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Day in the life of a street paper vendor: Hana Kočová

 Nový Prostor - Czech Republic 31 October 2019

Hana Kočová thought she had life under control. She had a husband, a child, a job and a nice family home. But then, disaster struck. Now, the 54-year old is a street paper vendor for Novy Prostor in Czech Republic. This is her powerful story of survival. (1004 Words) - By Staff writer

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Vendor Hana Kočová sells Novy Protor on the streets of Prague, CzechrepublicPhoto: c/o Street Paper Novy prostor


"I used to live a happy ife. I was a qualified cook, but due to a lack of work I had to take on other jobs, like a sorter at the post office. My daughter from a previous relationship started attending elementary school when I married. My husband raised her as if she was his own and she used to call him daddy. We were a family.

Our married life was great, but then my husband died. After nineteen years together, he suffered an injury at work and suddenly he was gone. I did not expect anything like that ever to happen to me and was not ready for it.

The flat we had lived in as a family belonged to my mother-in-law. Me and her never liked each other much and she made us leave after my husband passed away. We ended up homeless. My daughter ran off and went  to live with a family of Jehovah's witnessess. We fell out. It was only much later that she got back in touch and now we are on speaking terms again.

Whilst living on the streets, I made some friends who tried to find me a job. I got a new boyfriend, who also helped me. His name was Norbert, he was a Romany and he had a dachsie dog.  He lived in a small hut that belonged to a friend of his from Prague, and we moved in there together.

There was a Romany family in the neighbourhood and their kids just loved me. Norbert used to work on different construction sites and for a while all went well. But unfortunately, he liked to drink and did several unkind things that upset me.  He disappointed me, so I left him to be on my own again.

After a while I found  a new friend, also a Romany, and returned with him to Prague where we lived at his sister´s place. I felt lucky with him, especially as he also found me a part time job in a supermarket. But when I started to earn some money, him and his friends were not so nice anymore, as the began using me for money. I had to run away from them as they were going after my savings.

I escaped at midnight. It was pretty wild but fortunately I made it. I soon found myself new accommodation in another district. At work I met a new boyfriend and everything was fine for a bit. But soon there were more problems. I worked through a job agency but all of a sudden the supermarket stopped paying them, so I lost my income and my accommodation again. I was back on the streets.

Fortunately, I knew a vendor of Nový Prostor, who was selling in front of the supermarket I was working at. I got in touch and he has arranged for me to sell Nový Prostor, too. I am doing it for one and a half  years now. I am happy selling the paper here. It is like a real job and it helps me stay free from stress.

I also have a roof over my head again as I currently stay with my father. My brother used to live in with him but he moved out, so I offered to stay with him instead. My Dad is eighty years old and someone has to take care of him.

Usually I wake up at six a.m. I walk the dog, then I have my breakfast and go out to sell street papers. My work starts at eight a.m. and finishes at noon. Then I go for lunch at a nearby cafe. Everyday I sell about 10 to 15 copies. At 1 p.m. the day center opens so I buy magazines for the next day and go home where I look after my father.

That means I have some roots now, and friends as well, and thanks to Nový Prostor I can earn some money for food and clothing. I sell at the underground station Malostranská and people like me there. They work at the Treasury or at the Ministery of Culture and there are also many students around.

My biggest troubles are my debts, but i am telling myself that everyone has some debts and try not to worry about it too much. My health is what worries me most. I have problems with my spine and bruised muscles. When bad weather comes I walk hunched over. There might be a way I can get access to health care but I don't know when to go. When I leave my pitch I won't sell anything and that means I would have no money  to care for myself and my father. With the coming winter in sight I have bought some vitamins and some pills against arthritis. What can I do? I have to carry on. My biggest dream is to have everything in my life OK again, starting with my health."

SIDEBAR: Homelessness in Czech Republic

Little statistics on homelessness exist in Czech Republic. Figures estimated by various institutions and NGOs differ from each other. Some estimate there are 35,000 people without shelter while others present the number closer to 75,000. The unemployment rate is in Czech Republic about 9%, which has a direct effect on homelessness.

The homeless community consists of three groups: the visible, who live on the street, the hidden, who live in the squatts, and people on the brink of homelessness, living in vulnerable housing and overcrowded or unfurnished flats.

The reasons for homelessness are diverse: the loss of a job or home, divorce, debt, mental illness, alcoholism and other addictions.

Czech municipal authorities do not adequately deal with homelessness. Only one third of councils have any shelter for homeless at their disposal, all of them with a low capacity (fewer than 25 beds). Shelters are mostly run by charity organisations (The Salvation Army, Sisters of Mother Theresa, The Hope, etc). The total amount of all beds in shelters is very small, about 3000.

Nový Prostor helps socially excluded or homeless people to get back into society through selling street papers. The magazine costs 40 CZK and half of the cover price goes to the vendor. More then 150 vendors sell every day in 9 cities of Czech Republic. The organisation's main goal is to help people to move on by finding a permanent job and move into formal housing.

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