From Iceland — The Voices Unheard: Locals Living In Vans at Reykjavík Campsite Speak Up

The Voices Unheard: Locals Living In Vans at Reykjavík Campsite Speak Up

Published January 5, 2018

The Voices Unheard: Locals Living In Vans at Reykjavík Campsite Speak Up
Jessica Peng
Photo by
Art Bicnick

It was a normal Friday night in Reykjavík in December. The temperature had dropped to -8°C. While most people slept through the night in their rooms, warmed up by heaters, others woke up shivering.

Due to difficulties with finding housing, some locals have been staying in trailers and vans parked at the Reykjavík Campsite in Laugardalur. The electricity at the campsite went out in the middle of the night, and they struggled to keep themselves warm.

“You kind of lose hope on this. I may get an interview, but after the interview I never hear back.”

It has become increasingly difficult for renters to find affordable rooms and apartments in Reykjavík. The booming tourism industry of recent years has led to a marked upsurge in hotels and Airbnb rentals, indirectly resulting in many residents being unable to find apartments. We went to the campsite and spoke to locals about their housing situations.


Smári, 28 years old
Originally from Hafnarfjörður, Smári lives with his cousin and a friend in a trailer. Despite his current living situation, Smári has a heart-warming smile and is great to talk to. He moved to the campsite two months ago, after many attempts to find housing in the city.

“You kind of lose hope on this,” he says. “I may get an interview, but after the interview I never hear back.” Oftentimes landlords receive more requests than they can answer, making it more difficult for renters.

Smári has also been on the waiting list for social housing for six years. These houses are owned by the government, and the rent is more affordable. When asked about the wait time for such housing, he says, “They said mostly five to seven years.” The queue is progressing slowly, and he still doesn’t know when exactly he will be able to secure a place to live.

Currently Smári is paying 45.000 ISK (around 358 Euros) per month to park his trailer at the campsite. “You get Internet, electricity and you can use the showers,” he says.

Helgi, 58 years old
Helgi was watching a video on his laptop when we knocked on the door of his camper. “Come on in,” he said. He welcomed us in and invited us to sit down. Helgi is someone whom you know has a story to tell.

“Here no one bothers me, and I can see the sun.”

Originally from Kópavogur, he parked his camper at the Laugardalur campsite last month. “I lost my place on December 12th in 2016,” he says. “They were going to change the apartment I had into a hotel.” During the cold month of holidays, Helgi was forced to move into his 20-year-old Mercedes Benz, which he sold for scrap metal in the end.

Before buying the camper where he currently resides, Helgi went to the Ministry of Welfare for help. “Just before Christmas, I came in and said, ‘I don’t have any money for food’,” he recalls. “They said, ‘Ah you know, we’ve got a board meeting in a week. Come then and we’ll see what we can do.’”

Helgi is legally considered 70% disabled for work. He went to the Ministry again for help last summer because his eyesight was getting worse. “They said, ‘No, we won’t help you because you don’t have the right disability’,” he says. Angry and disappointed, Helgi told the person working at the Ministry, “I will never ever step into this establishment again.” Now he has to wear two pairs of glasses to be able to see clearly.

Despite some unpleasant experiences with the Ministry of Welfare, Helgi receives a monthly benefit of 180.000 ISK (around 1,432 Euros). “I have to pay the insurance for the car and the fuel,” he said. “I also smoke cigarettes. 180.000 ISK isn’t very much.”

Helgi is not actively looking for housing, because it costs too much for him. In contrast, he quite enjoys living in the camper, where he has a gas stove for cooking. “Here no one bothers me, and I can see the sun,” he asserts.

Svanur, 58 years old
We heard some whistling outside while talking to Helgi, and it turned out that his friend Svanur and his furry companion had come to visit. Svanur and his dog have been living in a camper at the campsite for around seven months now.

“I lost my room in July because I have a dog,” Svanur says. “People who were renting the other room were scared of the dog, and they tried everything they could to get me and the dog out.” Despite receiving a pension of 200.000 ISK (about 1,591 Euros) per month, Svanur gave up finding housing because it’s very difficult to find a place that accepts pets.

The only solution was to buy a camper, which cost 350.000 ISK (around 2,785 Euros). Svanur had to complete the purchase in two separate payments, which only gave him 25.000 ISK (about 198 Euros) to live on in those two months. “It was the only way to have a roof over my head,” he says.

Before Svanur retired, he spent his time building fibreglass. “It ruined my back,” he comments. He has family in the city, but he doesn’t see them regularly. “I have a son, one sister and three brothers,” he says. “I don’t care if I have to live in my car for Christmas, because I have my dog. I know she loves me.” His dog for sure keeps him good company in the cold, dark winter.

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