The aim of the ‘Material Needs’ Team is to address the primary and emergency material needs of asylum seekers and refugees living in the streets of Paris, their housing solution still pending. In order to achieve this, the team is divided into three branches:
- Administration: This branch handles partnerships with donors, such as hotel chains who provide us with goods like hygiene samples (soap or shampoo). This branch is also in charge of organising collectes, be they in Sciences Po or other schools and universities in the Paris area and with whom we have networked.
- Storage: This branch manages the association’s storage room, specifically by doing regular inventories of all goods that come in and gone out of the room. The Storage sub team is also responsible for replenishing the storage room, procuring dwindling goods through physical or online purchases.
- Camp visits: This branch is divided into daily teams that align themselves with the five weekdays (Monday to Friday). Every day, one of those five teams heads to the streets in order to meet with asylum seekers, be they in dispersed groups or an ‘established’ camp. The teams distribute material and multi-lingual maps able to orient asylum seekers towards helpful structures (public showers, legal clinics, soup kitchens…). The team also flags to relevant organisations the presence of particularly vulnerable individuals in the streets (minors, women, families, people who are sick…).
Beyond its internal structure, the Material Needs Team is also in close contact with other actors on the ground in order to coordinate its actions and improve overall efficiency. Because the Material Needs Team members are in regular contact with extremely vulnerable individuals, many of which are psychologically fragile, we make sure to emphasise human contact and the ability to listen to those we encounter. In many ways, this team is the most concrete incarnation of Sciences Po Refugee Help’s slogan: ‘Solidarity in Action’.
- Collectes: We organise different kinds of collectes, usually per theme in order to avoid obtaining donations that we can’t distribute or reuse. In most cases, the collectes we organise take place at Sciences Po or Cité Universitaire, calling for men’s clothing, winter accessories and hygiene products (although we have also organised collectes with former high schools - see this article from École Jeanine Manuel). Other collectes have taken place in shops, adopting the ‘Restos du Coeur’ model: a flyer is distributed at the entry, with a list of needs that shoppers can immediately purchase and donate by placing them in a box, located at the shop exit.
- Camp visits: Camp visits are at the very core of Material Needs’ role. Two nights a week, Material Needs members roam the streets to meet with asylum seekers as they spend the night in dispersed groups, or, as their numbers increase, in an ‘established’ street camp. Our regular presence on the ground allows us to have a very concrete understanding of the situation and the daily obstacles asylum seekers face immediately upon their arrival in Paris. During these camp visits, we distribute emergency material needs, as well as maps and guides that can orient asylum seekers towards helpful structures like public showers, day welcome centres, legal clinics, open French classes, etc. Joint camp visits are organised with members of the Asylum Aid Team, as they are trained in French asylum law, and can better inform and assist asylum seekers throughout the different steps of their application process. Once a week, our teams are also accompanied by a team of psychologists from the “Quid’Autres” association, so as to identify and help the most psychologically fragile individuals. Finally, these visits allow us, as mentioned above, to flag to relevant organisations those most vulnerable individuals, requiring additional information or a more tailored follow-up, such as minors, families, women or individuals with medical issues.
- Accompaniments: Once a week, our teams accompany groups of asylum seekers towards public shower or bath facilities. These accompaniments regularly allow newcomers to familiarise themselves with how these spaces work, and allow our volunteers to replenish everyone with hygiene kits.
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