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.

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.”