Homelessness increases in Denmark due to expensive housing

Allan Andersen became homeless six years ago, as he lost his house in a divorce. Today, he is selling papers and collecting bottles to earn a living. Photo: Rebekah Alvey

The homeless population are increasing in Denmark, as the affordable housing in the large cities is limited. The same trend applies in USA.

By Rebekah Alvey and Kasper Bøgsted Kristensen

Four years ago, after a traumatic event, Asbjørn Christensen said his life took a turn that led him to become homeless for three years. A combination of heavy drinking, being kicked out off house after house and a lost job led to him sleeping on sofas and the streets of Copenhagen.

Once able to secure housing, he became a part of SAND, a political organization advocating and giving a voice to the homeless. Now he sits on the board of the organisation, working to find a solution within the program and the Danish government.

Studies have shown an increasing homeless population in Denmark despite being a welfare state, calling attention to state policies regarding housing and rehabilitation.

Christensen and other members of SAND will be attending Folkemødet, The People’s Political Festival on Bornholm, where they can voice concerns of the homeless population to politicians. He said the organization plans to discuss policies and demonstrate all the obstacles a homeless person faces.

There have been several policies addressing the homeless community. Christensen said a “zone ban” pushing homeless people out of certain zones was implemented.

There is also a “begging law” preventing people from asking for money. If caught, a person could face a fine or seven days in jail.

Asbjørn Christensen (right) and Kim Allan Jensen (left) got elected as board members of SAND at their meeting last week. Photo: Rebekah Alvey

Creating sustainable housing

In Denmark there is also a program called housing first, adopted from the US, which states that every person no matter mental or physical status should have a home.

In Copenhagen, Kim Allan Jensen who also serves on the board at SAND, said there is a policy causing housing spaces to be larger and therefore more expensive and hard for a homeless person to afford.

Jensen has been working on a project called tiny houses which uses government funds to build smaller houses with the help of the homeless person to live in it.

“Make them be a part of building the house so they can say it is their house and they can feel something personal,” Jensen said.

Moving forward Christensen said it is important to have available housing that is not a ghetto, provides a supportive community and allows people to keep up with the finances so they do not return to the streets.

An international trend

In the US, homelessness has risen by one percent according to a report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Eric Tars, Senior Attorney at National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, said the lead cause of high rates of homelessness in the US is a lack of affordable housing, similar to the situation in Copenhagen. Additionally he said construction of luxury housing has become incentivized.

In California where homelessness is prevalent, Tars said over half of renters are paying 30% of their income on rent while one third are paying 50% of their income.

“That puts them just one missed paycheck, one medical emergency, one broken down car away from a slide into homelessness,” Tars said.

Data: VIVE and National Alliance to End Homelessness

Selling newspapers for income

While SAND addresses the political voices of the homeless, the organization Hus Forbi, provides homeless people with newspapers to sell for an income. The program was started in 1996 when they released their first issue.

Henrik Pedersen, current chairman of Hus Forbi said he started out homeless and was pulled into the program through a friend who was also a vendor. He said when he first started, it forced him to go out and be among people, create a network and allowed him to have money outside welfare checks.

“With Hus Forbi you’ll be able to live a life like most other people,” Pedersen said.

The organization recently bought a building and are working to provide more vendors with papers. Pedersen said he anticipates a larger organization as the number of homeless people in Denmark increases.

Allan Andersen is standing 10 hours a day in front of IKEA in Gentofte to sell Hus Forbi. Video: Rebekah Alvey and Kasper Bøgsted Kristensen

This story is intended for an American audience.