Kathmandu (pahichan) December 22 – The first residential shelter for LGBTI who are left homeless, suffer domestic violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, or live in a non safe environment was open in Tirana, marking a milestone for the human rights movement in Albania. Through this temporary housing, beneficiaries will be offered different services including life skills training, vocational training opportunities and psycho-social support.
Two Albanian organizations, “Aleanca LGBT” and “ProLGBT”, have come together in their efforts to offer this unique service. Streha, meaning “the Shelter”, is the first shelter for LGBT individuals in the Balkan region and one of the first in Eastern Europe.
Upon opening, Streha was visited by the Minister of Social Welfare and Youth, Mr. Erion Veliaj; the British Ambassador in Tirana, Mr. Nicholas Cannon OBE; Deputy chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Tirana, Mr. Henry V. Jardine; Program Director at USAID/Albania, Ms. Clare Masson; Executive Director of State Agency for Supporting Civil Society organizations, Mr. Andi Kananaj; and Executive Director of Assist Impact, Mrs. Matty Timm.
Xheni Karaj and Kristi Pinderi guided the guests through the newly renovated facilities of the shelter and shared with them the challenges this service might face.
Karaj said that “this is a concrete service we are offering for those people of the community who should not feel anymore obligated to live under threats and violence of their own families and their communities. Now they have a new solution for whenever they feel in risk”.
While Pinderi stressed that, “the violence against LGBT people is not necessary shown daily at the streets. That violence is a hidden and systematic one inside family environment, schools and other spaces, so for this reason “STREHA” is above all a service for the LGBTI victims of domestic violence”.
Minister Veliaj said that the “National Social Services will get enriched with this independent newly service for LGBTI people”, because according to him, “there is no difference if someone is being persecuted after being trafficked for sexual exploitation, there is no difference if someone is persecuted by a violent family member, and there is no difference if someone is being abused because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity! And because there is no difference when human rights are violated we also don’t see any difference in the way we should serve to those people whom human rights are violated”. “A European Albania”, he added, “is a country where everyone is represented”.
USAID is the main supporter of this pilot project through its implementing partner “Assist Impact”. Assist Impact, an Albanian NGO, focuses on building the organizational capacity of Albanian NGOs, associations, and even government agencies. Over the past year, Assist Impact has worked with both ProLGBT and Aleanca LGBT to become more efficient in managing complex projects like the shelter.
At USAID, supporting the LGBT community is not only a matter of human rights, but also critical to holistic, comprehensive, and inclusive development. USAID/Albania is proud to support the development of LGBT rights organizations as they launch this innovative and critical service.
AMSHC (State Agency for Supporting Civil Society) is also a co-founder of the project while the British Embassy has facilitated a set of trainings from the “Albert Kennedy Trust”, a foundation running LGBTI shelters in UK since 1989.
British Ambassador said: “This service is part of the lives of particular people who are in their journey of discovering themselves and get fully integrated, so for that reason this project will be a huge achievement which we fully support”.
Mr. Jardine congratulated the Albanian NGOs ProLGBT and Aleanca LGBT in their efforts to make possible this service. He said: “We are very glad as US Embassy that our USAID office working with Assist Impact can cooperate with the Ministry here and UK Embassy in helping the two organizations that are trying to provide shelter for LGBTI in Albania which is clearly a community that need support”.
The primary service offered by “STREHA” will be the housing of LGBTI people for a maximum period of 6 months, including medical assistance when needed. Based on individual plans the shelter will draft and implement a daily and periodic program for each beneficiary that will include vocational and life skill trainings, social and cultural activities, etc. The shelter will also negotiate with state and private institutions to provide employment for beneficiaries. With 12 professional staff members the shelter has a capacity of 8 beds (four for men and four for women) and estimates providing more than 2000 bed-nights for people in need.