RÚV reports that there has been an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness. Volunteers at Mrs. Ragnheiður (a harm reduction project run by the Red Cross) have reportedly observed at least 200 new faces among those that they support.
Elísabet Herdísar Brynjarsdóttir, who is a nurse as well as the project manager at Mrs. Ragnheiður, was interviewed on the programme Mannlegi on Rás 1, where she spoke about homelessness and the issues surrounding it.
She says that the figures concerning how many people visited Mrs. Ragnheiður over the whole of 2020 are not yet available, but between January and April, 200 people sought aid from the organisation. In 2019 the project was visited over 4,200 times by a total of 520 individuals. Elísabet says that one of the reasons more people have visited Mrs. Ragnheiður this year is because many who are recovering from addiction have suffered setbacks. She says that social isolation is a primary cause of this.
While many of the people who seek aid from Mrs. Ragnheiður are already experiencing (or at risk of experiencing) homelessness, Elísabet says this year visitors have come from a more diverse background than previous years. In 2019, “seventy percent of the 520 who visited Mrs. Ragnheiður in 2019 used intravenous drugs and came to get clean equipment”. This year, Elísabet says that the organisation saw an increase in people who may work, study, and come from stable living situations, but who also sought aid to cope with addiction.
Elísabet says that the organisation is not equipped to provide medical treatment. However, volunteers are trained to provide psychological support and have the ability to connect the client with further resources if that is what they want to happen next. 2020 has been a difficult year for those who have visited Mrs. Ragnheiður. Elísabet notes that many, already marginalised, people who are living in poverty have turned to securing income through criminalised means, having had no other choice. She says that the best way to promote harm-reduction for these individuals is to ensure that Mrs. Ragnheiður clients have access to safe shelter, toilets, showers, kitchens, and beds.
In 2020, Elísabet says that she herself has attended a dozen funerals of clients, and that many other volunteers have done the same. This highlights the severity of the situation those experiencing homelessness and addiction face. Mrs. Ragnheiður has 120 volunteers who work hard to provide support for those who need it the most.
Looking to the new year, Elísabet is hopeful. She says, “The people we serve are absolute heroes. They have human rights like all of us. They have been bypassed for many years. I hope that 2021 will be the year of those who have been overlooked.”
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