People know that it’s cold to sleep outside in January – but there’s a lot they don’t know. Why don’t they ask about that?

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Kåre* lives at a shelter after having lived on the street for 3 years. Project UDENFOR met up with him to talk about the media and homeless people.

 

What do you think of the way the media covers homelessness?

A lot of things are misunderstood, when it comes to homelessness, and a lot of it stems from the media’s stereotypical image of homeless people, as hairy people hanging out in the streets with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Surely, there are homeless people like this, but there are so many other faces as well, and when they are left out, the image of homeless people becomes misleading. The diversity isn’t shown.

Can you give an example?

There are plenty of examples. There are addicts and couch surfers. There are people who sleep in cars and even children. I have met children aged 12-13 living in the streets. These people represent the homeless as well, but the public doesn’t know that. They don’t see it.

And why is that important?

It’s important for several reasons. The more you see stereotypes, the less able you are to acknowledge homelessness when you see it, and that’s a problem, if we want to fight it or just prevent it. People don’t realize that it can happen to them, until they find themselves in the street due to divorce, loss of a job, mental issues or other things that could happen to anyone.

People don’t realize the conditions of life on the street. There are even things that your street workers – who really know quite a lot – are unaware of. There is a sub street culture in the that will never surface, if homeless people are not consulted. An individual can’t do it, because they might end up saying things that they shouldn’t, which might have significant consequences for that person and others in the streets. It’s hard to remember everything once you’re in front of the microphone. It’s even hard for people with media training, and homeless people don’t have that.

Kåre’s advice for the media

The media needs to be better at approaching homeless people that don’t stand out, because they’re not wearing the uniform that people who sell the homeless people newspaper wear. I know that journalists usually have a tight deadline, and that might be hard, but in that case I feel the media companies have the responsibility to prioritize the subject and time to carry out proper research, like they do with business news. Imagine if they used as many ressources in investigating social circumstances instead of just writing articles that just scratch the surface. That way, we might see focus shift to how problems actually occur – instead of just noticing them, when people are at their worst.

Journalists should talk to homeless people and people who work for the help organizations – and do so before the cameras are turned on and their deadline is met. A filter is needed, and organizations like projekt UDENFOR can help both journalists and homeless people with this, so that homeless people don’t end up being mentally and emotionally raped – because that’s what it feels like. Journalists often go for personal stories, and it can be both dangerous and tough for someone to talk about specific situations.

Journalists should consider using homeless people as experts more, instead of focusing on sensation and private stories. We know a lot about the actual life on the street, and we hold a lot of knowledge, but we need to be asked in order to reveal it, because sometimes, we don’t know how to get ahold of the media, and often when the media does approach us, it’s about our experience. But people know that it’s cold to sleep outside in January, and so much they don’t know – why don’t they ask us about that?

Kåre’s advice for homeless people

If you get interviewed, ask to see the final result, before it is published.

Be careful if you appear on film that is to be edited.

Don’t do it alone. Talk to the street workers, your contact person or someone you know, who has been in the media.

*The name has been changed by the editor.