No Daytime Shelter for Homeless Men, Despite Protests

homelessness in reykjavík

Emergency shelters for homeless men will remain closed during the day, according to the Director of Reykjavík’s Welfare Council. The city will continue to focus on the buildup of more permanent housing resources for the homeless. “We’re literally on the streets, no matter the weather,” one homeless man told Vísir.

A sit-down strike at a Grandi emergency shelter

Yesterday, Vísir.is reported on the numerous homeless women who seek refuge at the Konukot emergency shelter. The shelter is overcrowded most nights, too small to meet demand. In an interview with Vísir, Heiða Björg Hilmisdóttir, Director of Reykjavík’s Welfare Council, stated that the Council was currently completing an appraisal of Konukot to establish whether more space was required.

“We’re also considering providing more halfway homes, so that individuals would first be allotted a room where they’re offered necessary support, prior to those individuals moving into dedicated apartments.”

Despite the congestion at Konukot, homeless women can seek shelter at Icelandic Church Aid during the day, while homeless men can only seek shelter at Samhjálp between 10 AM and 2 PM. With winter fast approaching, a group of homeless men organised a sit-down strike at an emergency shelter in the Grandi neighbourhood of Reykjavík on Wednesday to protest.

Vísir spoke to a few protesters, who voiced their indignation at being turned out of emergency shelters during the day, in all kinds of weather and physical states. Among the protesters was Davíð Þór Jónsson, one of the founders of Viðmót – an organised interest group on the rights of drug users. Davíð was diagnosed with pneumonia last week but has had no choice but to roam the streets in the cold.

“Our only refuge during the day is Samhjálp, which is open between 10 AM and 2 PM. After that, we’re literally on the streets, no matter the weather.” Davíð Þór wants homeless men to be offered comparable shelter as Icelandic Church Aid offers women. “There are plenty of talented people who are homeless; something good could be made of their talents if they had appropriate shelter.”

Seeking to provide more permanent solutions

Despite such concerns being raised, Heiða Björg Hilmisdóttir told Vísir that the emergency shelters will remain closed during the day: “There are always places of refuge for everyone, but the emergency shelters will not be open. The city libraries are always open. People can sit down, have some coffee, and relax,” Heiða told Vísir, explaining that the city conceives of emergency shelters as temporary resources.

“The ideology behind emergency shelters is that you can stay there overnight if you don’t have a place to stay. But it isn’t housing. You don’t live there. This is a temporary option, but we don’t want people to settle down. We haven’t emphasised an increased number of emergency shelters, having chosen to focus on providing more permanent housing.”

According to Heiða, the City of Reykjavík has allocated 130 apartments to homeless individuals since the beginning of last year. “Where you can settle down and make a home for yourself, which is not something you can do at an emergency shelter.” According to Vísir, 61 individuals are on a waiting list for housing in Reykjavík. A third of those who seek out emergency shelters are legal residents of other municipalities, which means that they are not eligible to apply for housing in Reykjavík.

As noted by Iceland Review, the City of Reykjavík released a report in 2021 that “found 301 people were experiencing homelessness in the city. This is a decrease of 14% since 2017. According to data from the report, 71% of the individuals were men, 29% were women, and most were between 21 and 49 years of age.”

Icelandic to Take Precedence on Keflavík Airport Signage

Keflavík Airport

The board of directors at Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland, has decided to renew the signage at Keflavík Airport so as to emphasise the Icelandic language; Isavia will foreground Icelandic on all instructional and informational signs at the airport.

The Icelandic Language Council

The Icelandic Language Council was established in 1964 and operates according to Article 6 of Law No. 61/2011 regarding the status of the Icelandic language and Icelandic sign language: “The role of the Icelandic Language Council shall be to provide public authorities with academically-informed advice on matters concerning the Icelandic language, and to make proposals to the Minister regarding language policy.”

The law also stipulates that the Council may “take the initiative to draw attention to both positive and negative aspects of the ways in which the Icelandic language is used in the public sphere.”

With a view to this provision of the law, the Icelandic Language Council has persistently drawn attention to the conspicuously anglicised signage at the Keflavík National Airport: “English is the primary language on almost all of the signs at the airport,” a journalist at RÚV writes, “with information in Icelandic playing a secondary role or none at all.”

Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Iceland, brought attention to the issue again after Icelandair announced that it would resume the custom of addressing passengers in Icelandic first, prior to reverting to other languages.

Isavia responded with reference to security concerns, but critics pushed back, noting that local languages were foregrounded in many international airports without such a thing being a cause of concern; Gaelic is foregrounded at Irish airports ahead of English.

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir intervenes

An article on Mbl.is notes that Lilja Alfreðsdóttir, Minister of Culture and Business Affairs, emphasised these concerns to the Board of Directors of Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland. According to Mbl.is, Lilja had “commented on the marginalisation of the Icelandic language at the airport at the time before reemphasising her concerns following Icelandair’s decision.” Lilja reached out to former minister Kristján Þór Júlíusson, the newly-elected Chairman of the Board for Isavia, who then raised the issue at a board meeting (see below entry:

“Concerns have been raised, and comments made, in public, by, among other parties, the board of the Icelandic Language Council in 2016 and 2017, regarding the use of language on informational and instructional signs at the Keflavík Airport. Isavia’s board discussed these issues in 2018. Over the recent days, criticism has resurfaced. In light of this criticism, Isavia’s board hsa agreed upon the following:

‘Extensive renovations are currently underway at Keflavík Airport. Alongside the current alterations, Isavia’s board of directors has decided to devise a plan to renew the airport’s signage, in phases, in the near future. During this renewal, the principle of ensuring the foregrounding of the Icelandic language on instructional and informational signs will be followed.’”

“The task is massive,” PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir tells Arctic Council

Arctic Circle

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir addressed the audience at the Arctic Circle conference yesterday. In her speech, Katrín warned that if sufficient action wasn’t taken today, the arctic could “become unrecognisable” in the future.

Facilitating dialogue between interested parties

The Arctic Circle is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organisation founded by former President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former publisher Alice Rogoff, and former Premier of Greenland Kuupik Kleist, among others. The organisation aims to facilitate dialogue between governments, organisations, corporations, universities, think tanks, environmental associations, indigenous communities, concerned citizens, and other stakeholders to address issues facing the Arctic as a result of climate change and melting sea ice.

During the opening of the 2022 Arctic Circle Assembly yesterday, October 13, at the Harpa Conference Hall in Reykjavík, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir addressed the audience. Katrín began her speech on a note of positivity, acknowledging the “broad political determination” to protect the Arctic and capitalise on present opportunities:

“On the positive side, we see expanding scientific networks, greater knowledge with both the public and businesses and growing skills, there is more investment in green technology, and we are witnessing various green solutions emerging.” However, Katrín noted, the Arctic could become “unrecognisable in a few decades” if further decisive action was not taken.

“Everything is changing – we see more extreme weathers around the globe – only in the last two weeks we saw hundreds of trees here in Iceland being ripped up by their roots because of extreme storms in the eastern part of the country. We see glaciers receding, permafrost is melting, heat records are beaten and forests are burning. And all this is happening much faster in the Arctic – where the ecosystem is sensitive and the resources are great.”

Some of these resources, Katrín noted, should not be meddled with: “We see big business and big countries showing more and more interest in the Arctic – not least because of its rich resources which should not all be harnessed. I applaud the decision of the government of Greenland not to drill for oil – my government has also declared that we will not issue licences for oil exploration in Iceland’s exclusive economic zone and this will be put into legislation.”

Condemning the war in Ukraine

Alongside addressing climate-related issues in the Arctic, Katrín also turned her attention to the war in Ukraine and the exclusion of Russia from the Council: “Our region is directly affected as the aggressor is an important player in the Arctic with legitimate interests. But Russia’s illegitimate actions made it impossible for us not to respond and they were rightly excluded from the Arctic Council. From day one Iceland has condemned Russia’s aggression in the strongest possible way. Iceland has solidly supported Ukraine, and we will continue to do so, together with our Nordic, European, US, and Canadian friends.”

Katrín concluded her speech with a nod to the massiveness of the task lying ahead:

“This room is full of hope and concerns for the future of the Arctic. We represent different interests, different politics, different ideas. But we should all be united in the will to protect the Arctic and provide a sustainable future for the local populations in the area, as well as for our ecosystems. The task is massive, but the solutions exist, it is ours to get the job done.”