New study on Eastern European homeless

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New study from Kofoed’s School offers an insight into the reasons why job-seeking Eastern Europeans end up as homeless people on the streets of Denmark.

According to the authors, the study came into being because of the wish of Kofoed’s School to “support the Polish homeless who live on the streets of Copenhagen” and a wish to “gain more knowledge about the group in order to improve their situation”.

During the two-year project period behind the study, Kofoed’s School has been in contact with 152 foreign homeless people through the Kofoed Basement (Kofoeds Kælder). The Kofoed Basement is an informal combination of counselling, living room, clothing stockpile, shower facility and refuge.

Of the 152 homeless people, 142 were men, and 10 were women. 42 per cent (64 persons) were from Poland. Almost half of the group (45 per cent) was aged 18-35.

Attracted by the wish for a job

More than half of the homelesspeople were initially attracted to Denmark because they were wishing and hoping for a job. The study gives several examples of how far the job-seeking Eastern Europeans go in order to get a job. Despite evident difficulties due to lack of language skills and lack of knowledge about the Danish job market, in addition to homelessness and abuse.

“One person worked in two different jobs and as a bottle-collector too, and it made it hard for him to get his sleep. He did a paper round at night, held a signboard for a company in one of Copenhagen’s neighbourhoods in the afternoon, and collected bottles in the evening to earn some money for himself and his family back home who he sent money to,” it says in the study (page 32).

Even though part of the project’s objective was to help the homeless getting a job, generally speaking, it did not happen to succeed. By the end of the project, 6 out of the project’s 142 homeless people had a legal full-time or part-time job in Denmark. This corresponds to only four per cent of the group.

A desperate situation

The study shows a picture of how some homeless people end up in an extremely desperate situation:

“A homeless, Anton, has only been in Copenhagen for a week. He does not know the city, he has no money, and he does not know where to find places that help homeless people. He has not eaten for four days, and he is very hungry. He enters a shop and takes a packet of meat. He does not even think about the fact that it is raw meat or how he will prepare it. He only thinks about getting something to eat. He takes the meat and leaves the store without paying. The personnel see him and call the police. The homeless says he is very sorry and ashamed, and he tells them he was so desperate to get some food that he did not know what to do. The personnel and the police take no further action and let him go.” (Page 35)

Counselling is crucial

The study reaches the same conclusion as has been pointed out before: that counselling is crucial in order to prevent job-seeking Eastern Europeans from ending their job hunt on the streets of Denmark. In the discussion part of the study it says:

“If the homeless are to be supported, there is a need of: counselling and information for the homeless about duties and rights in Denmark. (…) Lack of information may make the stay in Denmark unnecessarily difficult and lengthy due to unrealistic conceptions of job and living opportunities in Denmark.” (Page 50)

About the study

The two-year social work has been carried out by pedagogue Marketa Kibickova and Kim Clemen, head of the Kofoed Basement. Marketa Kibickova has conducted the collection of data, and the data analysis and writing of the report have been conducted by anthropologist Louise Christensen and Marketa Kickova. The project is funded by subsidies from the Villum Foundation.

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