“An encounter with the Koffiehuis, can be shocking for company volunteers”
The Koffiehuis (Coffee House) on Haarlemmerstraat is a safe haven for homeless or undocumented visitors. The foundation is a social enterprise that is largely run by and for participants together with the necessary volunteers. Together we provide clean clothing, coffee, lunch and the sweeping and greening teams make the environment clean and colorful. On some days, groups of colleagues also come to volunteer for a day. “There is an intense mutual interest between homeless people and the volunteers,” says Roel Piera, the director of the Koffiehuis.
Employees of companies can look for suitable volunteer work at many social organizations in Amsterdam via Business Involved, a platform of, among others, Volunteers Centrel Amsterdam. “At our Coffee House, company volunteers can help, for example, to provide lunch for about 30 homeless guests or to strengthen the sweeping or greening teams. For them it is often an introduction to a completely different world. The world of people who have no roof over their heads and are uninsured. That is shocking for many volunteers.”
The strange outside world
“I sometimes compare our Coffee House with that little Gallic village of Asterix and Obelix. The outside world is sometimes very strange to us, just like Asterix and Obelix talked about 'strange guys, those Romans'. Here it is also the case that the cooperation and the economy do function at home. And beyond that for them very flawed or not. Of the thirty homeless people with us, about half have no roof over their heads and the other half can (partially) arrange something through emergency shelter or friends, a boat or something like that. We have nine sleeping places available elsewhere. When it freezes, people can happily use the shelter under the Winter Cold Arrangement of the municipality. No one should have to die on the street.” Roel fills up here. “Unfortunately, not everyone has succeeded in the past ten years.”
From all corners of the world
“During the first financial crisis, many young people came from Southern Europe. Later many people came from North Africa and also from Eritrea. Currently, many people come from Central and Eastern Europe. We do not receive a subsidy for homeless shelters, but the municipality does pay us for street and green maintenance. I feel very proud when I think of all the green areas in the city that are designed and maintained by us. The participants always receive a volunteer allowance and breakfast, coffee after two hours of work and a good hot lunch after three hours of work. Between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. it really is a community or a working community that stands up for each other and is proud of the work.”
We achieved that together
“The people of companies often only have two days a year in which they are allowed to do voluntary work by their employer. These are all kinds of companies such as Booking, Liberty Global, JAM3, Phillips, etc. It is important to find well-defined jobs that benefit them and us. When the company volunteers help out on the street, they experience what our participants also experience. Other company volunteers cook lunch for thirty people at the same time. There is an intense mutual interest between the homeless and the volunteers. Social security in the Netherlands goes very far, but there are always limits. The Coffee House, but also mosques and churches work on that border. The volunteers always go to work with a lot of motivation and commitment. The great thing about Business Involved is that you can make such good agreements about clearly defined tasks, dates, times, finances, goals and commitment. There is a lot of appreciation for each other and you always experience successes and victories. The feeling: we managed to do that together!”
It always works out
“Sometimes we get 15 to 20 company volunteers at once. Then we come up with a nice green project, for example. Such as assembling and planting thirty steel planters together. The commitment of the homeless is the constant. The incidental volunteers are larger in number, but it is quite a challenge to steer all those ad hoc activities in the right direction. But at the Koffiehuis it always works out. Everything works out every day.” Roel smiles with satisfaction.
You can find more about this special project on the website of the Koffiehuis.
If you want to make an impact with your company, look here.
And of course you can also look up our office hours and search through our volunteer jobs database for many more fun volunteer jobs.
Photos: Jackie Mulder
Interview: Thecla Groot Koerkamp