More Unhoused People Spending Majority of Year in Shelters

homelessness in reykjavík

The number of unhoused individuals dwelling in emergency shelters has increased. These individuals are also dwelling in shelters for longer than before, RÚV reports.

An inquiry from a representative of the People’s Party

As noted in a response from the Reykjavík City Welfare Council to an inquiry from a representative of the People’s Party, the number of unhoused individuals dwelling in emergency shelters for a large part of the year has increased significantly over the past two years. There were 317 people dwelling in the city’s shelters in 2020; last year, that number had risen to 390.

Discussions have begun between the City of Reykjavík and the Ministry of Health to find appropriate resources for this group.

“The city’s policy is that unhoused individuals requiring great, complex services should not stay in emergency shelters for more than three months a year on average. The trend has reversed in recent years, with the number of people staying in emergency shelters for more than 90 days having increased: up from 44 in 2020 to 76 in 2022. There has also been a significant increase in the number of people staying in emergency shelters for the majority of the year. In 2020, there were thirteen who stayed there for more than six months, while in 2022 there were 29.”

The welfare council’s response states that the government is currently looking for ways to respond to this development. It is often the case that those staying in emergency shelters need nursing care. Discussions are underway with the Ministry of Health to find these individuals suitable care.

A certain sign of a “lack of resources”

Last November, RÚV spoke to Svala Jóhannesdóttir, a harm-reduction expert and one of the founders of Matthildur (an organisation for harm reduction), who stated that the fact that people struggling with addiction were increasingly looking to parking garages for shelter showed “a lack of resources for the unhoused.”

The article noted that for seven hours a day, unhoused men had no shelter, with the parking garage on Vesturgata having become a popular site of injection for individuals struggling with addiction. The garage is adjacent to a health clinic, which hired a security guard after an employee was assaulted in the parking garage.

“This is a natural manifestation of a certain lack of resources that exists in services to unhoused individuals in the capital area. Nobody looks in a car basement or a parking garage unless they have nowhere else to seek shelter,” Svala observed.

Emergency Shelters Not Able to Cope with High Numbers of Unhoused People

homelessness in reykjavík

Hrafnhildur Ólöf Ólafsdóttir, nurse and head of the City of Reykjavík working group on homelessness, has stated in a recent interview with RÚV that following a large increase in the use of homeless shelters in the last two years, the system can no longer cope with the large demand placed on it.

According to the latest information from the Welfare Council, some 87 women and 214 men remain unhoused in Reykjavík. 30% of this group use emergency shelters, with around another 50% in residential facilities.

Read More: No Daytime Shelter for Homeless Men

Hrafnhildur stated to RÚV that the crisis had many causes: “It’s connected to many factors, especially the housing and rental market, and reduced access now to guesthouses, hotels, and hostels, which we had access to during the pandemic.

Emergency shelters in Reykjavík are now consistently at and above their limits, compared with 2021 where utilization of shelters sat between 60-80%, and in 2020, when it sat around 30-50%.

Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that around a third of Reykavík’s unhoused come from other municipalities.

Hrafnhildur stated: “It’s not that people are choosing to come to Reykjavík, we are simply the only municipality that offers these services. Other resources need to be developed and allocated elsewhere, too.”

See our Ask Iceland Review on homelessness in Iceland for more information.