Homeless face trying winter

While Copenhagen’s increasing homeless population are competing for fewer beds, the normally excluded foreign homeless have secured somewhere to spend the cold nights

With another cold winter about to set in, the outlook for the city’s homeless is as bleak as ever after Copenhagen’s social services announced that many shelters were already fully booked.

Speaking to Information newspaper, deputy mayor for social affairs Mikkel Warming said he was disappointed by the situation.

“It’s exceptional that shelters have been fully booked from the summer until now,” Warming said. “I’ve not experienced that once in my six years as deputy mayor. It’s very worrying.”

According to the National Centre for Social Research (SFI), the number of homeless in Denmark has been steadily rising.

SFI registered 5,290 homeless individuals in 2011 – a rise of 292 from 2009 – though only 426 were registered as sleeping regularly on the street, a drop of 80 individuals compared to 2009.

But without an adequate number of beds in the city, the number of those forced to sleep on the street may be set to rise this winter.

“We are experiencing a marked increase in homeless people searching and becoming frustrated when they are referred to a night café, which is often just a mattress on the floor, a chair or a sofa,” Gertrud Sørensen from the shelter Herbergscentret Sundholm told Information.

SFI’s numbers have revealed a worrying increase in the number of homeless young people in Denmark. While in 2009 there were 633 registered homeless between 18 and 24 year olds, in 2011 the number had risen to 1,002.

“We can’t give a concrete reason about why there are so many more young homeless people, but many of them have said that they couldn’t find a suitable housing solution,” Hasselberg Laurtizen from SFI told Information.

While Danes are entitled to use the limited spaces at shelters and other emergency housing provided by the council, foreigners without residency – otherwise known as undocumented migrants – are normally forbidden from being given beds.

But one organisation, Missionen blandt Hjemløse (MBH), has managed to secure funding to provide beds for undocumented migrants through a pool of money called Satspuljen, distributed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Immigration.

The money will be put toward running Nattely, a shelter that opens from 11pm to 8am in Bavnehøj Church in Valby, providing beds for undocumented migrants who, according to Mia Sørup from MBH, are most at risk during the winter.

“I think there's just as much need for beds this winter, especially after all the shelters in Copenhagen have admitted that they are completely full,” Sørup told The Copenhagen Post. “We deal primarily with foreign homeless and I don’t think the problem has diminished this winter, especially with the economic problems facing Europe.”

While MBH is able to provide beds for undocumented foreigners using funding from private sources as well as Satspuljen, Sørup believes the problem is not being properly tackled.

“We are basically in the same situation as last winter," she said. "I think the government should recognise how severe the need is and open up the debate about the homeless because there’s plenty of people who need help and often their stories are quite complex."

Sørup added that the problem of foreign homeless people in Denmark needs to be tackled on a European scale, as often the homeless are of African or Middle Eastern descent and travel throughout Europe.

“We need to think about what we can do on a European level because this is not just a Danish problem. They are here, so not doing something about it is like putting your head in the sand.”

While stocks of clothes and foods are high, Sørup said they still needed volunteers to keep watch during the long and cold nights, as well as donations to pay wages for the professional staff.

If you want to help, head to http://hjemlos.dk/ or get in touch with Missionen Blandt Hjemløse by emailing mbh@hjemlos.dk or call 3616 1113.

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