For three months Kjartan Theódórsson has been living in a tent at a campground in Hafnarfjörður. A former skipper at sea for 22 years, and having spent the last three years working as a foreman in a fishing factory, Kjartan found himself in a dreadful situation shortly after having a heart attack and losing his job. In May of this year, when he had his first major heart attack, Kjartan was in the hospital for a week, unable to go back to work. Since then everything has snowballed, leading him to this point of despair.
Before ending up homeless, Kjartan and his family were renting a house from his employer. Now that he can no longer work, he was asked to find a new place to live. After endless searching, he had no luck finding an affordable home and simultaneously he lost his income as well. His wife, working as a cashier cannot support the entire family on just her wage, according to Kjartan.
This summer, the couple were forced to leave their apartment. With nowhere to go and with no help, Kjartan bought a cheap tent from SportsDirect. Prices for homes are so high, and with little money, it was the only option. For a temporary solution however, Kjartan claims it wasn’t all that bad, as it was summer and would be short-term until they found a more stable home. “I’ve been on the streets since July,” he explains. “It was very hard because it was just a month after my heart attack and since then I’ve had to recover in a tent. The hardest part of it all was having to send our daughter away.”
Raising awareness on homelessness
After losing everything, Kjartan has taken matters into his own hands by fighting against the municipal government. He argues, “They’re breaking my rights because I’ve been paying taxes, and they should help people who end up on the street. We have a child—should we just have to live in a tent and keep quiet? I said no, I’m not going to do that.”
Outraged, Kjartan has made a clear vision for himself: he is determined to help people just like him. “Thinking of something to do, I started using my Snapchat to let people live with me, let them follow me day to day,” Kjartan explains. “I got to know others who are also on the street, living in tents or old buses, trying to survive. So I want to make people open their eyes in Iceland, to show that there are people like us who have to live on the streets.” Kjartan says he is no longer just thinking about his housing issue; it’s so much more than that. It’s about the people who are unable to work and have little money to support themselves. He’s fighting for the government to take a stance on the issue. “No government or institution is doing anything for Icelandic people who are actually on the street. If I were the only one, my wife and I, then it would be okay, but I know there are over 100 people who are in exactly the same situation as we are. People are just shy or afraid to talk about it—they aren’t crazy, like me, to open up this problem and let people know that this is happening in Iceland.”
Having no luck in gaining government assistance, Kjartan turned to the Red Cross. It’s getting colder and winter is approaching; he and his family just can’t live in a tent. “When I went to Red Cross, there were people who were just arriving to the country and they were filling out their application. I overheard that these newcomers get a place to stay so I thought maybe I can get a room too. I was refused; they told me no. I’m from Iceland, and these rooms are for people who are coming into the country [from elsewhere].” Kjartan sees this as a much bigger issue, and feels that Red Cross should be assisting anyone in need, not just foreigners. “Red Cross should help Icelanders too, the implication of not helping us will cause prejudices. Icelandic people may get angry about people who are coming here, and it’s not their fault,” he emphasises. Using his media platforms, Kjartan tries to fight prejudice as well. “On Snapchat I always stress not to judge refugees, only the government. It’s not the people’s fault. I support helping refugees, or just anyone who needs support.”
Finding a solution
Since he has had trouble obtaining government assistance, it’s understandable that Kjartan is furious with the current social support offered in Iceland. His goal is to create something revolutionary for those in desperate need and living on the streets. “I’ve been in contact with Inskip Housing Association,” he says. “They have over 200 container housing units that are ready to be plunked down for people to start occupying. They have been asking the government to buy it from them, and find the space for it so people can live affordably, but nothing has happened. That’s the reason why I’m fighting for this now.”
On the population scale, the number of individuals living on the streets is very low compared to the amount of people in Iceland. Nevertheless, these unfortunate circumstances do occur for an array of reasons. Kjartan and those who support his efforts, agree that when homelessness strikes in Iceland, there needs to be a strong financial support system from the government to help people find a better situation. Kjartan says he’s working everyday for improved social services. “A lot of people on Facebook and Snapchat are supporting me. I’m not a shy man, I’m not afraid to go to the government and get help where we need it.”
Kjartan’s Snapchat: iceman137413
Kjartan’s Facebook: Kjarri Tjaldbùi