I've been at my current position for almost two years. My job consists of pretty much everything from cleaning vomit off of walls to going on trips with our residents. The shelter I work at is located in Denmark and is funded by the government, in case you guys are wondering. Our stated goal is to get as many of our residents as possible their own apartment so they can get another chance at a "normal" life. However, due to a number of factors - rampant drug and alcohol abuse, unstable upbringing, violence, etc. - my job usually boils down to minimizing the amount of conflicts between our residents, trying to introduce a bit of stability in their lives and get them to keep their appointments with the various governmental institutions.

I have seen pretty much everything from fist-fights to stabbings to heart-warming care in the midst of chaos. I could write a book of anecdotes from the stuff I've seen so far (and maybe I will someday), but for now I'd like to share some of my stories with you guys.

I absolutely love my job, and working with homeless people is the best thing to ever happen to me in my professional career. The reason I'm doing this AMA is so all you wonderful redditors can get an insight into a part of society most people never hear about, and hopefully learn something new in the process. Oh, and I apologize in advance for any funkyness in my writing, as English is not my first language.

Oh, as for verification, I'm not quite certain how to prove I am who I say I am. I do have my contract lying around somewhere in case the mods require verification.

                                  *** EDIT ***

Thanks for all the interesting questions guys! It's been a lot of fun, but I'm really tired now so I think I'm gonna hit the bed. I'll check up on this thread sometime tomorrow. Thank you reddit, you guys are awesome!

                                 *** EDIT 2 ***

Thank you guys again! It's been a ton of fun so far, and I'll try to answer more questions tonight.

                                 *** FINAL EDIT ***

Allrighty, looks like people have asked the questions they wanted to. I'll check up on this thread regularly, in case new questions come in. Thank you guys for your interesting questions!

Comments: 135 • Responses: 60  • Date: 

HandyHank15 karma

Do you ever meet people who live on the streets willingly without any drugs/alcohol/gambling etc involved?

Houseboat_Viking15 karma

Yep, and those are some of the most amazing people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Of course, of these few people, it's only a tiny minority that does not have some sort of psychological disorder or other disability that renders them unable to work within the normal confines of society.

oaktreeanonymous7 karma

Could you give an example of a psychological disorder that would prevent an otherwise well-adjusted, intelligent person from living a normal life?

Among that tiny minority who don't have such issues, how did they justify their choices/actions?

Semi relevant to question 2: There's a folklegend on my campus about a certain homeless man. Supposedly he was a hugely successful lawyer who happens to be schizophrenic. For whatever reason, he decided he would prefer to be a homeless man living on the streets off his medication than materially successful while on his medication. Here's the (alleged) kicker: his family took him to court in an effort to get the power to force him to take his meds, not live on the streets, etc. He took his meds long enough that he regained his lawyerly ways for the court battle, won handedly, and immediately stopped taking his meds and returned to the streets. This tale might be all true or 100% false, I honestly don't know, but I'd like to hear the reasons why that somewhat similar tiny minority would choose such a life.

Houseboat_Viking7 karma

I think your example of schizophrenia is rather perfect (and your story is awesome btw). Many of the "homeless-by-choice" suffer from some form of altered reality that makes it hard for them to be around people for an extended period of time. The problem is, in order for them to conform or fit in, they have to take some rather serious medication that many complain turns them "numb" or "indifferent". They talk of a kind of mental fog, a state of uninvolved indifference, which makes many choose to throw out their prescribed drugs.

But then again, some people are just natural loners and enjoy being completely free and independent. we call them highway knights in Danish, and they're a rare, wonderful breed.

EDIT: I forgot to go into enough detail to satisfy your question: I think these highway knights from an early age decided that they alone should be master and commander of their own life, and that noone other than themselves would ever have a say as to their choices. In many ways, highway knights are like the frontiersmen of the old wild west: obeying noone, completely free, living at one with nature and being completely dependent on themselves to survive. Heh, I hope I don't sound to infatuated with their lifestyle, but it's hard to not just focus on the rosy parts.

Pianoplunkster2 karma

they have to take some rather serious medication that many complain turns them "numb" or "indifferent". They talk of a kind of mental fog, a state of uninvolved indifference, which makes many choose to throw out their prescribed drugs.

I'm close to a couple of people with mental health issues (nothing as serious as schizophrenia, but one is pretty extreme OCD and another is bipolar), and the effects of prescription drugs on their personalities was just heartbreaking; it turned them into zombies. As difficult as the non-medicated times can be, I hated their medicated states of mind more.

Houseboat_Viking3 karma

I'm so sorry to hear that. Sometimes the sideeffects can be worse than the illness itself, especially with the shotgun approach medicine is currently forced to use. I hope they're coping okay.

Pianoplunkster3 karma

They're lucky because they can handle their symptoms with alternative medication; others unfortunately can't do the same. I don't know how you're able to bear it, but you're a wonderful person for helping these people.

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

Thank you so much for that nice compliment. But I must confess that the people I work with help me as much as I help them. They're amazing people, and I've learnt so much so far.

12cats2 karma

I don't know if it's the same in Denmark, but I work with the homeless in Florida and a lot of our homeless that are not seeking stable housing (it's about 25% in our continuum) have simply stopped trying. We have those that have mental illnesses and such but due to foreclosures, job loss, cut in state aid, they've just come to the conclusion that the more they try the more they lose.

Do you see this among the homeless in your area that are no longer seeking housing?

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

Oof, sorry to hear about your troubles in Florida 12cats. Good luck helping those guys!

But as for giving up then yep, that can definitely happen to the homeless here too. Once you've been in the system long enough you sorta become institutionalized it seems. People give up, they don't open their mail, they become reliant on outside help but refuse to cooperate at all, instead going full batshit crazy for a while, drinking and/or drugging themselves half to death. In the end, they just let go of everything and just sort of float around until they get picked up again.

5hiroi2 karma

Being someone who is straight edge (despite an ocassional joint), mentally stable, and reletively intelligent I am by choice homeless and travelling. I am flattered to hear a name like "Highway Knights." I actually also met that "Hatchet Hitchhiker" Kai and we hung out for a little while in Kelowna, BC. I've met some very intelligent people who choose to be homeless.

Thank you for the work you do. :D

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

You, my good sir or madam, sound like a fascinating person and one hell of a highway knight! You have chosen to take the road less traveled, and I'm sure it's made all the difference (sorry for the Robert Frost quote - it just seemed to fit there). A true highway knight is never homeless, but at home in the world. I salute you and if you ever find yourself around my part of the world, PM me and I'd be more than happy to have you stay for a while on my boat.

5hiroi2 karma

That's awesome man! A few years back I went tree planting with friends that bought some boats. They sailed around the coast of BC and I would love to do something like that someday. I can make my way around US and Canada relatively quick (for someone on foot/bike), so it wouldn't be unfeasable for me to end up in your part of the world at some point, lol (assuming you're located in NA). I'd be so down to chill out and share some stories. I don't know much about boating or living in boats so that would definitely be an enriching experience for me to say the least!

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

Heh, you'd have to do one hell of a kanoe-ride to get to my part of the world I'm afraid (I live in Denmark). But if you ever make it across the pond I've got lots of stories but zero experience with boating yet (I just bought my little beauty of a boat two months ago). Then again, I learn something new about boating everyday, so by the time you get here I'll have both stories and experience :)

All the best to you on your travels, and I'm nothing short of in awe of your choice of lifestyle!

charlessilverbath7 karma

I don't really have a question I just want to say that you are an awesome person for doing this as a career. Oh wait I have one! Do you think that Denmark's government is taking the right steps to decrease the homeless population and increase funding for care?

Houseboat_Viking8 karma

Thank you so much that nice compliment! It really means a lot to me :) As for our government, although Denmark could be considered amongst the "best" countries to be homeless in (due to the nature of our welfare state providing a rather solid safety net for people who cannot provide for themselves), the government seems to be caught up in the so-called "Housing First" initiative first implemented in the US as far as I recall. Basically, Housing First is just that. Give a homeless person an apartment and bingo, problem solved! Thing is, being homeless does not equate to simply needing a place to stay. In order for most homeless people to be reintroduced to society a number of other factors must be considered - mental health, substance abuse, being able to pay your bills on time, actually feeling comfort in staying indoors, etc.. Homeless people often react radically different to seemingly trivial things (in the eyes of "normal" society), so in order for any country to succesfully reduce its proportion of homeless people, it has first got to understand them. This, I believe, we have not yet achieved on a political level at least.

rxzx2 karma

really insightful answer, thanks

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

You're quite welcome friend.

assisting6 karma

What is the most inspiring experience you witnessed?

Houseboat_Viking7 karma

Oh, there are so many... One of my current residents literally got dragged out from the building he was sleeping in by his dog. The dog couldn't wake his master when the building caught fire, so it did a super Lassie. Or the guy who hid a friend in his room for almost a month because a gang wanted to kill him, endangering himself to an insane amount. we almost had to throw him out because he refused to let his friend go (we have a sucky "no guests after 10:30 pm rule that we have to enforce). Hardest situation I've been in for a long time.

ordinarywoman6 karma

What do people want the most when they come to a shelter? Do they want food, warmth, or just someone to talk to? How many of them seem to have mental issues?

Houseboat_Viking6 karma

A bit of everything, really. Amongst the first-timers it's advice and a shoulder to cry on. For the regulars, it's more of a place to stay for a while whilst they recuperate/try to cut down on whatever bad habits they have drug or alcohol-wise.

As for mental issues, that's a very tricky question. Being homeless means living in a completely different world from that of "normal" people. You don't know where you'll stay tonight, you have no place you could consider "safe" for your possessions, the threat of violence is always just around the corner and usually you have so many bad memories of abuses past that reality must be dulled with whatever drug you have available. I guess my answer would be quite a few, although the severity of an average homeless person's mental issue is probably rather mild, if you can call it that.

guruclef446 karma

Was there ever a scene that just renewed your faith in humanity?

Houseboat_Viking24 karma

Absolutely. Seeing a guy giving an old alcoholic the last beer he had, so that the old guy could stop shaking from delirium tremens long enough to eat a bit of soup got me all teary. Also, the amazing tenderness with which homeless people treat their dogs is worthy of endless praise. I have seen a man use his last few dollars on a blanket for his dog, so that the dog wouldn't get wet and sick from sleeping outside. All this whilst he's shaking from withdrawal... Gosh, just thinking about the loving look on his face whilst he petted his little runt of a dog brings tears to my eyes.

guruclef447 karma

I think the awesome part is that this but just one of many examples that you can give me. I also like to believe that people are just naturally selfless and hearing this just brings a smile to my face.

Houseboat_Viking14 karma

I'm glad to hear that :) People who have so little can be absolutely wonderful and generous. However, never underestimate the corrupting power of dependency or withdrawal. I have seen BFF's steal, beat and lie to each other because of one tiny balloon of heroin. Never trust a junky, but believe in his/hers potential for good.

sghost6 karma

About how often do you see transgender people, and, in general, are they treated similarly to the other people there?

Houseboat_Viking10 karma

Never. There is a very strict hierarchy amongst homeless people (in Denmark at least). Male alcoholics are on top, with females just below. Then comes the junkies (male, then female), then the prostitutes, and then, at the very bottom, the male prostitutes. Nobody in their right mind would ever, ever admit to being a male prostitute, as that would be the equivalent to painting a bullseye on your back. You could easily get beaten to death (not kidding) if other homeless find out you're a male prostitute.

The reason why my answer to your question was so short is that whatever transgender persons exist amongst the homeless, they keep their sexuality very much to themselves as it would be incredibly risky for them to come out as who they truly are. Sad but true :(

DirtPile12 karma

TIL that I would be king of the homeless people in Denmark, based on this hierarchy.

Houseboat_Viking8 karma

Hehe, right up until you tried heroin for the first time :) Apparently that shit's amazing.

tarraingmobod2 karma

Huh, and here I spent my life really believing that Denmark was more evolved than most.


Houseboat_Viking31 karma

Our grass isn't greener than yours, it's just cut in a different way.

ekjohnson915 karma

Yes let's judge a country by the behavior of its destitute and disposed.

Houseboat_Viking8 karma

Heh, if only we could get the global Gini-coefficient lower, what a wonderful place we could end up having...

ekjohnson93 karma

Economic equality is a pretty big factor in terms of wealth, but is argue that strong institutions promotes growth just as well, with a much lower perceived social cost

Houseboat_Viking4 karma

I absolutely agree! However, a balance must be found in order to retain an individual's freedom of choice. That's my opinion, at least.

thispersonchris5 karma

I work in a shelter in the US, and I was wondering how Denmark compares regarding it's mental health systems. In the US our prisons and homeless shelters are probably the primary places you find the seriously mentally ill. Is this the case in Denmark as well? Can you speak a little to how these people are served/treated in our country? We frequently are seeing many clients with a great deal of significant and often life-damaging delusions and paranoia. If one of these people does not have a good income or strong social supports they often go untreated. What's your take on mental health services in Denmark?

Houseboat_Viking5 karma

How wonderful to meet a fellow shelter worker! we do have a lot of mentally ill homeless people, with a few being severely affected (borderline, double diagnosis, severe paranoid-schizofrenic etc.). Unfortunately the psychiatric sector in Denmark is far behind the demand placed upon it, even though we've spent an insane amount of money getting it fit for fight so to speak. The situation right now could be said to be problematic at best, as very few new doctors choose psychiatry and a lot of old ones are nearing retirement age. Don't get me wrong: our mental health service is excellent, if a bit too conservative to my taste - it's the lack of capacity that worries me. we have a disparity between patients and beds available of 10:1...

thispersonchris1 karma

Thanks for the answer. In the US we have a similar shortage of effective services, but things are compounded a bit further by the fact that the many of the services which are available are costly or require insurance.

It's a problem that no one has quite figured out yet it seems.

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

Yes, and there seems to be quite the stigma associated with having a mental illness (at least in Denmark). I really wish that people would have more of an open debate about it instead of mindlessly dunking Prozac (of which us Danes are world leader when it comes to consumption per capita).

broke_man5 karma

to stay the night is it like first come first serve?

Houseboat_Viking7 karma

At some shelters, yes. Our shelter works a bit differently as people get to stay for up to 3 months (they pay rent).

brenobah6 karma

If they live there, and pay rent, doesn't that make them not homeless?

Houseboat_Viking5 karma

Sorry for the late reply. It can seem pretty weird that you have to pay rent to stay at a shelter, but seeing how the max. limit of any given stay is 3 months, a person staying with us is still considered homeless in that he/she does not have a permanent residence.

shutup_matt3 karma

What percentage are underage?

Houseboat_Viking5 karma

Hmm, that is a difficult question, as young people are considerably better at utilizing their social network, thus going under our radar by sleeping at friends' houses etc. I would say almost none under the age of 18(in Denmark that is), with 18-25 yr olds making up some 5-10% of homeless people. However, this is at best an educated guess.

Gallifreyan_Type_403 karma

What would you say the male:female ratio is?

Houseboat_Viking3 karma

About 80:20.

altitudious2 karma

Have you ever had any issues with sexual harassment or assault?

Thanks for the AMA, great work you're doing out there

Houseboat_Viking3 karma

Thank you! There have definitely been instances of what could be described as sexual harrasment, although as a male those instances are few and far between. Funniest one was getting cornered in an elevator by this blind, gay inuit with HIV and not a tooth in his mouth. He kept laughing and pointing to my crotch whilst he said "milk, milk, omnomnom".

altitudious2 karma

oh my hell.

Houseboat_Viking3 karma

Hardest part was trying to be serious and controlling my laughter at the same time.

Ent_angled3 karma

Have you read Another Bullshit Night In Suck City? If not I'd recommend it. If you have, what were your thoughts on it?

Houseboat_Viking3 karma

Heh, my brother has actively tried to get me to read it, and now it looks like I'll practically have to :)

racoonist4 karma

Damn right you do, brother. Not only does the protagonist work at a shelter...he also lives on a houseboat. It's practically about you :)

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

Hello brother man! Heh, guess I'll swing by and borrow it from you :)

andicotsteel3 karma

What % of homeless people are there due to substance abuse vs factors out of their control like losing a job? How many overall seem motivated to not be homeless?

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

The two are often intertwined, so it's a difficult question to answer. The place I work at is considered pretty rough, so all of our residents are homeless because of substance abuse. People are hard to motivate when they've hit rock bottom, but it does happen more often than you'd think.

HandyHank2 karma

Do you have any tips on the following issue I've frequently encountered: 1. homeless guy asks you for money 2. me thinking he is probably going to use it for bad habits 3. also thinking i should help out in a way The specific question would then be: how can I help the average homeless person without giving him money?

Houseboat_Viking9 karma

First of all, don't feel bad about hesitating giving a homeless guy money, as there's a good chance he will spend that money on drugs or alcohol. But please remember that by giving him that money you are helping him to live life a bit more on his own terms. If you want to be absolutely certain he doesn't spend it on a bad habit, give him a sandwich or a coffee. If he doesn't want it, you know he was going to spend your money on booze or drugs.

stylz1682 karma

That's great advice. My girlfriend does the same thing. She'll buy a bagel and coffee for a homeless person, but will never give cash.

I'm a little bit more cynical, because I've seen the obvious fakers who are in it to make free money.

Houseboat_Viking5 karma

Sounds like you've got a smart GF (I only learned about that trick when I started working at the shelter). As for fakers, that is a legitimate reason for being sceptical. However, any person willing or needing to degrade him or herself by begging for money deserves something. I usually give them a smile and maybe talk to them for a bit. To a genuine beggar, conversation can be a wonderful gift, as they then cease to be invisible (at least that's what they tell me).

EDIT: added "or needing"

raabta012 karma

What percentage of homeless people would you say actually want to get out of their current situation. I know a lot seem to just be complacent with their situation.

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

Another tough but great question. This is very hard to answer as being homeless entails much, much more than not having a home. Being homeless means being subject to a loss of identity, as modern society places high importance on material possessions and a space to store these in. You are at the outskirts of society, and whether you or it did the rejection, you seem to feel alone amongst non-homeless people (or angsty/on edge as our residents often say). Thus, many homeless people actively enforce their status as homeless, thus putting as much distance between them and society as possible.

But to answer your question: very many homeless people want to get out of their current situation - they just don't always want to return to society.

holabola2 karma


Houseboat_Viking2 karma

That's a tough question... I would say that nurture has the biggest say when determining whether or not a person could be said to have a chance to become homeless. A broken home is incredibly detrimental to a child's future, and almost none of our residents come from happy homes. However, that being said, we do see a lot of homeless-by-choice so to speak, as some people are just not naturally dispositioned to conform to regular society.

holabola1 karma


Houseboat_Viking5 karma

You're quite welcome holabola. As for your question, I think that it would be impossible for any government, regardless of available funds, to care for a person who truly is homeless by choice, other than provide the necessary support functions when required (hospital, shelter, vet, etc.). As for the question of being required to care for these people, I think that no government should be thought less of for choosing not to aid a group of people who wants nothing to do with it. That being said, providing this care nonetheless - to me - is a beautiful feat of human accomplishment.

holabola3 karma


Houseboat_Viking5 karma

Thank you so much! It's comments like these that makes my day :)

da_bowl2 karma

You mentioned a heirachy with alcoholic males on the top. Similarly, are there territory fights or claims? I have not been to Denmark but in the US there is a part of the homeless population that begs on street corners. I find myself wondering if the corner is a first come first gets it basis or if there are claims to certain corners, etc. Any experience with this? Thanks!

Houseboat_Viking3 karma

Yes, homeless people can be highly territorial, with some homeless people outright refusing to stay at any shelter other than their preferred place. This has a lot to do with security as being an unknown can get you into trouble faster than you can shoot up. Also, alcoholics and junkies hate each other with a passion and cannot stand to live near each other for too long.

As for particular spots for begging, this is not as big a problem in Denmark as it is in the US (welfare state, yadayada), although you will get into trouble if you inadvertently take a "regular's" spot when selling your newspaper (we have a newspaper sold by homeless in Denmark).

da_bowl2 karma

Thanks for response!

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

You're quite welcome :) I'm so happy that people can get something out of my experiences.

count_olaf_lucafont2 karma

Where in Denmark do you live/work? I'm pretty sure I've met the king of homeless Danish kings. He's about 2 meters tall and hangs out by the Islands Brygge metro stop in Copenhagen. He's got an enormous red beard and mutters to himself constantly through a can of Tuborg Elephant Beer. When I studied at Københavns Universitet, my friends and I called him Erik the Red. He's probably dead now.

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

I work in Copenhagen, but have never encountered said gentleman (although he sounds like a hell of a character). would love to meet him though.

count_olaf_lucafont2 karma

He was awesome. Some other students and I drunkenly invited him to a fredagsbar at KUA. He refused. It was a shame, it would have been a delightful adventure for everyone involved. But, now that I think of it, that was some seriously exploitative behaviour on my part. Oh, well. Drunk 20-year-olds are horrible.

What part of Copenhagen do you work in?

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

Hehe, yea, the shit we did at 20. I actually work right across from KUA, at Sundholm.

count_olaf_lucafont2 karma

I know that place! Sundholmskvarteret has a bit of a reputation, I guess you've got your work cut out for you there. Question time: have you noticed an increase in the down-and-out on Amager in the 10-15 years or so since the government has cracked down on the shady business in Christiania?

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

Actually, there hasn't been too much of a change since they tried closing Christiania. Also, Amager has always been a bit "different", høh. However, Istedgade is way, way rougher now. All the regular drug dealers have been arrested, so now all that's left are the psychotic Moroccans (no offence meant, they really are psychopaths who just happen to be from Morocco).

bipolarSamanth0r2 karma

I remember reading somewhere that up to 40% of homeless people are LGBT, do you have any experiences in this regard.

Also thank you for the great work you do, a LGBT youth housing service saved my life as a teen. Keep it up your work saves lives.

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

Thank you so much for the compliment bipolarSamanth0r!

As for the amount of homeless LGBT persons, in Denmark at least I do not believe the percentage to be that high. But then again, coming out of the closet is not generally a good thing for a homeless person - especially not when you're male. Homeless people are much more extreme in their prejudices and will not think twice about beating the snot out of a person they consider sufficiently different. It is possible being open about an alternative sexuality, but you'd better be able to defend yourself, or know someone who does.

massive_cock2 karma

I use to work at a really rough 1 in upstate New York. If there's any interest I'll do an AMA too here in a couple of days. I was nearly killed. Fun times.

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

I'd love to hear about that! working at a shelter in the US must be quite different from Denmark.

massive_cock1 karma

You got it. When I get my laptop back Wednesday I'll read the rest of your answers and then I'll be prepared to contrast. I was combination overnight security intake and guest relations so to speak.

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

That sounds really interesting. Looking forward to reading about your experiences!

mrchoforo1 karma

I work at a Charity that helps the homeless with Day Labor jobs and also works as a shelter. This is by far the most rewarding job I've ever had, but also sometimes completely disheartening, since the goal is not just to get them work but to keep them employed. It is hard to see the guys fall back into the same habits that brought them there in the first place.

How do you stay enthusiastic about helping people and keep from becoming clinical?

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

Man, sometimes staying positive seems almost impossible, and there is a definite chance of becoming cynical or plain old crash and burn, quitting the profession for good. Generally we have this rule: if you can do this job for one year without giving up, you're good. That's what I keep telling myself, especially when I start thinking about our less than 5% success rate...

But yea, seeing people relapse for the umptieth time can be very disheartening. You just have to focus on the few that make it, and also the fact that, even if only for a short while, you've helped a person get better.

shecallsitamayonegg1 karma

What are some of the rules your shelter has and how often are they broken? Also, what sort of trips do you go on with the residents?

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

No guests after 10:30 pm, no drug abuse in the common rooms (what they do in their own room is their business), no violence in the shelter, no drug sale.

we do all kinds of different trips like going to the movies, fishing, playing bingo, that sort of stuff. The guys generally love it.

rosalynchoo1 karma

Is this what you always thought you'd be doing? If not, how did you end up working at a homeless shelter?

(I admire what you do and am genuinely curious about your journey)

Houseboat_Viking6 karma

Actually, if you'd asked me what I'd be working with just two years ago, I'd have probably told you something along the lines of HR consultant or working with an NGO. I've never had much of a plan really, I've just bounced around, doing what I felt was interesting at the time. To begin with, I wanted to be a clinical psychologist but was afraid that I'd be unable to help my patients properly, as I often empathize profusely with people in need. when that plan fell through, I figured "hey, HR sounds like fun, and besides, I can probably help regular people better" (now I know that "regular" people don't exist and people in a work environment are often way worse than people who know something's wrong). But after working as the head of the HR department for a graphic company in Bolivia I realized that HR wasn't for me. That was in 2009 when the climate debate neared its first disastrous non-agreement in Copenhagen (the COP15). After seeing the very real effect global warming had on the glaciers providing La Paz with water, I figured that my calling lay in development work, so I changed my major accordingly. Then, after finishing my bachelor, I started working for MS-ActionAid in Denmark, running a couple of leadership seminars and starting up their new café. But there are a billion people willing to fight for each open position in each and every NGO, so I quit that line of work and became unemployed.

Being unemployed was fun for a while, as you get good benefits in Denmark, but in the end I got bored with that and started applying for random jobs, figuring I'd find one for a couple of months until university started up again in September. Out of the blue, a position working night-shift at a shelter next to the one I'm currently working at opened up, and I ended up getting an interview. I had never really thought about working with homeless people for a living, but something struck a chord inside of me when I read the job-description - like falling in love at fiftyfirst sight. Seeing how I was going back to uni in a couple of months the shelter offered me a position as a temp, which I held until I was persuaded to apply for a full-time job at the shelter I'm currently at during a rather drunken X-mas dinner with the collegues. My one demand was that I be allowed to study part-time, and now I work at a shelter and study a Master in Social work (which I was quite surprised to learn actually exists). Sorry for the wall of text.

Mdcastle1 karma

How many beggers want money for food as opposed to bum wine or cigarettes? I always feel bad when I say no, but I figure there's charities, food stamps, and whatnot if they really are hungry. Am I correct?

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

That's difficult to say as the two are a pretty inseperable part of many homeless peoples' lives (and those that do beg are often those who have spent all their money on drugs or booze). But the situation varies between countries, so what's true for Denmark isn't necessarily true for other countries.

thilardiel1 karma

What is the wisest thing one of your consumers or someone without a home has said to you?

Houseboat_Viking3 karma

I've had this great interaction with a female resident who was married to a guy wanted by Interpol for smuggling an insane amount of grass. She had so much money she had no clue what to do with it, and she felt alone living with this guys family (they were muslim and did not approve of their son marrying a non-muslim). Anyways, during her stay she meets this old lady at the market. This old lady's kids are working in Europe and America, but have all but forgotten her, so my resident starts helping her out a bit, buying her a chicken or some vegetables. In the end, that little old lady is the best friend she had during her stay with her husband and her family. That friendship she remembers; all the crap she bought, the cars she drove, that's totally forgotten. It's cheesy, but money doesn't make you happy on its own - it's how you spend it and on whom. Money is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Mintilina1 karma

Hi, you are amazing for doing this, I am deeply inspired by you and admire you, and hope to follow in your footsteps:). No questions, just.. You are the light of the world.

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

Wow, I'm just... thank you :) You should definitely try this line of work. It's the toughest most wonderful job I've ever had the pleasure of having.

kaykun901 karma

in America supposedly most homeless people are lgbt is that true in Denmark also?

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

I've answered this question in a previous thread, but just to sum up: it is not my experience that LGBT persons make up more than an insignificant amount of the homeless people in Denmark (probably something along the lines of 5-10% - about the same amount of naturally occuring alternative sexuality in any country in general). Again, this number might not be accurate in other countries than Denmark.

fuzzyearmuffs1 karma


Houseboat_Viking2 karma

The danger is neglible (at least here in Denmark), although working with people with a massive substance abuse requires a certain amount of fingerspitzgefühl and a sense of humor. I've seen 250 pound men crack after working this job for just a few months, and teeny ladies do a helluva job year after year. It's not so much about your physical size, but rather your presence. If you go into every conflict unafraid and with an open mind, you'll do wonders.

SWgeek100561 karma

I am certain you see a great side of humanity but I think the worst is those who are first responders to violent accidents. Vomit on a wall is one thing, but watching a homicide scene with internals and externals inverted is another.

Thank you for doing your AMA though. It is nice to see another's perspective on things so commonly overlooked.

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

I absolutely agree to that, and maybe my title is misleading. what I really meant with "the best and worst humanity has to offer" is not something physical, but more á la the terrible shit people will do to each other when they have nothing (like stealing their best friend's last money and then beating that friend up when he/she asks about it).

But yea, I cannot believe how for example paramedics cope on a day to day basis. The one time we had a guy get his skull split clean in two (he was still alive) I had to stop for a second before we duct taped his skull together. I cannot imagine seeing stuff like that every day... Paramedics, firefighters, soldiers and policemen. Those guys are the closest thing we have to supermen.

It's great that you have found this AMA to have been of interest. I've spent countless happy hours browsing IAmA, so I figured it was time to give back a little.

screenwriterjohn1 karma

Ever have a bedbug situation in your home? How bout lice?

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

Luckily no, but then again, we spray everything down at least once a year at the shelter.

gravadlax1 karma

If you could only tell us one thing about this, what would it be? What would you want to tell us?

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

Stay in touch with your friends and family. In the end, they are all that matter.

johnthethird1 karma

Have you met any of the "steryotipical" homeless men? Like the ones with the big beards, and who talk to themselves and stuff?

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

Yep, but not too often. The "stereotypical" homeless person often chooses to avoid shelters like mine (with long-term housing), instead sleeping at shelters offering a bed on a night-to-night basis.

BradGebben1 karma

I also work at a homeless shelter good for you bro

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

Glad to meet a fellow shelterman! Keep it up buddy, you're making a difference!

EnglishClassKid0 karma

I am doing a word evaluation essay for my English class and there is an interview section that is almost completed. I chose the word "beauty". If you wouldn't mind answering these 15 interview questions that would be great! Maybe a first name to cite you in the bibliography as well? (Please don't laugh. Some of these are stupid and cliche I know, but teachers don't always like the creative side.) Thank you so much! 1: Do you think there is a separation between beauty the word beauty and the word pretty? (ie just like with wisdom and knowledge) 2: Do you believe there is beauty that lies in everything? Even the darker more dreary things? 3: When you hear the word beauty, do you first think of a beautiful item or setting or a beautiful person? 4: Can things that are not initially beautiful become beautiful through change or a different perspective? 5: How would you measure beauty? 6: Where does "beauty" reside on your appearance scale? (ie higher than pretty, or below the word majestic?) 7: How has your taste of beauty changed/developed over the years or through any major events? 8: Can there be beauty in things the senses cannot observe? (ie a beautiful idea?) 9: When you imagine something/someone that is beautiful, is it also blemish-less or immaculate? 10: Can something be ugly and beautiful at the same time? 11: Do you find beauty in your work? 12: What aspect of your life do you find the most beauty in? 13: What is the most beautiful thing you can imagine? 14: Why do you think you chose that answer for #13? 15: What was the most beautiful thing you experienced in the line of work at a homeless shelter?

Houseboat_Viking3 karma

Alrighty, let's do this! First of all, sorry EnglishClassKid, but I can't give you my real first name (but I'm fine with you choosing one). Oohkay: Q1: Absolutely, pretty to me is somehow smaller and more specific. Beauty can be anything and is a much more emotionally involved word. Q2: Absolutely, in fact, some of the darkest things in life are the most beautiful - and the beauty you find in dark places shine all the brighter for it. Q3: I see this wonderful redhead an artist has painted only using bic's. It's on deviantart, checck it out. Q4: It's cheesy, but beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, so yes, beauty is relative. Q5: You can't, although some forms of beauty are easier to agree on than others. Q6: In it's own special place just parallel to the scale. Beauty is a wonderful word, but relative as all hell (although it is higher on the scale than pretty). Q7: I guess my sense of what's beautiful has broadened over the years, as has my tolerance of things different. I guess no single major event has done this, but many small nodges over time. Q8: Absolutely! Quantum mechanics for instance! Superconductivity is one of the most beautiful things I've read about so far. Q9: Nope. To me, beauty has nothing to do with perfection. It is often the imperfect parts that make beauty shine. Q10: Yep! Q11: All the time :) Q12: I hope this doesn't sound too morbid, but death. That one moment when a person accepts that it's his/her's time to go. Most wonderful, heartbreakingly beautiful serenity. Q13: That we are life thinking about life, and that everything that makes up who I am has been around since the beginning of our universe. I'm only borrowing all these bits, and soon enough I get to give them back. Q14: Because Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Carl Sagan, symphonyofscience, Ed Yong. Q15: Sitting with two of my residents, one of them comforting the other, me totally forgotten. It was such a tender interaction in the midst of two chaotic lives.

Phew, hope that helps!

EnglishClassKid1 karma

Perfect! Loved the Superconductivity part! Thank you soo much!

Houseboat_Viking2 karma

You're quite welcome. I'm just glad I could help.

Donkey_Kong20120 karma


Houseboat_Viking2 karma

I think it's wonderful that you're helping these guys out, but definitely be careful, especially if you suspect them of having mental issues. Having a person go apeshit in your car could be serious trouble, plus guys freakin out are friggin strong! The most important part of my job is building a relationship with the people who use our shelter. That way, when push comes to shove, when the shit really hits the fan, I'll have a much higher chance of handling a conflict they're involved in. Talking is your best defense. Have your wits about you and a sense of humor and you'll minimize any danger to yourself. Oh, and if things go wrong, don't hesitate to run. Rather get your car stolen than lose your life.

Donkey_Kong20121 karma

Awesome advice! And yeah once I was about to stop in the middle of an intersection to make a woman that was crazy get off my car but then she calmed down so I didn't. It's scary to have someone in your car who you know can hurt you and you can't even pay attention because you're driving. I'm going to make sure the people I give rides to are sane and yup if I ever have to ill just let them take my car rather than get stabbed. Thanks for your advice :)

Houseboat_Viking1 karma

You're quite welcome :) I'm glad to hear that you try to help people in need.