Small Gestures, Big Impact: Herzorte

Herzorte is German and is the name of a Viennese initiative just about to start. It means “places for a heart” and tries to establish a network of exactly that: public space(s) that are open and welcoming, even to those that are financially, socially or culturally excluded – places for open-heartedness.

When Hannes was working for “SUPERTRAMPS” – where homeless people give special tours through the city of Vienna – he found that in many industrialised societies there is too little solidarity and understanding for people that happened to lose their home in public’s general awareness. He was searching for a solution.

I first heard about this social innovation at Christmas 2017 when I happened to watch a short reportage about the Parisian initiative “Le Carillon” on the Austrian television. I was inspired by this idea of forming a network of solidary shopkeepers that open their doors to allow for more inclusive neighbourhoods and foster exchange of neighbours with different backgrounds and living realities.” – remembers Hannes Reitberger  the founder of Herzorte.

So Hannes translated the concept to the Vienna context and expects to have great impact.

Herzorte aims to unlock the great potential of civil society to fight exclusion and isolation and contribute to a more lively, humane and resilient society by offering tools, ideas and venues to recreate social link.” – explains Hannes.

Examples of possible activities reach from many seemingly small and concrete gestures of solidarity, like donated coffees, snacks or haircuts, to simply having a chat with staff, being allowed to use the washroom, charging a phone and much more – all without consumption as a prerequisite. A pictogram chart on the venue’s door marks a shop or coffeehouse as a member of the Herzorte network and shows what kind of solidarity services any person may ask for. This will allow for concrete experiences of social cohesion, belonging and self-efficacy, without necessarily “outing” oneself as homeless or in need.

Working together with homeless people, the most valuable lesson Hannes learnt is that the fate of homelessness as well as other precarious conditions may affect anyone in society.

For me it is essential not to think in binaries – like those giving and those receiving – but to value society in its diversity and to understand Herzorte as a network by the people and for the people that follows an approach beyond “helping the poor”. – says Hannes.

Isolation and exclusion affect many parts of society and are addressed by empowering citizens and especially shopkeepers to create new social links and volunteers can come in any time to support the network.

For more information, please visit Herzorte Facebook page.

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