Some homeless people, thankfully only a small number, sleep on the streets, exposed to the elements. It is this group, so-called rough sleepers, and specifically those who struggle with mental illness, whom projekt UDENFOR has worked to help for over twenty years. Considering the charity has been operating for all these years, it is a pill all the more difficult to swallow that not only are there still people sleeping rough, but that the number is growing.
This is evidenced by the new count showing that in week six of 2017, there were 648 people sleeping on the streets. This amounts to 10% of all homeless people in Denmark, and is 142 more people compared to the first count conducted in 2009. The number has steadily risen during these eight years. Almost half of rough sleepers have been homeless for more than two years. The majority are between 30 and 50 years old and around 100 of these people have no income. Almost half of them live in the Greater Copenhagen area; one in four suffer from a physical illness, and over half have some form of mental illness.
These are the hard facts. The actual reality of life on the streets is much more distressing. Some may try to pass of this as a lifestyle choice, a romantic, free existence without the normal ties and responsibilities that come with societal integration. This could not be further from the truth. Life on the streets is lonely, cold and often terrifying; it involves hunger, denial, and numerous health problems. This life also at times involves a devil-may-care attitude, the will to survive as well as strength and courage but it does not offer joy, peace or the opportunity to alter your circumstances, to change the hand life has dealt you.
At projekt UDENFOR, it is our experience that it is always possible to establish a connection with those who are forced to sleep rough. This can take time, and requires patience and understanding, but in the end it always leads to a better understanding of what it takes to create a better life situation in the eyes of all parties involved, meaning projekt UDENFOR, the homeless person and even society in general.
Our efforts to help rough sleepers would, of course, benefit from additional resources, but it is the development of new homelessness prevention measures that will prove key to reducing the number of people forced to sleep on the streets. We at projekt UDENFOR know what can lead to homelessness and a life spent on the streets, but as we liaise only with one individual at a time, we only get a snapshot of the problem, and not always a clear understanding of the bigger picture. We are sure, however, that one of the primary causes of homelessness is not the lack of affordable housing but rather a lack of appropriate housing: homelessness is often the result of conflicts with other tenants and landlords. Furthermore, it is a question of receiving too little support in one’s home. Finally, homelessness is also the result of poor cooperation between the mental health care system and social services.