The media should concentrate less on the personal stories

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Råbin Bille is 19 years old and has just received housing placement after almost three years in the streets. She has been in touch with the media several times, while homeless. Here she shares her experience:

I think the media focus too much on personal and very private stories. They want you to pour your heart and soul out for everyone to see, and they’d rather not talk about any general subjects, such as the living conditions of all homeless people. A lot of women, for example, have sex in return for a place to sleep, but that’s a story you can’t share unless you are willing to make it personal, and that discourages a lot of homeless people. I recently got approached by a journalist, who wanted an interview about sexual assault, which I wouldn’t mind, as long as I don’t have to share my own experiences. The interview never happened – that happens a lot.*

What do you think of that?

I understand that it’s easier to relate to personal stories. But we need to combine it with statistics and the bigger picture to show that we have a structural issue on our hands and not just an unfortunate teenager. I have worn myself out by giving too much of myself, and I need to take better care of myself.

Are there other barriers in regard to media access?

Money is needed. You can’t call back a journalist, if you don’t have a phone card. It’s hard to submit a debate piece, if you don’t have a computer, and it’s hard to agree to do an interview if you only get money for transportation there and no money for food. Another problem is language. Not all homeless people can read or write articles in or for high level newspapers, but it’s still important that we are heard – because we are the expert witnesses.

Can you give an example?

In Aarhus we have these new shelters. But they aren’t being used because there are no toilets, and they are setup in places that homeless people rarely enjoy being. Also, I feel that stories about homeless people are very stereotypical. It’s not really common knowledge that there are several ways of being homeless. Or that we need other things than hats and gloves – for example sanitary pads and contraceptives.

So you need to be heard by politicians as well as by the street workers?

Yes, politicians with an actual interest are lacking – and generally, not just around election time. Several have showed up at shelters to talk to us before an election, but it’ll be a couple of years now, before they come around for that again.

Råbin’s advice for the media and society:

Establish homeless councils and focus on user participation.

Consider access and financial situations, which are often a barrier for homeless people.

Make sure to be respectful in terms of the homeless person’s time.

Råbin’s advice for homeless people:

Watch out for yourselves to avoid dangerous situations. Make sure not to reveal where you sleep, find food or who your friends and family are. And that it doesn’t become an emotional strain!

Be aware that there are no ”good” or ”bad” homeless people. We must show solidarity and not feel that we are better than others, just because we are not junkies – or feel worse if we sell sex.

Speak from your own perspective – not the journalist’s, and don’t accept premises that the system or municipality have no fault in people being homeless for, for example, three years, without having had any plan made out.

*projekt UDENFOR have tried to get a comment from the journalist in question, but she has not replied to our request.