Thoughts of a Street-based Worker

Sidste nyt

“In Denmark you choose being homeless”

That is the view of many Danish people and is also what I often hear in my work on the streets. Self-imposed homelessness, neglect, substance abuse and mental issues are most people’s answer to questions of why so many end up homeless and socially vulnerable – whereas reasons as such as high rents for obscure reasons rummage at the lower end.

The Attitudes of the Danish People

In November 2015, Rådet for Socialt Udsatte (Council of Socially Vulnerable) issued a tabular report on the attitude of the Danish people towards socially vulnerable people. Around 1,000 people, ageing from 18 to 56 and above, participated in the survey. The report makes interesting reading and provides a rather good picture of the attitude, you also encounter as a street-based worker when talking to ordinary people during your daily work. The thing is that when you work with socially vulnerable people, you encounter many different attitudes on the way – both positive and negative and sometimes attitudes where you feel like shaking your head. Fortunately, there is a lot of empathy and interest when you talk about your work. Lack of knowledge and information, however, means that many people still believe that it is a question of laziness and “you just have to pull yourself together”.

Inevitable Bad Luck and Injustice

Approximately half of the people asked in the report believe that being socially vulnerable is the result of unfortunate circumstances, and words as “inevitable” and “injustice” lie at the high end of the replies to what may be the reasons for people living as socially vulnerable when the ordinary Danish person is asked.

We can choose to interprete these words, because they mean so many different things. Are you unlucky because you had a rough upbringing or because you grew up in difficult circumstances without the same possibilities as others. Are you unlucky because you were bullied at school? Perhaps you grew up both with violence and/or abuse, or did you loose your parents through bad luck or injustice so that you grew up “on the system”? Is a person unlucky because he cannot navigate within the “system” or even understand the contents of the documents, he receives. Perhaps the bad luck consists of not having received the proper instructions or on the actual day, you did not have the resources or the possibility of doing exactly what was needed.

In any rate, there is plenty of bad luck around and we all agree that bad luck is just one of those things, and usually it is beyond our control?! Injustice? Well, that is interesting, because if you have had the sort of bad luck mentioned, you might feel that it is not fair that you do not always get another chance or that somebody is not there to take your hand and steer you in the right direction. Are you the subject of injustice and bad luck; well, it is inevitable that you will, at times, fall through – and it is sad, unlucky, unjust, but, unfortunately, in most cases inevitable.

Neglect and Abuse

At this time, you might feel like doing a bit of a provocation. You have been unlucky through life and additionally you have been subject to neglect. Neglect could be any number of things, .i.e. from family, school, local authorities and/or other carers who, in unfairness, did not help when you needed help and support to get through all the bad luck previously mentioned. This neglect, and there is often multiple, sometimes lead to various mental issues. This could be mental vulnerability, anxiety, depression even forms of self-harming behaviour. The list is long. Perhaps, in this case, it is evitable that you end up in abuse because self-medication may be an attempt to survive the unlucky and unjust neglect through life and the consequential mental issues.

Of course there are far more nuances and reasons! But, a human being choosing homelessness is rarely the truth. Often, a number of combinations of all this bad luck and injustice cause you to choose not to try to evade the inevitable, homelessness. Perhaps, you dare not try to evade it.

Have you then choosen homelessness by yourself or is it just unjustly inevitable?

Anne Lindhardt Ramsdahl
Street-based worker of the Youth Project
Projekt UDENFOR

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