Homeless to get their own cemetery

The initiative still needs 190,000 kroner for a bronze sculpture monument, but local politicians are confident that the cemetery will open this September

A section of Assistens Kirkegård cemetery in Nørrebro will be set aside for Copenhagen's homeless residents and a monument will be erected to remember those who have slipped through society's cracks.

“Many homeless have chosen not to see their families or vice versa, so when they pass away their burials often end up being a council affair at a random cemetery,” Michael Espensen, the head of the homeless advocate association Giv din hånd, which is leading the homeless cemetery initiative, told Politiken newspaper.

The initiative, called Gravplads for Gadens Folk (A cemetery for the people of the street), is supported by a number of private donors, including legendary musician Kim Larsen and the artist Leif Sylvester Petersen.

A 75 square metre plot of land in Mindeparken at Assistens Kirkegård has already been allocated for the homeless cemetery initiative and Copenhagen church Vor Frue Kirke will cover connected expenses.

“The thought behind the initiative is that the homeless need a place to belong after death, just as other people do,” Espensen told Politiken. “We have revealed the plan to the homeless and they approve of it and we believe that many of them will use the place.”

Espensen said that there were still some details that needed to be worked out, such as finding the funding for a monument, but he expects the cemetery to open sometime in September. The monument will be a bronze sculpture that has been given the name En engel i blandt os (An angel amongst us).

Gravplads for Gadens Folk have applied for a 190,000 kroner grant from the City Council in order to pay for the sculpture and the local politicians have praised the project.

“It is a good project that gives to the city and to the homeless,” councillor Peter Thiele (Socialistisk Folkeparti) told Politiken. “The homeless receive a memorial and everyone else gets a place they can remember the people that many ignore in the city on a daily basis.”

The city's deputy mayor for technical and environment affairs, Ayfer Baykal (Socialistisk Folkeparti), who is responsible for the city's cemeteries, argued that Copenhagen should be a city for everyone.

“We have been working to improve the lives of the homeless for years now by finding space for them in places such as Nørrebroparken, at Sundholm and at Enghave Plads, where they can meet each other on their own terms,” Baykal told Politiken newspaper.

According to the national social research centre, Det Nationale Forskningscenter for Velfærd, as of 2011 there were 5,290 homeless people living in Denmark, half of whom reside in the capital region. Every second homeless person is believed to have lived on the streets for more than a year.

The decision to set aside part of Assistens Kirkegård for the homeless follows in the footsteps of a petition to dedicate part of Vestre Kirkegård as a non-religious cemetery.