by Vanessa Espinosa
alos published here:
22nd & 29th July 2018, Freistatt
Talking about homelessness is most commonly associated with charity services, soup kitchens, and people begging on the streets. But what if instead of talking about homelessness, we start talking with people experiencing homelessness?
The “Wohnungslosentreffen” or “Homeless people meeting” is an annual event that started two years ago. The initiators of the project are Stefan Schneider and Jürgen Schneider, both experts on the topic and also with homelessness life experiences. They are normally invited to conferences and talks about housing and homelessness in Europe frequently organized by big organizations as FEANTSA, EAPN, among others.
But what do homeless people have to say?
The Wohnungslosentreffen is an event unique in its kind. It’s framed as a summer camp self-organized by homeless or formerly homeless people and especially for homeless people. The key aspects of this event are involving all the participants on creating a space for dialogue, participation, debate and ultimately action.
Self-organization and self-representation of homeless people is not a common topic but this event is, in my opinion, a clear and very successful example that it is important, necessary and possible to do that. Their motto states in their own words:
“Everything changes when we change it. We are the platform for self-advocacy of homeless and formerly homeless people. We are committed to a better world, to overcome poverty, exclusion, abuse, deprivation of rights and homelessness, and to improving concrete life situations”
On a personal level, I can only say that my participation in the Summer camp just came in the right moment and was an extraordinary eye-opening experience. As part of my search for a better understanding of the homelessness reality in Europe and its better efforts to fight against this, in the present year I attended to two conferences organized by FEANTSA (The European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless): in March “The 3rd Overview of Housing Exclusion in Europe 2018” and in June “The Policy Conference — Future Challenges for the Homeless Sector in Europe”. In these conferences, I realized that the efforts for solving homelessness are not new but they are still not supported by a great political agenda or will. There were countless interesting workshops and conferences about the Housing First model and its already successful implementations in Nordic countries, a reflection about how stereotypical homelessness was and it’s still being communicated to the general population. While the politicians are still investing in measures that manage homelessness, the experts are working on implementing real solutions to the problem.
The discussions in these two conferences were key for me to understand the problematic in depth and realize that there is a huge network of organizations doing a great job and working on solving homelessness around Europe.
Unfortunately and how it is expectable, not all the countries have the same success neither the same political support. The case of Germany is alarming and worsening every year more and more but still in a blinded reality without official statistics.
As I mentioned before, the Homeless people meeting is a closed event in which I had the pleasure to participate as a translator volunteer for a group of guests from Portugal. This year there were around 120 attendants who are or were homeless at one point in their lives. Each one of them was passing through a different stage in their lives, with many different ideas in their minds, with different problems, but all of them with the same goal: working together to change and challenge the status quo of their poverty situation.
Since I arrived at Freistatt I felt a friendly environment where everyone was very open to meet everyone, they were ready to start a conversation, tell their stories and listen to me. I was with the ears super open, ready to have great conversations and learn from their first-hand experiences.
The program for that week was packed with really interesting talks, workspaces or events such like for example campfires, concerts, movie projections, book presentations, free hair cutting and massage services, lectures with guests, screen printing, among others.
The five central topics that were discussed in the different workspaces were:
1.- Claims for emergency aid
2.- Helping people help themselves
3.- Medical care
4.- Conflict solutions
5.- Right to housing and housing
I would like to point out that this Summer Camp from a design perspective is a complete success. It is framed in an especial location full of nature and peace, with the sun shining every day of the week, with any worry about the breakfast, lunch or dinner; as well as the already organized camping space. I can imagine that experiencing homelessness and stopping a while to be able to think about it is a luxury. Having no worries about shelter, food, showers, or hate crimes allow the people to reflect deeply in their situation and possible solutions. They know it takes time and a lot of work that’s why for some of them this was not their first time in the camp.
Overall, what I felt was very much like being part of a chaotic and at the same time beautiful and cozy family meeting. I met incredible people fighting to step out of homelessness, with a very conscious level of their situation, with the strength and desire needed to work together, debate and decide.
“We discover our own power and our abilities. We dare to be who we are, to recognize our strengths and weaknesses, and not to hide anymore. At our meetings, we can find ourselves, develop contacts and learn together. This expands and spreads our network and creates new, often surprising partnerships.” (Wohnungslosentreffen)
The way out of homelessness is…
As part of my visit to the meeting, I was completely aware that this opportunity was very special and almost impossible to repeat. I wanted to hear the opinion of as many people as possible and that is why I did a personal intervention pasting a poster with the following phrase and asking them to complete it: The way out of homelessness is…
These are some of the answers people wrote:
- Be dry, work on your weak sides, receive help from other people, believe in God, fight, and most important be really grateful for the help.
- Build more affordable housing
- Get friends
- Believe in oneself
- Be strong and fight
- No ghetto formations!
- Do not give up
- Be as you are
- Get up and really do something
- To be able to earn money so nothing can be taken away of you again!
- Do not lose the hope! It is not easy but there are solutions when combining team actions and solidarity
- Change yourself, change your home, change your street, change your city, change your country, change the law
- House occupation like in the 80’s
- Social economy
If we analyze them carefully we can recognize that most of the answers are pointing into a really personal level of responsibility, whereas only a couple of them point into a responsibility of the system. The truth is that homelessness is the systemic failure in the social politics of housing, migration, education, health, and all the other aspects of the system. Having no roof over our heads is living in conditions that challenge our human dignity, basic needs and threaten our life itself. Sincerely, we must work on solutions that stop making it impossible for people to get out of homelessness.
More information about the Wohnungslosentreffen: http://www.wohnungslosentreffen.de/