contact with the NEET population in their work, but it has also been highlighted as a current problem by researchers/theorists who in their scientific works point to the invisibility of the NEET population and imply the improvement of the connection of the system in order to started solving the problem. Also, the problem was highlighted through statistical data, since it is difficult to collect them for the same population and data from different sources are usually combined in order to be able to conclude about the extent and structure of the NEET population, about which little is known. Thus, the problem of the invisibility of the NEET population contributes to insufficient knowledge about the NEET population and the difficulty of finding the NEET population, which in the long run leads to the provision of low-quality services and programs for the same population and the inability to provide assistance. As for the scope of the problem, statistical data say that 14.9% of the NEET population in Croatia is present, which would mean that 15 out of 100 young people do not work, do not get an education or attend professional training programs, that is, the number of NEET population in Croatia it would be equivalent to a city the size of Varaždin. Unemployment in Croatia is one of the burning and current problems because it primarily affects the economy, therefore it is in the interest of not only individuals and groups, but also the state itself, to reduce the unemployment rate so that the overall well-being of the inhabitants and the state will increase. Furthermore, unemployment is not only an economic problem, but also a social problem, as it contributes to social exclusion and disadvantage of a person. What is a particular problem in Croatia is youth unemployment, and this is proven by the fact that 48.1% of the newly unemployed are young people. The dynamics of this problem actually indicate an already existing trend of youth unemployment in Croatia. Namely, the unemployment rate of young people, NEET people, as well as the general population, in the statistical data of the Republic of Croatia always indicates a higher average compared to the EU. Also, the problem of the NEET population has existed for a long time, but it was recognized as such 10 years ago, when research interest in this group increased, and because of which researchers pointed out in their works the problems that institutions and people in working with the NEET population cite. The problem can primarily be influenced if a connected system of institutions is developed in working with the NEET group, and the basis for this is the recording and registration of this population, because without this it is not possible to undertake any other actions and changes. The institutional causes of this problem can be found in the disjointed system as already mentioned, i.e. the lack of cooperation between associations and institutions dealing with the NEET group, but also the lack of a single database to which all institutions would have access, in order to facilitate access to the NEET population , and thereby improve not only the services and programs that are provided, but also increase the level of knowledge and understanding of the target population, as this would facilitate research on the same. Social causes are found in the stigmatization of the NEET population by society, as well as in society's lack of awareness of the very existence of this problem and vulnerable group. As far as individual causes are concerned, the lack of motivation and mistrust in institutions by members of the NEET population stands out the most, which further complicates the problem, but it should be emphasized that the members of the NEET population themselves are not aware of their belonging to a vulnerable group.

IMPLEMENTED COMMUNITY PROJECT: Video filmed for sensitizing about NEET population

RECIPIENTS OF SOCIAL ASSISTANCE: The chosen problem is lack of social services for recipients of social assistance. This problem is seen and recognized by experts who are informed and deal with users as well as the users themselves, while the majority of other citizens do not recognize and do not see the existence of this problem because this group is stigmatized in society as a group that "does nothing". The visibility of the problem is manifested in the lack of services specifically for this group and in less public interest and initiative for this group. In the area of the Donji grad district, the share of residents who receive social assistance is 0.9% of the total population, which is a low number, but it directly affects recipients who also deal with stigmatization from the community and have less financial and other resources. The situation worsened after two earthquakes in 2020, when environmental problems in the form of damage to residential areas, their renovation and the increase in reserves came to light. As a result, the social network was narrowed due to the emigration of part of the population due to the earthquake and insecurity for further housing in the area. The direction of this problem can be controlled by research on awareness of the problem of the lack of specific social services for users of ZMN and in general on awareness of this user group and initiatives that would reduce stigmatization and recognize the vulnerability of this group that lives on the poverty line. Origin of the problem: The individual causes of the problem are the passivity of ZMN users and the long time they receive this benefit. The political/structural causes of the problem are that there are no services other than monetary ones, monetary compensation is not based on the needs of the user and is not individualized. The social causes of the problem are manifested in the lack of awareness of citizens and the community about this problem, the lack of social empathy for this group of users, stigmatization and the sensationalist approach to poverty in the media. The institutional causes of the problem can be seen in the lack of advocacy for changes by institutions, the lack of activity at the level of institutions, the lack of interest of the experts themselves in working with users and in encouraging changes, but also in the lack of time and space for direct work with users.

IMPLEMENTED COMMUNITY PROJECT: Action research about needs assessment of social benefit recipients for social services.


UNIC CityLabs


Social inclusion | Poverty

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