What do we say when we want to meet eyes to eyes with the homeless people?


Until our forthcoming seminar at Bremen Theatre on 30 October  ”The darkest hour is just before the dawn – will there be light” we will be running a series of interviews with the members of the panel. This week featuring Anette Laigaard, Social Director of the Municipality of Copenhagen:

By way of introduction, could you tell us a bit about your background and why it is important to be a member of the panel at our seminar ”The darkest hour is just before the dawn – will there be light”?

I am a qualified social worker and lives at Vesterbro where I, on a daily basis, meet socially vulnerable people and see when the effort is inadequate. It is important to me to be a member of the panel because I am the social director of the Municipality of Copenhagen. I have to be on the forefront of matters such as reducing the rate of sickness and the excess mortality among homeless and socially vulnerable people overall.

What is the responsibility of the Municipality of Copenhagen in connection with ensuring equality in health?

Health is an issue for many, both regions and municipalities in connection with prevention as well as follow up on the course of a disease. The local council’s role is to “create quality of life in the everyday life”, thus making the life of their citizens better. We therefore offer a range of health promoting initiatives, e.g. health initiatives on the streets or home support. It is, however, important to me to emphasise that we, the local council, should not be a parallel world. We should be able to include and involve the homeless and socially vulnerable people. Consequently, we spend as much time on the streets as possible, because we have to be where we are needed. For the same reason, I am not particularly fond of specific offers to the homeless people. The citizens, who are homeless, have just as much right to be a part of the society as the rest of us. We need diversity.

Based on the overall theme of the seminar – inequality in health – what is, in your view, the biggest issue, and what is the biggest challenge?

The biggest issue is that the rate of sickness of vulnerable citizens is high and they therefore need to use the health system. However, homeless citizens are often difficult to contain within the ordinary health systems. When the homeless people does not want to go when the ambulance arrives, it has, in my view, more to do with terms – that we do not welcome the homeless people in the right way. Thus, the challenge is that we have to be better at accommodating the socially vulnerable people.

Which messages are important for you to communicate at the seminar?

In the public systems, we must think as broadly as possible. Socially vulnerable people often feature a palette of issues – somatic deceases, mental illness and substance abuse. We therefore have to work out how we work together to get around all the issues of the citizen – and avoid parallel systems. We must say clearly, what we mean when talking about flexibility; what do we mean when we talk about meeting eye to eye with the citizen and be flexible. Fine words, indeed, but are we able to comply in our organisational roles. When the citizen is motivated for hospitalisation– is it actually possible to admit him?

What are your expectations as to help, if one day you will actually need it?

I expect, without any doubt, to be met by the health system in such a way that I receive the most qualified help at the right time and in the right place.

What are you hoping to take with you from the seminar?

I hope that the seminar can push solutions. I would rather share solutions – not problems and challenges!

What are you precisely going to do with the suggested solutions, if any, which may come out of the seminar?

I might return and have a specific suggestion handled politically or I could gather the actual collaborators and make a plan for reaching an exact target. You could imagine that the seminar resulting in commitments to work with processes and the way, we do things. Should we make different arrangements? How to ensure that we are ready when a homeless is motivated for admission.


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