An emergency shelter is a social center that allows the accommodation of any homeless person, unconditionally. It welcomes and hosts, most of the time people who face urgent or even vital needs, by offering essential services. For the majority, these are large collective dormitories, which offer a unique meal tray, at a low cost. The privacy and dignity of the people received are undermined in these tight spaces, where the lack of space exacerbates cultural differences or problems of addiction. For these reasons, many homeless people choose not to go there. In these centers, social workers give the best of themselves to welcome and help these people in great distress.
Most accommodation centers do not have a kitchen and those who have been there, sometimes on the street for several years, cannot cook. They are often forced to eat meal trays served in the center or during the marauders, which makes them lose all autonomy regarding food. For homeless people, food is first and foremost a response to a physical need, thus completely eliminating the concepts of meals, choice and pleasure.
These observations were the starting point for the pilot project of Marie Sénia, who worked in the Charles Domercq accommodation center in Bordeaux. The center is located in the Saint-Jean station district and is operated by the SOS Solidarités Group, which manages 185 establishments and services for more than 64,000 beneficiaries in France.
Allowing residents to have access to a kitchen and reconnect with food by making their own meals, shopping and making their own food choices: that was the goal of the project. Of course, this also implies working on the collateral aspects of the residents' food transition: social ties, autonomy, self-esteem, etc... in order to demonstrate how food can be an effective lever for the sustainable integration of marginalized individuals.
Instead of the traditional meal tray, a voucher allows them to do their shopping and have access to organic and local fruits and vegetables, so that they appropriate seasonal fruits and vegetables while supporting a local gardener. A collective kitchen space also allows the sharing of know-how and meals, while each resident has access to an individual kitchen and equipment in order to (re) learn to cook daily and independently.
Cooking workshops, organized every week by Marie Sénia, the project leader, make it possible to share knowledge and practices, in a friendly way, while raising awareness around sustainable food and learn nutritional guidelines. The residents are also involved in other activities such as managing the grocery store, preparing meals, etc... in order to regain their autonomy and self-esteem.
Example of a typical workshop, offered to a group of 4 to 6 residents:
- choice of a recipe based on seasonal fruits and vegetables
- grocery shopping done before the workshop
- cooking with the residents
- meal at the table with the residents and the socio-educational team
- collective household
Discover the podcast with residents' feedback on this experience: https://anchor.fm/marie-senia
This project has been developed by Marie Sénia, within the SOS Solidarités Group subsidiary in Bordeaux. Several partners have joined the project in order to provide their support and expertise: ERNEST association, which finances the purchase of fruit and vegetable baskets through raisings from restaurants. PHENIX, which collects unsold items from shops and redistributes them free of charge to offer them to residents within the grocery store, and REGAL, the local network to combat food waste.
The objective of this pilot project is to demonstrate that food can be a lever for sustainable integration and that it can be replicated in other centers in France.
Started in March 2019 when the center opened, it is currently being pursued in a process of continuous improvement in order to be able to draw an impact analysis and create a methodology replicable in other centers.
Written by Louise Galipaud, volunteer LFC - July 2020.
Last modification : 08 Jul 2020.
Groupe SOS Solidarités
Innovative project developed in an emergency shelter to make food a lever for sustainable integration.