Homelessness in Europe

How to become homeless?  We just ignore it and turn our heads

We may all be homeless one day or two(years), you may be the next clochard…

Have you ever been locked outside your home?

Maybe you forgot your keys, they may have broken, someone locked you out or for any other reason you didn’t get inside your place…

Do you remember the feeling of staying locked outside?

I guess you were frustrated, restless and distressed.
Has it never happened that you had to sleep outside then?

If you did, you likely got upset, tired and stressed too.
Perhaps  you got cold at your feet, until they almost hurt and then the freezing feeling goes up, to your legs and upper body, almost immobilizing you. In many cold, or hot climates worse would happen.
Remember, bad weather may occur in any part of the globe.

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I suppose that one night sleeping out – or not sleeping at all – gave you such a strong negative experience about how weak you could be without a place to go, that you promised yourself to absolutely avoid that situation in the future.

Let’s not forget that, regardless you had all those bad feelings, you still had the certainty that you would have a place to go. You just didn’t have access to it in that moment.

Can you imagine not having a place at all?
That one night locked outside would be extended to one week?
One month?
One year?
Forever?

Without a reference point where you can rest and be at peace, where you have your things, and time to be yourself.
Add to this that you may be old, sick, in a foreign country, unable to speak the local language, without friends or family, without documents nor the possibility to go back home to your country (perhaps you don’t have one).

What if you just left a place, in your home country, where there was war, violence, racism, intolerance for a group you belong to, or such?

Imagine that you don’t have somewhere to take a shower, no change of clothes, nor food, or money; with probably depression or addictions?

In such a situation you also have to cope with authorities – police, guards, suspicious locals, etc – kicking you out constantly (sometimes literally), people looking at you disgusted, as though you were a bag of trash, something dirty that is in their way, just disturbing, that could better not exist at all.
Better, for all the passing people, not to see you at all.

Now, please, tell me if we all have a right to have a place to stay, or not.


We are all potential refugees

If you notice gipsy’s in the street, foreigners with dark skin or people that looks like really different than you, than you may think that they are homeless because they “deserve” it, because they did something wrong.
You are forgetting your past, in the most countries there has been a history of moving, emigrating, exodos or traveling.

If you look back in your own family tree you may probably find some distant (or close) relatives which were in a similar position to a homeless.

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Indifference, nothing can be worse

It’s really easy to just turn your head and behave like nothing happened, like you didn’t notice that homeless asking you at least the kindness not to step on his hat.
Some well willed people may think that is not everyone’s tasks to take care of homeless, that there are professionals for it and if still there is people in the street, they are maybe refusing to be in a shelter, or they may be rich people dressed up as poor for “who knows which reason”…
This way we discharge ourself from any responsibility and don’t feel guilty or involved.
We often forget that we are all the same, we may be in future, in a situation someone else (really different than us) is now, even if we don’t realize it.
Because of our artificial corrupted system of living, there are huge social and economical differences between us. And if you are cut out from the official circle, you have often little, or no rights at all.
Being indifferent, turning you head when someone is asking you to be human, is just equal to being un-human.


Homelessness in Europe

I have noticed contrasting reactions to homelessness in the various european countries; both from institutions and local people.

In Scandinavia, one of the richest area of the world, you find the most supportive people and the best social care.
All Scandinavian countries have also many social-environmental-economical practice, one of them is the cans & bottle back fee. If you collect cans from the street, you can bring them back and get some money, one big bag of cans can allow you to get circa five euro, which is not much, but better than nothing, for whom has nothing.

By contacting the social services of Copenhagen asking how the city helps to the problem I get a detailed answer: “…the local municipalities have the primary responsibility for social matters in Denmark. The Consolidation Act on Social Services specifies a municipal obligation to provide temporary accommodation for the homeless people…”.

A TV show in Helsinki is chasing for homeless people, they ask the unfortunate person if he wants to stay in an accommodation for 30Euro/month, also newspapers cover the matter, I am on it too.

Central Europe is a mix of different countries and cultures, nevertheless we could generalize a bit and say that the most central European countries have good social care systems. Welfare that works smooth, mostly, if you are a local, or a citizen of that country. Otherwise, you may be cut off (as it happens of course also in many other countries in the world, not just in Central Europe).
In Paris, for example, you can see an high number of people sleeping in the street, many of them are french (with psychological problems) or from Africa; some of them, when in extreme situations, get some help from organizations such Red Cross, but is still a drop in the sea.
The main issue in Central Europe is the attractiveness of that area in the eyes of immigrants. Many wants to migrate to the “center of Europe” to have a better life, this implies a big, and growing, amount of persons to take care of.
The most of the immigrants come from less wealthy countries of course, that substantially means, more people to take care of and more homeless.

In the Baltic States people is most of the times supportive with each other.
In Estonia most people are aware of the problem and are trying to go towards Scandinavian’s systems to solve it.
While I was in Lithuania I have seen really deep acts of kindness, extremely goodhearted people and shelters working properly, willing to accommodate whom is in need.

Unfortunately, in Riga (Latvia) I was witnessing many homeless in the cold, without much care from the ones that were passing.

Belarus is not a Baltic country, but it shares a lot of traditions with his neighbors Lithuania and Latvia: in Minsk I didn’t see any homeless, I was surprised, I thought it was the most social supportive city of the world.
I did see people living in poverty condition, but nobody in the street.
After some talk with locals and research, I found out it seems that the government and Police don’t really like to assist homeless. If you are unemployed you have to pay a tax to the state or clean the streets for almost no money; ah, I forgot to mention that you also have to prove that the money you are paying the tax with are not coming from illegal sources.
ahhh , I forgot a second thing: I heard that sometimes homeless people is ‘moved’ to nature, brought by force from police to forests.

In Southern Europe there is a different way of addressing the problem and behaving towards homelessness. In many south European countries, such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, governments are not always properly organized to fight homelessness.
Trying to visit the social security page of the city of Rome I landed on a blank page.
Often public order authorities are not tolerating anyone staying in the street, being sometimes also aggressive. Same way as many south European ordinary people act quite snobbish and don’t tolerate having contacts with an homeless.

Strangely enough, or maybe naturally enough, social customs are set up in a way where peer-to-peer social help is in some cases an obligation (for example during Christmas, but mostly for useless things: presents, cakes, etc…), pushing people to help each other, be solidair with one other, even if they don’t feel it, often because of religion and old traditions.
The bottom of Europe is often also where migrants from Africa, middle east or Balkans first arrive from, this challenges a lot the, already not smoothly working, first aid care system that has to take care of the migratory wave.
Many locals also complain about the big amount of migrating people.

Christiania, Copenhagen, Denmark

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Marinaleda, Seville, Spain

While visiting Copenhagen I ended up in Christiania, the famous area of the city which does not belong to the “real world”, which is not following the government legislation directly.

If you are able to have some constructive conversations with locals, probably someone will talk to you about the story of that place.

Before visiting it, I thought it was heaven, a peaceful place where everybody was equal and there were no modern society problems, nor homeless.
Actually it looks like that Christiania started to build up with Social-Anarchist principles, but maybe in the last years it went more on a different direction…
“Christiania freetown” was not as welcoming as I expected and still there were homeless people nearby which I didn’t really see to get any practical help or feel relieved.

I have even experienced myself closed minded attitude and aggressiveness in that part of Copenhagen and noticed many dealing with soft drugs. I am sure that there are good intentions on the roots of Christiania, but at the moment it sounds to me more like “Drogalia”.

A totally different experience I had in Marinaleda, a small town near Seville, in Spain.
I didn’t know about Marinaleda’s type of administration until I was nearby.
As you arrive in this “utopia town”, you feel that the whole city is welcoming you, if you need, you can get a place to sleep for free; you can even easily get a job or get -and construct- an house practically for free.
Actually there is one of the few places in the world where I am sure that homelessness does not exist at all.


Homeless are lazy

During a CouchSurfing event in Scandinavia I was walking in the streets, in night time, with fellow travelers; while seeing people sleeping in the street we started talking about it.

I was really shocked to hear, especially from Couch-surfers, that helping homeless would push people into laziness and would be thus not the right thing to do…

This was said by “open-minded” persons, which share their place for free, with strangers.
That worry me the most.

My reply was: “In the current society we waste more than the half of what we produce, we have high percentage of houses empty because of bad administration/laws, economical speculation or selfishness. People is being paid to “work” but practically do nothing (many security forces, armies, public offices, etc..), and we can’t afford to give a basic shelter to someone sleeping in the street?!”


Words are stones, really

“You are what you eat”, you have heard that at least once, right? it’s a true fact, but you are also what you say.

A short time ago I assisted to a sad episode of daily, small, ordinary, inhumanity: something happening often and many times we don’t even consider it as important as it should be.

There was a person searching for bottles in the trash (probably to bring it to the supermarket), another individual living in that area shouted at him like he was a thief, saying: “go away…!” he immediately ran away scared, apologized with his head down and dropped the bottles back in the dumpster.

This happened in Denmark, one of the countries with the best social-welfare system and with the most “hippie” mentality. Even in Denmark  there are many homeless, which is also quite sad (thinking of the temperature that it gets in the winter).

Homeless people are extremely sensitive, even if does not look like, any word, action, or even intention is well understood by them and it may inhibit them deeply.


How to help a homeless

A homeless needs of course a place where to sleep and food. But most of all he needs to be accepted, cared for and to feel welcomed, even if he is not what the standard society supposes him to be.

First help yourself, then help others

As they say on airplanes: “in case of emergency first fit your own mask and then the one of your kid”;
if you want to productively help a homeless, first make sure you feel strong yourself and you are in inner peace.
Like that, you transmit positive energy.
Is much harder to help others when you are yourself not fulfilled. But this should be not an excuse to not help others at all.

Understand what’s the need of the person, if he need a place to sleep he could be forwarded to shelters or city social departments (a fast google search can give you good results).
But one thing we can all give, all the time, is human warmth.

Communities for volunteering, such as : WorkAway.info,  HelpEx.org, HelpStay.com and wwoof.net are exceptionally effective for persons looking for accommodation and food, if they can help a bit (without main physical or psychological problems).
Something we can all easily do, is to address ‘people without a roof’ to any of those organization or host directly.

The only small barrier is that those communities require an online profile and a yearly payment (around 20 euro/year).
Of course it would be a really good sign of humanity to make a profile for them or lend them your own profile for short.

I printed out some cards with information’s about those community and distributed among people who may get benefit from it.
Also shelter may be advised about the possibility to integrate people using those volunteering communities.


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