Monday, 17 March 2008
A case story (Link for the Danish version)
Birck Madsen, cand.psych.(psychologist, psychotherapist)
Acting though by the local authorities suspended manager
Continuously, the Mayor of Social Affairs at Copenhagen, Mikkel Warming, states, that the problem with Gaderummet is the writer of this article, the manager of the place. Just as continuously, the Mayor fails to mention, that the complete group of users at Gaderummet totally disagrees with this. Anyway, the Mayor claims, that if I leave, i.e. accept my unlawful dismissal, which is what the Mayor wants, Gaderummet can continue to function as "an open and alternative place for young people with social problems".
That this is not true, is shown by the local authorities' questionable answer to Gaderummet, "Nødrummet" (The Emergency Room), which I will return to later.
A different management at a completely different institution
It is not true, as the Mayor alleges, that I am the problem. At least not alone. I am nothing but a pawn in the game at Gaderummet, even if I've been involved right from the start, at first as the initiator of the psychological counselling in 1985, later as the founder of Gaderummet in 1996.
The management that, according to the Mayor, is meant to take over Gaderummet, is a management of a completely different institution. It clearly emerges from the new management's work description, that it is expected to accept conformity and subordination in relation to the mental health system. Thus, young people who ask for help for psychological and social problems will automatically be referred to medical psychiatric treatment.
Young people with difficulties in subjecting to the orders, the new management according to the authorities will have to enforce, will be treated the same way. These orders, in their emphasis on the mental health system, fundamentally break with Gaderummet's original basis of approval. Their imposition will turn Gaderummet into an institution like all the others, which the young people left, either because they were unhappy there, or because they were thrown out - or what is worse.
The Mayor's slogan is simple: if the young people won't conform to "the good relationship with the mental health system", more subordination will be asked for, and which will be told of later from practice at the local authorities' "Nødrum": individual coercion by staff of young people in need asking for help, followed by forced medication, and, subsequently, chucking out on the street.
It is this Gaderummet has objected to. As an unanimous group of users, residents, staff and board. I can't stand by while a well-functioning professional place is to be destroyed, in favour of something else that will ruin the young people's possibility for a decent life in the future. Just as I can't stand by while a professional example is to be destroyed, that could serve as a practical model in similar environments, where exposed young people are thrown out on the street.
The local authorities' trial: "Nødrummet"
Since the local authorities, after they held back Gaderummet's money more than 10 months ago, weren't able to take over the building nor the management, nor remove the basic user influence at Gaderummet - the totally open door under user control -, they have established a provisional, municipal "Nødrum" (Emergency Room), not far from Gaderummet. It seems, the local authorities imagine, that they can force Gaderummet out of its localities by making use of their economic power, and, following, move their own "Nødrum" into the localities. For the time being, we at Gaderummet have stood up to the enormous, economical pressure by begging in the streets with our wishing well, and we also try to raise funds.
The new municipal "Nødrum" already works today as Gaderummet is supposed to in the long run.
At the local authorities' "Nødrum" a heavy group of staff around the clock manages a small window of Perspex/Plexiglas in a locked door, that is meant to keep some young people out, and others away. At the same time, "Nødrummet" is by and large empty of users. Numerous users aren't allowed at the place, since they've brought about conflicts earlier, others choose to do without the place because of bad experiences. In spite of the heavy staff, the police is called in as soon as there's any conflict with the young people, and the staff members persistently communicate, that it would be a good thing if the young person could be "motivated" to take psychiatric drugs because "then it is so much easier for us to help you", as it is put.
Even though "Nødrummet" only can house 10 homeless people - compared to Gaderummet's 150 - 200 daily users of whom approximately 30 - 40 are homeless - the expenses for staff are at least twice those of Gaderummet. Control is expensive! Though, if all resources thus are used for control and administration of almost nothing, and there neither is nor is meant to be any competence for treatment among the staff, things continuously will go wrong, whenever a young person asks for help.
A covered-up, actual case story from 2008
This story is about a 19-year-old young man from Sønderjylland (
Several times he tried to get in touch with his parents. But they either rejected or ignored him.
After some time at all kind of stations and benches at night, he found Gaderummet. To start with, he stayed at one of the big sofas in a corner at the common room. He didn't want any contact. He didn't have much to say, at least he didn't talk much. However, as the days went by, he said more and more, sometimes joining the others. in their activities.
The area, he stayed at, is called the "black area", and is actually "the extension of the street into the house". It is here, the common meeting table stands, with access to the kitchen and other necessary facilities. The black area is TV-room, PC-café, fitness room, workroom, and a lot more.
He slept a lot at the common room, disregarded the noise at all times of the day. Often he slept through the community meetings. Then he got a bed at one of the dormitories, so he could have a place of his own. He started to have an everyday life together with others at Gaderummet. He'd dropped out of his Higher Preparatory Course, but started soon to dream of going back to school.
After some time at Gaderummet, the conflicts started. Simple moving in conflicts like everyone has, moving in at a new place, or starting at a new job. But if you're hard-pressed as it is, it isn't always easy to express yourself and to stand the situation. The staff tried to keep up with him, but he cut them off, wanted to deal with it on his own. It is rather normal for things to start and get turned upside-down, for since to fall into place in a new and different way, after the first 2 - 4 months.
However, this didn't happen. Everything fell apart. Just at the most vulnerable time, the Mayor for Social Affairs came along and informed of his and the Social Committee's decision to shut down Gaderummet in its original form. The young man first reacted with anger to the Mayor's announcement, later on he withdrew, because the staff, he'd become attached to, didn't have the same resources for him as before. For a long time, he'd considered asking for counselling. Now he passed it off. They were too busy, and others needed them more than him. Which he couldn't pass off were the daily conflicts, he felt he had to deal with all on his own, against the rest of Gaderummet. Winter had come, and the heat and warm water were gone a long time ago, so it was almost just as cold at Gaderummet, as out in the street. His health suffered, and one day, after a bigger conflict, he decided to leave Gaderummet.
He found the local authorities' "Nødrum", and moved in. There weren't more users than that he could have one of the dormitories all to himself.
"One evening, after some time, I brought myself to ask if it were possible for me to talk to a psychologist. Earlier that day, I'd smoked some pot at "Nødrummet". When asked about that, I said yes. Shortly after I sat in a cab with two staff members of "Nødrummet", and was on my way to the emergency at Rigshospitalet (a large hospital at
He then came to Gaderummet, asking for help. He was about to be discharged, and didn't want to go back to "Nødrummet", where he felt both dumped and fixed. All at the same time, it was difficult for him to be at Gaderummet, where it was perishing, and he felt, that the others didn't like him because of the previous conflicts.
Eventually, he was discharged from the locked ward, where he'd been for 5 weeks, and, reluctantly, returned to "Nødrummet". Opposite Gaderummet, there were only a few other young people around at "Nødrummet", and thus fewer who knew him and his background.
After only a few days at "Nødrummet", he was banned for 5 days for smoking pot at the common room. Things like smoking pot are only allowed at the dormitories, and where else it can be hidden, at "Nødrummet".
He returned from the street to Gaderummet. This time to stay and deal with conflicts and challenges.
Expropriation of voluntary work for young people, of young homeless people's means and cultural co-operation by the authorities
The local authorities lay claim to a work and developed means of work of both professional and technical kind, that can everything on a small scale, and that have been established during more than 20 years of voluntary and free of charge work for young people in crisis and need. It has been created by personal efforts and developed professional concepts, and in 2005 we were awarded running funds for all of our work. The funding was awarded by the Ministry of Social Affairs, while the Mayor of Social Affairs is accountable for the funding to be applied in accordance to Gaderummet's basis of allowance.
It is this basis of allowance in relation to the Ministry of Social Affairs, that the Mayor is dissatisfied with, why he, through his demand for another manager, lies away the authorities' demand for the manager to conform to the introduction of "involuntary outpatient treatment", and to completely ignore Gaderummet's established, psycho-social practice. While the building was renovated and adapted according to Gaderummet's concept and financed by its own means in 2005. The house is set up "soft", co-operative and open, according to the users' own terms, and with its wafer thin walls and open passages everywhere - all functioning areas woven into each other - it can impossibly be used for involuntary paternalism of troublesome young people.
This is why I'm still here. I can't tear myself down, neither.
When the Mayor of Social Affairs speaks and writes as he does, it is in spite of his knowledge to the contrary. He knows very well, that it is not a question about replacing the management, but about replacing psychological and social help, support, therapy and guidance for young people with medical treatment and pedagogic supervision. Here, literally, Gaderummet's basic user-controlled management disappears. As well as the open door, the purely psycho-social work, and the good long-term outcomes for the young people.
It is easy for a new management to abolish the user-controlled management, and to establish an arrangement over the young people's heads, that the young people don't have and aren't supposed to have any influence on, since this is the commonly accepted way to control maladjusted and rebellious young people. It is how the municipal places work, that the young people left, and where the street out of need becomes a better choice.
At these places a nice surface and tidy common rooms are maintained, that can be shown. While drugs and stolen goods dominate the other rooms, never-ending fights go on at the corridors, and the young people are medicinally pacified or thrown out on the street, "for their own good", by social workers and called-in guards.
Vandalism and use of force are on the agenda at municipal institutions. And the result: 80% stay outcast, continue to live their lives with criminality, drug abuse and a career as psychiatric revolving-door patients, thus on their way to disability at an early age, expensive for society, and for the young person a real tragedy.
At Gaderummet it is the other way round. Common action for each individual, individual support if needed, and based on which kind of support is wanted, psychological, physical or social.
About 80% of Gaderummet's users get a normal and active life, through their own efforts, a self-reliant, on their own efforts based work. Therefor, the Mayor's plan won't work. But as Mayor, and even as a member of a socialist party, he can prevent the young people from getting along. Just as he can prevent the continuation of a new, professional paradigm. Is it this, that the Mayor wants?