Located in a small and picturesque town in southern Poland DPS (Social Welfare Home acronym in Polish) has been recently converted into a care institution for the mentally ill.
The institution houses about seventy residents, the majority suffering from schizophrenia varying in degree. Many of the DPS residents committed here, were taken off the streets, some entrusted by their families, often—though not always—with a history of abuse towards or by their relatives.
By the permission of the home’s director, I was able to spend roughly a week at the DPS, photographing the daily lives and struggles of the residents and personnel and listening to their stories. Well aware it would be next-to-impossible to capture the DPS’s extraordinary complexity, my aim was relate my personal perspective of the place, as seen through the camera lens.
The breakfast, 8:00 AM. The residents gather at the small tables in the common-room, the caretakers prepare the meal. With a few brief exceptions, the wait as well as the meal continues in silence.
No knifes or any sharp objects for security reasons; 'the DPS has seen violent incidents in the past, including bodily self-harm'—I’m told.
Medications distributed from a plastic tray. The nurse makes sure the residents take the pills.
Soon after, the residents disperse at once.
Smokers are allocated cigarettes one at the the time and proceed to the smoking areas. With few exceptions, no-one is allowed to own cigarettes beyond what’s apportioned—fire hazard being the chief reason. That and compulsive smoking—some residents favour chain-smoking for as long as there are cigarettes in the pack.
Some residents, like Mr Leszek here, help with the cleaning or minor work—of their volition.
Unlike men’s ward, the woman’s ward is much more noisy, especially during the morning hours. The afternoon cooking show screened on a small TV sends the residents into contemplative mood.
The rooms are clean, austere and lacking individuality. ‘Many of the residents are compulsive hoarders’—Tadeusz—the DPS psychologist tells me—‘left to their own devices, they'd collect anything—including rotting food scraps and refuse. Some don’t care for much beyond the basic needs.’
With the paintings and needle-work by the residents behind her, Małgorzata—one of the caretakers with twenty years of experience explains the importance of enticing the residents to leave their rooms and take part in collective activities. ‘The residents can’t be forced to partake,’ she says ‘yet, a prolonged period of inactivity causes their condition to deteriorate.’
‘Everyday is another struggle to make someone leave the bed, where they’d preferably linger looking at the ceiling,’ Tadeusz says. Here, one of the residents is photographed solving memory-flexing exercises with the psychologist's help.
Fine art assignment—creating a face-collage out of magazine cut-outs. The medicine-induced torpor doesn’t help the creative process. Many residents lacking the manual skills are helped by the instructor. Eventually, the best works get due praise and acclaim.
Following the activities, the smokers are treated to the cigarettes, handed out at the dayroom's door.
The DPS profile is religious—roman catholic—to be precise. Attended by the majority, though not everyone, a common prayer is conducted at the institution’s chapel.
The residents spend their time off in their rooms, drinking coffee in the common area, or socialising in the DPS’s garden. Some residents prefer being left alone. Some, chat around a bucket filled with water in the garden’s gazebo, some remain silent and pensive. The bucket holds cigarette butts, later to be incinerated. Unsightly as it may seem, the bucket prevents residents from reusing the butts and creating fire hazard.
Mr Stefan remains in his room writing ’laurkas’—greeting cards—‘containing confidential information in digital form’, which she shares with the personnel. In Mr Stefan’s words: ‘Laurkas can be buried in the ground, or left on the table until they evaporate by themselves.’
The DPS is a complex place. The lives of the personnel are governed by regulations and frequent controls by governmental agencies. The residents’ families—with notable exceptions—aren’t keen to visit their relatives. Once they do, they typically make opinionated demands, especially if they find something not to their liking.
As for the DPS residents, many of them would prefer to go back to hoarding junk, leaving under the bridge or in the unlivable cellar. There are frequent squabbles over things they forget the next day. Albeit necessary, the medicines the residents take have many adverse side-effects.
Ms Małgorzata explains: ‘Nobody claims DPS could substitute a home.
It is a reliable shelter, nevertheless.’