From Iceland — Homeless Women Issue Statement About Planned Closure Of Emergency Centre

Homeless Women Issue Statement About Planned Closure Of Emergency Centre

Published August 18, 2020

Catherine Magnúsdóttir
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Eight homeless women have issued a statement about the planned closure of an emergency solution that provides nightly shelter for homeless women.

The Konukot shelter, which is part of the Red Cross and designed to meet basic housing, hygiene and food needs, is usually opened only from 17:00 to 10:00. The shelter had been kept open 24 hours as an emergency measure during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic back in April, to enable women without a home to stay indoors as part of the Epidemic Prevention Act.

Ten women between the ages of 19 and 60, all of whom had had to live on the streets for a longer or shorter period of time, moved to this temporary emergency facility.

However, as infections are currently on the decline, the emergency measure is set to end by the end of next month.

In a statement drafted by the affected women, they protest the imminent closure, writing that it is a matter of life and death for them.

“No one should be homeless, let alone in Iceland. But unfortunately, we, the homeless, are far, far too many, despite the fact that there are many houses that stand empty and their owners are waiting for them to burn to the ground or collapse to be able to build hotels, office buildings or luxury apartments. This statement is from us, homeless women in Reykjavík, to you who have never been forced to live on the streets. To you, who build a community where it seems okay for people not to have a roof over their heads, and to you who claim to support homeless people, as long as that support is not in your neighborhood.”

This is the opening paragraph of their statement, in which they delve into the experiences they have made while living without shelter on the streets of Reykjavík. On five pages Emilie Camilla Johans Jacob, Embla Nótt Anderson, Zvala Zjana, Tiger of the fighted of the death, S.R.K., Magnea Örvarsdóttir, Alma Lind and Kristvina, who have spent varying amounts of time on the street, ranging from 2 months to 8 years, describe some of the things they were faced with.

The statement sheds light on some of the trauma the women have had to deal with in the past and to this day, while seemingly still only scratching the surface of their struggles. The account also delves into what this year’s pandemic has meant for their situation.

“The sad fact is that a pandemic was needed to reduce the number of homeless people in Iceland. COVID-19 forced the authorities to give the homeless a roof over their heads. Namely, it is difficult to stay at home, if you have nowhere to go,” it states.

The women also describe in some individual statements how having a consistent place to stay has changed their lives in crucial ways. In their report they describe experiencing a sense of stability and a sort of safety net that has allowed them to form meaningful relationships to others again, sleep safely and start recovering. Without a constant timer.

“Not always having to go out on the street at ten in the morning, no matter what day it is, whether it is hot or cold, snow or rain, has changed everything for us. We have not felt this much security for many years. We have become like a family, both the staff and the women who live here.”

The shelter offers the women a sort of stepping stone and the opportunity to rebuild resources despite struggles such as PTSD and addiction.

“I certainly think that if this were extended we would pay a month, we could pay a small rent to the state if that is what is needed. Covid is also not gone forever but we should still stay on the street? … We are not ruining or robbing anything, we can live somewhere normal if given the opportunity.”

The report doesn’t shy away from dark aspects connected to their life on the street. There’s no denial of things like using drugs as a coping mechanism or how at least some of them are still trying to recover from abuse and sexual violence—not trying to excuse but to explain, and be listened to.

“We have survived conditions that few of you would be able to. The least society can do is stand with us in the fight for a decent life and stop criminalizing us. So if you see another person sleeping in a car or basement, then a) she’s just trying to sleep and b) she’s sleeping there because she has no other place to be c) not calling the police. The sleeping person is not dangerous, but the community as a creative situation where someone is forced to sleep in the basement is deadly.”

“Hope you understand now. This is life or death for us. The message you send us by shoveling billions into big business but closing this small resource is that our lives are worthless. Because we can promise you that at least two of the women living here will die within a year if this resort is closed.”

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