20 Social Workers Out on the Streets to Count Rough Sleepers

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Most Copenhageners had already gone to bed, unfazed by the sound of the steady rain falling outside, when 20 social workers trailed through the streets of Copenhagen at around 01 a.m. on September 7. Each social worker was armed with a map of a specific area, out to locate people sleeping on the street and help create an overview of the number of rough sleepers in Copenhagen at present.

The 20 social workers came from many different organizations, all devoted to helping people in need on the streets, including project UDENFOR, Copenhagen Municipality’s Homelessness Unit, the homelessness drop-in center Hugs & Food, Mariatjenesten, a drop-in center for marginalized people, Blisko, a project aimed at helping foreign drug addicts, and Kompasset, Dan Church Social’s independent information service for homeless migrants without registration in Denmark. During their three-hour count, the group found 121 people forced to sleep on the street.

The number, 121, is one thing, but walking the streets of Copenhagen also gives us an indication of the conditions that homeless people have to cope with when sleeping rough in the city. The rough sleepers who were found in the cold and rainy hours between 01 and 04 a.m. that September night had found shelter in many unlikely places – basements meant for bike storage, train stations, bus shelters and parking garages to name a few examples. Some had bundled up in warm clothes and sleeping bags, others slept under thin blankets and one was found huddled on the ground in a small playhouse.

This count does not represent a complete overview of rough sleeping in Copenhagen. The city has many nooks and crannies that might serve as hiding places, and 20 people are not enough to cover every corner. However, the count still provides us with an important means to understand the extent and nature of rough sleeping. An initiative like this one qualifies our work, and it ultimately enables us to support and help people who sleep rough in the best way possible,” explains Gitte Aalbæk, Deputy Director, Projekt UDENFOR.

She continues: “It is worrying that we found 121 rough sleepers in three hours. In most cases, these people struggle with heavy social problems and health issues; problems that are difficult to handle when one’s entire life is lived on the street in any kind of weather. These are problems that require a helping hand from a social worker who reaches out to you where you are and offers to help you.”

Projekt UDENFOR conducts nightly counts twice a year and for the past three years, more organizations have teamed up with the charity and participated in the counts. Every other year the nightly counts contribute to The Danish Centre of Applied Social Science, VIVE’s, national mapping of homelessness in Denmark. The latest national report from VIVE was published in September 2017.  (The link will take you to an English summary. Please note that the full report is in Danish).