Lockers for homeless: “Cure symptoms only”

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A homeless organization proposes to set up lockers for the homeless in Copenhagen but spokesman of SAND (The Danish National Organization for the Homeless People) doubts the effectiveness of this initiative in dealing with the core problems of homelessness.

By Chloe Chan Hei Yu

Nestling among several plastic bags sitting on layers of flattened cartons, the man placed in front of him a paper cup with a few coins inside. The bags around him were filled with cans and bottles, together with a sleeping bag and some worn out clothes.

Without a fixed abode, most of the homeless people have to keep all the belongings and valuables in their bags and carry them all the time when they move around the city. It may seem unthinkable that even in a prosperous country like Denmark with a sterling record for sound welfare system, the country had registered 5 290 homeless people in 2011, according to Denmark’s National Centre for Social Research.

New proposal: Lockers for homeless in Copenhagen

To give a helping hand to this group of marginalized people in Copenhagen, a homeless organization Projekt Udenfor and a church organization Vor Frue Sogns Menighedsråd have proposed to set up in the city lockers for those without a shelter.

“50 percent of the homeless in Denmark are in Copenhagen,” said Ask Svejstrup, Head of Secretariat of SAND (The Danish National Organization for Homeless People), a non-government organization that concentrates on setting up dialogue for the homeless and the politicians, and provides advice to the homeless in Copenhagen. He revealed that some homeless people had come to the SAND centre to ask for lockers but the organization did not provide this service. Hence, this project can probably benefit the homeless, he said.

Cure symptoms but not eradicate homelessness

“This measure can only cure symptoms only,” said Svejstrup. Although this measure can provide a place for the homeless to store their belongings like sleeping bags, this “cannot really solve the core problem of homelessness”, according to Svejstrup.

For homeless migrants in daytime

“There are many homeless migrants in Copenhagen needing a place to store their belongings when they go around to find a job”, said Susannah L. Sønderlund, Project Manager of Kompasset, an advisory centre for homeless migrants in Copenhagen. As there is only a limited number of shelters for the homeless and these shelters are often open at night only, lockers for the homeless are in great demand as they need a place to store their stuffs in daytime, according to Sønderlund.

Concern of low turnover rate of lockers

Since the lockers will be launched and managed by private funds, there are potential problems considering the management of these lockers. The lockers are expected to be occupied soon, but the turnover rate may be low. “While some homeless may actually leave the city or get arrested, they will just throw away their lockers’ keys instead of returning them to the centre,” said Svejstrup. Consequently, the lockers may be occupied for a long time but they are not used properly. Those who have an immediate or a real need for a locker may not be able to get one.

Difficult to manage the use of lockers

When lockers are occupied for a long time without anyone collecting the things inside, what should be done? Clean the lockers up to let others use them? What if the owners of the things come back again but their belongings have already been cleared up? Svejstrup raised the above questions considering the practical management system of the lockers. The management of the lockers is not specified in the proposal so it is still questionable about how the lockers can be used and managed efficiently.

Still pie in the sky

This Locker Room project has not been fully funded yet. Indre By Lokaludvalg, a local committee, supports this initiative with 50 000 kroner. But funds are still needed to pay an outreach worker to keep in contact with the homeless for the Locker Room Project.

Also read: Homeless Migrants in Copenhagen: only 10% manage to stay

Video: The homeless people in Copenhagen are not prioritised.