No home to go to for foreign homeless

Nearly one in five homeless people in Denmark are foreigners. Fatima Mohamed Saad is one of them

A sour odour lingers in the hallway leading to Fatima Mohamed Saad’s* room. Someone is showering in the shared bathroom and a flickering fluorescent light emanates from within. On the bathroom door a sign is plastered reminding guests not to leave their razor blades and scissors behind. Herberget Lindevangen – a shelter for homeless people in Frederiksberg – is not the most inspiring place in Denmark. But Saad knows she is lucky to be there.

Though she is originally from Somalia, 32-year-old Saad has spent nearly half of her life in Denmark. Saad has four children, who have never been back to their mother’s homeland, and is pregnant with her fifth. Saad and her family returned to Denmark in June this year after living in England for three years, where they had moved after Saad’s ex-husband had threatened to kill her and the children. But the children were dismayed living in Birmingham – they missed rye bread.

Saad paid a 15,000 kroner deposit for an apartment before she arrived in Copenhagen but the arrangement fell through, leaving her and her family with nowhere to stay. But she preferred to be homeless in Denmark,  where most of her family now lives, than go back to the UK. She is one of 19 percent of homeless people with an immigrant background, according to 2011 figures from the National Centre for Social Research.

Herberget Lindevangen hosted people of 24 different nationalities during the course of one year. Some of the younger foreigners might have been kicked out of their homes by parents who felt their children had become too ‘Danish’ and had forgotten their roots, according to staff. Others find it challenging to adopt a culture where they have to speak more quietly or politely than is customary in their home countries.

At Kirkens Korshær in Christianshavn – a day shelter for homeless and lonely people – about 70 percent of its visitors are from non-Nordic countries, with eastern Europeans accounting for the majority. An assistant at Kirkens Korshær, Ronald Kofod, said many of the eastern Europeans arrive without any English or other language skills usable in the Danish workplace. Those who give up on job-hunting often take to the bottle and are too embarrassed to return to their families as alcoholics.

Homeless foreigners, particularly those from eastern Europe, go home periodically so as to not reside in Denmark illegally. But most come back. They prefer to be homeless in Denmark, where they can provide for the families they left behind, than to stay at home where their options are limited . Some make up to 3,000 kroner a month from collecting bottles.

Africans, from countries like Sierra Leone and Ghana, have invested even more in their being here. Kofod said many of their families have been collecting money for years to send their “oldest, smartest and strongest” son to Denmark with the belief that Europe is an oasis of job opportunities. “If he goes back without a job, they will say he’s an outcast, he’s weak,” Kofod said. There is too much shame in going home empty-handed.

*Name has been changed upon request

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