‘projekt UDENFOR fra mit perspektiv’

De seneste fire måneder har projekt UDENFOR haft besøg af den franske kandidatstuderende Antoine Mercier fra Toulouse, hvor han studerer Economic Development and International Cooperation. Antoine valgte, som en del af sine studier, at tage et praktikophold hos os, og har bl.a. bidraget til projekt UDENFOR’s fundraising- og formidlingsaktiviteter på det internationale plan. I denne artikel beskriver han de personlige indtryk og erfaringer han har gjort sig efter fire måneder i projekt UDENFOR.

By Antoine Mercier

After four months of internship spent at projekt UDENFOR, it is time to leave an amazing employee team and a very pleasant work atmosphere. As my first experience in a non-profit working with the homeless, I have learnt a lot on the subject: how homeless people live, how we can help them, what is “housing first” or “harm reduction”, “user involvement” and so on. Working in projekt UDENFOR also means attending conferences, presentations and, most of all, being part of a team that is fully dedicated to this issue and that has plenty of ideas, views and stories to share.

I would like to give my impressions on this experience, but I will not focus on what I have been doing for this structure, as the tasks were very varied and not so original: writing some content for the website in English, applying for funds, helping a user for administrative, answering to European partners and so on. Instead, I would like to share what makes this organisation so particular and meaningful in my point of view.

Professional, but not bureaucratic
Most important of all, I was particularly impressed by how projekt UDENFOR works. Whether they work alone, in small groups or everyone on individual activities, the staff seems to work with professionalism, efficiency and in good spirits. In a previous internship experience I had in another non-profit organisation, I had learnt to work rather autonomously but in a very hierarchical environment, with tight management that would check every staff member’s results and put pressure on them. In projekt UDENFOR, I have been proved that this kind of management is not necessary, at least not in a small structure. There is no need to be constantly looking over every staff member’s shoulders: the system relies on their personal commitment and on autonomous work. Every staff member seems to act responsibly. Then, discussions regular meetings and support enable to share experiences, to talk about successes, hopes, but also doubts or mistakes. What is remarkable about projekt UDENFOR is the honesty and trust within the staff. From my point of view, this way of working avoids unnecessary tensions and hypocrisy at work.

Innovative, but not trendy
I have also noticed that while projekt UDENFOR keeps innovating and creating new projects and activities, it does not seek to be trendy. Innovation comes from many sides. It could be based on what outreach workers observe in the streets, when they notice new profiles of homeless people, new demands or new needs. When I first heard about the IT project, I was suspicious about it: are technologies a major issue for the homeless? Are we not, in some way, suffering from an addiction to technologies? Then, I understood the practical challenges: getting in touch with family members or friends that had been lost or that live hundreds of kilometres away, dealing with administrative proceedings online, using a free public access to the internet in the public space… The context is very important as, in Denmark, national digitalisation strategies are even threatening the possibility to avoid using IT products. As I personally am critical on the place of new technologies in society, I could only appreciate that projekt UDENFOR is raising debate about the difficulties for vulnerable people to adapt to the increasing digitalisation of society. Also, teaching about the use of new technologies can let the individual choose whether or not to use them, instead of just being excluded from this possibility.

Other projects may seem inappropriate and outdated: why would we give food to the homeless and leave them in a situation of dependence towards ourselves? But there is more to it. Helping people in difficulty fulfil their most urgent needs is what allows them to look forward to something else. The social link with volunteers and street workers is also essential in the process, as it shows that people care for those who are often rejected and despised.

Out in the streets, but also in the debate
projekt UDENFOR does not only work in the streets. It is constantly striving to bring the knowledge from the streets back into the public debate, raising awareness and trying to weigh on public decisions. It dedicates a large part of its time to presentations about its findings on homelessness, political debates, conferences about new issues affecting the homeless and even interventions in schools to prevent contemptuous behaviour towards the homeless. It also disseminates knowledge among practitioners and students through very pedagogical trainings. It is important to emphasise that this organisation is making remarkable efforts to have a wide impact and to turn its practical experience into useful knowledge for others, for instance by writing articles and other media-related activities. Given its limited resources, I was amazed by the extent of contacts involved, not only in Denmark but also across the European Union.

As it was my first professional experience in the field of homelessness and social exclusion, I am not in the best position to tell whether projekt UDENFOR is better than another organisations. Due to the barrier language, I have also missed many discussions and speeches, to my greatest regret. However, what I can say is that I have definitely been inspired by these four months of internship in projekt UDENFOR and motivated to work in the same field back in France if I get the opportunity.


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