Homeless Migrants in Copenhagen: only 10% manage to stay

Several homeless migrants sleep under the trees in a park where they usually hang out in Copenhagen.
Several homeless migrants sleep under the trees in a park where they usually hang out in Copenhagen.

Only 10 percent of the homeless migrants seek help from Kompasset, a non-government organization providing guidance and advice to homeless migrants in Denmark, said Susannah L. Sønderlund, Project Manager of the organization.

By Chloe Chan Hei Yu

A Bulgarian wandered around the street, stepping down a bus from his hometown to Copenhagen. Without a place to stay, he tried to find a way to make a living here. He still had a family to feed and hoped to bring them to this affluent city one day. He stopped by a centre called Kompasset at the corner of a street and offered to wash the windows for the office. He did not only get the job but also advice on how a homeless migrant like him could find his way to stay and live in the city.

“This guy worked very hard. Finally, he set up his own business of window washing and brought his family here,” said Susannah L. Sønderlund, Project Manager of Kompasset, an advisory centre for homeless migrants in Copenhagen. “This is only one of the few cases in which homeless migrants managed to work and live in the city,” said Sønderlund.

According to the statistics of Kompasset, only 10 percent of the homeless migrants are able to go through all the complicated procedures of getting a citizenship in Denmark, CPR Number and working permit. They are usually the ones who can speak English or are from countries in the European Union (like Romania, Spain and Bulgaria).

Language problem

A major problem that forces the homeless migrants to leave Copenhagen is that they can speak neither Danish nor English. “If they cannot speak either one of these languages, there is almost no hope for them to find a job in the city,” said Sønderlund.

Frustration of the 90%

“Most of the homeless migrants seeking advice from the centre cannot find a job in Copenhagen,” said Sønderlund. They are either non-English speakers or those lacking a proof of their education level. Some of them do not even have a passport. So, it is almost impossible for them to get CPR number, bank accounts and a working permit which are prerequisite for work in the city. In reality, the majority of the homeless migrants can only choose to leave the city.

Collecting cans to earn a ticket back home 

The majority of the homeless migrants have only a meagre amount of money. “Some of them may need to collect cans and bottles from rubbish bins to recycle so as to earn around 50 kroner a day,” said Sønderlund. After earning the amount for a bus ticket, they leave this city with frustration, heading back home or to another city to try their luck.

Lack of government support

“There is no policy to help the homeless migrants to integrate into the Danish society,” said Sønderlund. Also, the problem of homelessness is seen as a low priority compared to other social issues, according to 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. While the homeless migrants are hardly the target or main beneficiaries of the welfare system, the politicians tend to prioritize the needs of the local citizens and hence consider and deal first with issues like medical care, elderly care and education.

More public awareness, understanding and care

To spotlight the problem of homelessness, Svejstrup suggested to the homeless their “going more public”. His organization is giving advice on how the homeless people can present their problems and their rights to the general public in the society. Then they can voice out their needs to the politicians. “Letting the homeless tell their own stories can make others better understand them,” said Svejstrup. However, it can be challenging to encourage the homeless, especially the homeless migrants to speak out in front of the public as they fear that their families may recognize them, according to Svejstrup. “They do not want their family to know that they are homeless and having a tough life,” he added.

Also read:Lockers for homeless: “Cure symptoms only”

Quick Facts:

According to the Kompasset in 2013, 64% of the inquiries are from EU/EEA citizens, 30% from Third-country nationals (TCNs) with a residence permit in another EU country and 5% from TCNs without a residence permit in another EU country.

(Full report: http://www.feantsa.org/spip.php?action=acceder_document&arg=1904&cle=3110a61696917402c236d4436d628aae8b112bc5&file=pdf%2Fkompasset_statistics_3rd_quarter_eng.pdf&lang=en )



Video: Homeless migrants in Copenhagen are resources to the city