New report from projekt UDENFOR describes foreign homeless, their problems and needs

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Homeless migrants should have the right to get their basic needs covered. Failing to fulfil these social and health needs is inhumane. This could be a place to sleep at night, access to food and counselling and a place to stay when they are ill.  These are some of the recommendations brought forward by a new report issued by projekt UDENFOR on behalf of the social services of the Municipality of Copenhagen. A report supplies knowledge so far unknown on the basis of analyses.

Knowledge is vital

The report on homeless migrants outlines who the migrants on the streets are and their problems. The common issues are the same as those of Danish homeless people, but in addition they need a social safety net. Otherwise they are as individual as their problems. In one year, at least 500 homeless migrants are staying in Copenhagen – every fifth is particularly vulnerable and extremely in need of help.  The report strips away myths.

Because of the vast amount of data the report makes it possible to settle a lot of prejudice against homeless migrants and their purpose of being in Denmark. They do not come here to sponge; they want to work and be able to support themselves and Denmark is most often not the first stop on their job hunt in Europe.

Most migrants have the right to travel Europe in their search for work and they may have good reasons for not wanting to go back to their own county. No one has the right to demand that they stay in their own country. They are not illegal but travel through the right of the free flow of workers within EU. However, they have no rights according the Danish Service Act and only limited rights to social benefits.  The report asks whether we have any rights not to offer our help. Those who are worst off are those who are particularly vulnerable – those with significant problems be they of social, abuse or mental nature. Nobody, not even foreign homeless people should be forced to sleeping rough. However, homeless migrants are not entitled to live in a Danish shelter or care home. Not even when they are ill. This is not worthy of a welfare society,” says Bibi Agger, head of the professionals and deputy manager of projekt UDENFOR.

Homeless migrants cannot get ordinary medical care without having to pay for it themselves. Illness thrives when you are living on the streets. If the illness is not treated, it will lead to deteriorated health and ultimately to social and mental downfall.

”A lot of homeless people go to the dogs while they are here. When there is no place to go to get support, care and advice in a foreign country, you get along as best you can. It is seldom enough just to get work. What you need is often simple help in order to maintain an almost proper life” says Bo Heide-Jochimsen, street-based worker in projekt UDENFOR.

The report shows that some can, will and dare help

The report on homeless migrants in Copenhagen is based on experience from 15 different social authorities offering help to homeless migrants including shelters, drop-in centres, all night cafés as well as projekt UDENFOR’s street-based work within the sleeping rough project.”It’s a brief respite. It has been difficult getting the money to help homeless migrants. Consequently we have been eating into our equity capital and we are quite worried about the future” states Ninna Hoegh, director of projekt UDENFOR.

Facts on the report

The report was commissioned and paid for by the social services of the Municipality of Copenhagen. It will be discussed at a meeting of the social committee on 30 May. “We appreciate the cooperation with the social services in connection with outlining the homeless migrant environment in Copenhagen. We are hoping for a future cooperation in order to find the specific areas where we will still need knowledge as well as discussing and commissioning future steps to meet the diversity of the group,” says Bibi Agger, head of the professionals and deputy manager of projekt UDENFOR.

Thesis on research of voluntary work in projekt UDENFOR – 24 January 2012

A new thesis discusses how the voluntaries’ stories of their work in the Mobile Café create unwritten rules for the work. The author is Lucinda Jane Ellis from the SAXO Institute of the University of Copenhagen. In the thesis titled  ‘There are no rules’, Lucinda has quoted Foucault’s ideas on power and governmentality as well as Mitchell Dean’s quadruple theoretical frame for analysis of practice systems. She has collected her material through her voluntary work at projekt UDENFOR’s Mobile Café and through interviews with eight other volunteers there.

Focus of volunteers  

The idea for the thesis derived from 2011 being a designated “voluntary year”, but Lucinda has also been working as a volunteer at the residence hall in Gl. Køge Landevej, operated by the Mission Among Homeless people. The volunteers being at the centre of the thesis was due to a number of factors. ”First and foremost Brian and Steffen (The Mobile Café) expressed an interest in this when I discussed the ideas of possible projects at the Mobile Café with them. But also, the volunteers are a sort of an ”intermediate” in power relationships. They are neither professionals nor users but somewhere in between. I believe that it would be interesting looking at the power relationships by looking at this particular group as most power analyses of homeless people either contemplates power from a user’s point of view or from the “professional’s” point of view. Volunteering and power (the Foucauldian definition of power) has not been researched by many, says Lucinda.

Restricts the work

Even though the title of the thesis  ’There are no rules’ reflects that training of the volunteers of the Mobile Café is based on peer-to-peer training rather than written rules, it also shows that the many stories of users are culture bearers of how you do work as a volunteer in the Mobile Café. The stories indeed make it possible for the volunteers to discuss restrictions and define their roles. – By watching what others are doing, by asking questions and by swapping stories, the volunteers learn their trade, Lucinda diverges.

A manual for volunteers of the Mobile Café exists, but whereas it is unknown to some, those who actually have it, may not have read it. Thus, in reality, the volunteers themselves draw up the framework of the work, Lucinda sets forth in the thesis.

From challenge to freedom

It goes without saying that this kind of training is a major challenge to new volunteers. However, the thesis also shows that the large degree of freedom is valued by most after some time. As one volunteers puts in the interview cited in the thesis: ”It is like feeling one’s way, isn’t it? But this is also what’s great about being part of the project; that things are not established and structured. You can leave your own mark” (Quote from a volunteer).

Stories are not only gossip

The thesis shows that the volunteers’ stories tell the story of the users or give the work meaning. This is e.g. the case of a story of a homeless man asking a volunteer to pass on a pair of boots to another who may have more need of them:

(…) … and then I told two of the others,  ”hurry to get him, we need to see whether the boots fit him and then he put them on wearing his woollen socks, just stepping around in the boots. He was actually dancing and he was so happy. There was a light in his eyes, and it was so wonderful but sad at the same time.” (Quote from volunteer).

And the knowledge that telling stories actually has an important purpose and is “not just gossiping” has a point, says Lucinda.

– It could make the volunteers more aware of the natural process and its function. And it may make it “legal” to share stories of users when the volunteers know that it is an important part of the training of the newcomers and creates and bears the culture of the daily work. Additionally, similar projects may find it interesting to see how standards, view on human nature and rules are handled in the Mobile Café – for comparison or inspiration, or perhaps both.”

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