No one should be homeless. Declaration from homeless women.
On the 18th of august 2020, 8 homeless women sent out a declaration protesting the intended closing of the shelter where they are currently living. The closing was planned at the end of august. The same day the declaration was published the head of welfare of Reykjavík city appeared in the evening news saying the closing would be postponed for 3 more months. Here below you can read the powerful declaration:
No one should be homeless
No one should be homeless, even less so in Iceland. Sadly we, the homeless, are way, way too many in spite of all the empty houses around Reykjavík, who’s owners can’t wait to destroy or burn down in order to build a hotel, office building or luxury apartments. This declaration is from us, homeless women in Reykjavík, written to all of you who have never had to live on the streets. To you, who participate in making a society where it seems to be accepted that there are people who do not have a roof over their head. And to you, who say that you support homeless people as long as the support is not made in your neighborhoods.
While there are homeless people in the society we are forced to educate you about homelessness. Because what do you know about homelessness? What do you know about homeless people? Homeless people are not a homogenous group as many of you might think. Homeless people are of all genders, ages and backgrounds. The reasons we are homeless are as many and different as we are as individuals.
You have to know that to live on the street is not a self-made condition. Still people often treat us as if this was a personal choice and because of that belief a lot of you treat us as criminals and societal plague. But this is not a choice. We don’t “end” on the street. It is a knock-out. It is not like moving away from home – you don’t land smoothly on the street. Something happens, you break and crash on the street. That’s how it happens. We are living in the street because of violence and trauma. In the street everything is about surviving and when everything is about surviving you have to do things which can lead to experiencing even more violence and trauma. In the street we are raped, we are faced with sexual assault and harassement and we are always on the look out for danger. There is no breathing space. We can promise you that every single person living in the streets has severe PTSD.
Society does not allow us to process our traumatic experiences by locking us up in prison and keeping us on the street. Because in the street we don’t process anything, there is no space for us to do so.
A lot of us use some kind of substances and we are not ashamed, even though society wants us to. The fact is that it is difficult to see the good part of being sober when you have no place to go home to. The street swallows us whole and the sufferings on the street are just the same over and over again. It is not a question of being smart or having enough willpower. Our willpower is enormous and every single bit of it goes into keeping us alive. Most often our use of substances is about numbing the pain. We will give anyone who manages to find a single homeless person that is sober a handmade medallion we will make ourselves.
No one should be homeless. The sad fact is that it took a pandemic so that a few homeless people in Iceland got a safe place to stay. Because of Covid-19 authorities were forced to provide homeless people with a roof to sleep under. Because it is hard to stay at home if you don’t have a home.
For a while, while the spreading of the pandemic was peaking and people were ordered to stay at home, the two homeless shelters were kept open during the whole day, instead of just being open between 17:00-10:00 as usual. A few people within the system fought for the opening of a temporary shelter since the two other shelters did not have enough space for all the homeless people in the capital area. During the last days of April 2020, 10 women between the ages of 19 and 60, who all had in common to have lived for longer or shorter period in the streets, moved into this temporary shelter. We are these women. Now when the number of Covid-19 cases is descending in Iceland, authorities plan to close this shelters and throw us back onto the street.
Even though we are grateful towards the Red Cross, the volunteers and employers that run Konukot, the shelter for homeless women, the accommodation there is very poor. The shelter cannot host more than 12 women, who need to share 4 rooms and a single shower. It doesn’t take much thinking to understand the stress that comes with having to stay night after night under such conditions. We don’t put up with whatever even though we are homeless.
In the temporary shelter where we now live each woman gets her own small space which consists of a bedroom and a small bathroom. There is also a shared laundry room, kitchen and dining hall. Not having to leave at 10 in the morning every day, no matter the weekday or weather, has changed everything for us. We have not felt so secure in years. We have become like a family, both the staff and the residents.
Here are a couple of examples about the changes which have occurred in our lives since we moved into the new shelter:
“Since I crashed on the street I have only tried to fix things. But I didn’t manage to fix anything until after the third week in a safe housing. I was able to talk to the people who live here. Have sincere and wonderful conversations and form new relationships. Then all of a sudden when I ran into the man who severely abused me, which I thought was going to be the most horrible thing that could happen, I was able to get over it because I could just always come here and cry and be angry and sleep. I could start working through all the traumatic experiences I’ve been through because I had other people to talk to about it in a safe place.”
“This is everything to me. I could not be more healthy than I am right here. I am experiencing happiness and contentment within myself. I’m doing a good job in the tasks I take on and I’m attending to everything I need to attend to. I am aiming to buy an apartment. Here they make sure no one can come inside, they take care of our safety. I have to compliment the staff here, this has been just perfect. I don’t really relate when this is called a shelter.. it is indeed more like a home. The only thing bothering me now, besides of poverty, is this insecurity and anxiety about the near future. I wonder how many times over the day I think about how long this will stay open and when I will have to return to the streets.”
“It is important to have housing, it is important so that we don’t freeze to death. It is everybody’s right. After I got a room here I am better for everything. Everything is better. I feel safe, I can sleep whenever I need to without having to be constantly alert and without the police coming to wake me up. I can have my stuff around me and stay inside my room with a closed door. It is not necessary to have so many homeless people here, it’s actually total nonsense. I bet there are a lot more social workers around than there are homeless people.”
„We are missing a place like this, a place that is kind of a stepping stone to get somewhere else in life. From the street, to find balance and then maybe have an opportunity of getting somewhere else. I think it is absolutely normal that we will pay a small rent each month if they prolong this, if that’s what’s needed. Covid is also not gone forever but still we’re supposed to continue living on the street? Yes, we are using but we know how to fucking clean. We are not wracking places and stealing whatever. We are totally able to live somewhere normally if we are given a chance to do so.”
„First and foremost is that I would be dead if this shelter would not be open. I would be dead and I would never have even called an ambulance if I would have needed it because I owe 190.0000 isk in ambulance cost. If they wouldn’t have called an ambulance for me like 15 times or something, I would be dead by now due to blood infection, or if I wasn’t dead the infection would have gotten to my heart by now. Probably 18 times or more people here have saved me and supported me and comforted me. If this closes I will probably start using morphine again, I’ll go to Konukot. I think I will loose my mind again. It has saved me to have a home, to have someone to talk to. You don’t have to be so paranoid about surviving. If I’m alone outside I start freaking out because I don’t feel safe. You have to do so much shit to survive in this world, and then it is really important to have a safe place to go where people can’t just appear out of nowhere.”
Hopefully you understand now. This is about life or death for us. The message you send us by piling millions to large corporations but decide to close this small shelter is that our lives are worthless. Because we can promise you that at least two of the women living here now will be dead within a year if this shelter will be closed down.
Don’t misunderstand us. Even though we have gone through a lot we don’t see ourselves as victims. We are warriors and fighters. We have managed to survive conditions which few of you could. The least this society can to is to stand with us in the struggle for a decent life and stop criminalising us. So if you see somebody sleeping in a car or in an underground parking, then a) they are just trying to get some sleep, b) they are sleeping there because they don’t have anywhere else to go and c) don’t call the cops. Just don’t. A sleeping person is not dangerous, but the society that creates conditions where anyone is forced to sleep in an underground parking is lethal.
The fact that this is the first 24/7 shelter for homeless women in Iceland is unbelievable. For all these years women living on the streets have been dying. The feminists are just fighting some guys about equal pay, gender quotas and rude comments and seem it find it less important to pay attention to us, the women who are amongst the most discriminated against in society. Equal access to food, housing, healthcare and safety are all things that concern women and that’s why they should concern feminist and be a priority in feminist struggles.
We have had enough and we are not going to allow authoritues to push us into open death without putting up a fight for our lives. We fight for this shelter to be kept open. We fight for all of us who have lived in the streets and experienced our hands being so cold that we couldn’t move our fingers any more. We are fighting for a value in this society which serves our sisters, mothers and daughters. Of course this shelter needs to be closed. But not a day sooner than there is not a single homeless woman left on the streets of Reykjavík.
Emilie Camilla Johans Jacob, 31 years old, homeless for 3 years
Embla Nótt Anderson, 23 years old, homeless for 7 years
Zvala Zjana, homeless for 8 years
Tiger of the fighted of the death, 43 years old, homeless for 7 months
S.R.K., 35 years old, homeless for 5 years
Magnea Örvarsdóttir, 48 years old, homeless for 4 years
Kristvina, 32 years old, homeless for 2 months