Most Danes are comfortable around homeless people

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The Danish Council of Socially Marginalized People (Rådet for social udsatte) has, again in 2017, asked the research company Epinion to enquire about the attitude of Danish people towards socially marginalized people.

Epinion has previously: In 2013 and 2015 conducted similar enquiries for Rådet for socialt udsatte (The Danish Council of Socially Marginalized People) who hereby get the opportunity to monitor and compare the view of the Danes over a period of time and thus supplement the knowledge and the experience in the field of socially marginalized people.

In the enquiry Epinion has asked 1.079 representative Danes about their opinions on socially marginalized persons in general and to various groups of marginalized persons: Homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics and prostitutes.

Initially Epinion has asked the participants to suggest some groups that they associate with marginalization. The majority (57%) associate marginalization with ‘homelessness’. Almost as many (54%) associate marginalization with ‘need for help’

In the general part of the enquiry other interesting answers are found; for example increasingly more Danes see themselves as marginalized: From 6% in 2015 to 10% in 2017. When we look behind these numbers, we find that the majority is found among people from 18 to 55 years, whereas in the group of older people, above 56 years, hardly anyone see themselves as socially marginalized. We also notice that most of the people who see themselves as marginalized have no education beyond municipal primary and lower secondary school (GCSE).

It is worrying that an increasing number of people with only GCSE level education see themselves as socially exposed. They experience a social inequality in society that checkmates them in regard to achieving the life they wish for. In the long run they are at great risk of having problems mastering life for themselves and their children and, worst case, ending up as marginalized citizens and, with the words of the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman: ‘Wasted lives’

The consequences of this vulnerability among citizens who have only completed elementary school (GCSE) has been described and documented in various research reports among others in the 2017 report from Rockwool Fonden (The Rockwool Foundation) on the living conditions of socially exposed young people in Denmark. Here, among other things, we learn that social inequality starts at birth, children born to mothers who have a GCSE as their highest level of education, have got a lower birth weight and a higher risk of being admitted to a ward for premature babies than children to mothers who have completed a skilled or higher education. This inequality continues and increases with statistical significance throughout a lifetime: children to mothers with only a GCSE do worse at school and are at a greater risk of committing juvenile delinquency. At the age of 40 their income is substantially lower than that of children born to mothers with a skilled or higher education, they also die younger.

The less education the greater risk of social exclusion – we are here dealing with a well described inequality factor which we can do something about. If we want to.

Epinion also asked the the 1079 representative Danes about their view on causes for marginalization. To this 49% respond that marginalization is due to injustice in our society. This figure is increasing compared to Epinion’s studies in 2013 and 2015. It is also widely accepted that some people are marginalized due to bad luck.

In the following we shall have a look at some of the attitudes towards homeless people that the Danes who contributed to the Epinion study have expressed.

In general the Danes seem to be better able to accommodate and show tolerance towards homeless people than towards the other marginalized groups included in the study. For example, the majority (2 in 3) are saddened by the inadequate help from society when they see a homeless person on the street. One in three feels guilty in the same situation, while only 14% become uncomfortable when they see a homeless person in the street or in a public place.

This part of the study is equally interesting, as the modest number of Danes uncomfortable with the homeless does not add up to the opulent rhetoric of Minister of Justice Søren Pape Poulsen during the reading of the bill on tightening of the penalty for begging, pointed out by the Minister of Justice as creating insecurity in the streets and the parks.

Looking behind the mere 14% who feel insecure on seeing a homeless person in the street it is thought provoking that more men than women become insecure. Most of the insecure men are found in the age group from 18 to 34 years. Is this the group the Minister of Justice aims to protect against insecurity causing behavior?

Safety for everyone in the streets has had particular attention in projekt UDENFOR since 2006 where a study from RUC (Roskilde University Center) on attitudes towards homelessness among 170 students in primary school (7th grade). The study showed that many students had oversimplified and unreflective attitudes towards the homeless, but also that the students took an interest in finding out more about homeless people and reasons for homelessness.

The following year, 2007, projekt UDENFOR released a report ‘Violence against homeless people – the experiences on violence in the streets’. The report indicated that half of the 50 homeless people interviewed in the study had at some point been exposed to violence from someone they did not know beforehand. The homeless people were of the opinion that violence against homeless people is a consequence of the fact that many ordinary people look down on homeless people, have stereotype conceptions and lack knowledge on homelessness.

Based on the study from RUC and on the report from projekt UDENFOR on violence against homeless people, we launched Gadeklog (Project Street Wise).  By teaching the higher classes of the municipal primary and lower secondary schools, the project was to focus on security in the streets for the youngsters as well as for the homeless.

Project Street wise is one of many activities by projekt UDENFOR in the field of presentations, talks and lectures in continuous demand from older students of the municipal primary and lower secondary school, confirmands, after school classes etc. Often we supplement the factual communication of facts about homelessness with a personal narrative from an actual or former homeless person who, with his or her own personal experience contributes to a deeper understanding of the topic. The expression ‘Kendskab giver venskab’ (‘knowledge makes friendship’) is a spot on label of the sympathy developed when school children meet the homeless speaker who subsequently often lets on that he has met some of the youngsters who have given him a pat on the shoulder, asking if they could do anything to help.

In the study on the views of the Danes on the socially marginalized, Epinion also asked about the cause of homelessness. Almost 75% state that substance abuse and mental disorder may lead to homelessness. 62% think that a poor economy and 45% that being failed in childhood may lead to homelessness, whereas 29% think that it is the high level of rent that leads to homelessness. Only 16% think that it is a weak character that leads to homelessness.

The answers on the causes for homelessness clearly illustrate that still more Danes, especially women, build their view on homelessness on knowledge and facts about the many issues that cause the homelessness of an individual. It is a sound development if this does in fact mean, that we, increasingly, build our view on marginalized persons on factual knowledge on the subject, rather than on gut feeling, emotions or prejudice.

Let us follow this path and, together, strengthen factual and distinct communication of knowledge and information on the homeless, addicts, prostitutes, beggars, foreigners and everyone else who Is not like us. This will increase the understanding of the hard living conditions and contribute to making all of us safer.

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