Page 1

Helga C. Theilgaard

THE ROOTLESS Postscript by Preben Brandt


At the beginning of the winter of 2008, I walked through the streets and parks of Copenhagen. Visited homeless shelters, drop-in centres and reception centres to find the faces I wanted to photograph among the homeless. It turned into meetings with people living on the edge of life. People who are moving, raw, eccentric, hard, loving and vulnerable. To seek out the homeless is an attempt to move closer to a reality that I might prefer not to know of, but still draws me in. I recognize the fear of the homeless regarding the lives they might never have; their loneliness, and the feeling of being left out. To live life on the streets requires greater effort and strength than I had originally thought. From the beginning, I chose a clear framework for the project: The individuals should all be placed in the studio in front of a white background and the lighting should be neutral in order not to take focus from the individual person. The portraits have been taken with Polaroid negative film on an old Linnhoff camera, five attempts for each. Working within a number of limitations sharpens my focus and deepens my concentration. I choose what I see and what I show. I create a space in which the meeting takes place. I like to watch. To study a person for the first time. How he or she moves, reacts and stands. Many of the homeless were under the influence when they were photographed. This makes it difficult to control the shoot, so I chose to do the opposite: Use the coincidences that occur along the way. I stand beside the camera when I photograph them. I look at them through the viewfinder, but try to maintain the contact and encapsulate the feeling I have of them after the meeting on the street. I imagine the picture I am to take, but I know that I have no real control over the final result. Only a feeling of what will work. There is only the homeless person and me. There is nothing between us. I ask them not to move after I have adjusted focus. Then I wait with my finger on the shutter button. It gets quiet. Some remain still, others moves their upper body impatiently in a sudden movement, a look. The body, starting to sag.

This photobook is dedicated to: Johan

I watch. And wait. Wait for the moment something authentic occurs. An intimacy. And the finger presses down the shutter button. Helga C. Theilgaard, december 2009 5

Grethe Larsen, age 61 Grethe Larsen grew up in Vejle and after her confirmation, she work in an artist group that travelled around Europe. When she was 18, she fell head over heels in love with a man with whom she had two sons and they were married for 13 years before she found out that her husband betrayed her. They were divorced and Grethe got a job in a sewing factory, where she sustained a bad work injury. Later, her house burned down, she became homeless and went to Copenhagen, where she lives in a women’s shelter in Hvidovre.


Patrick Zimmerman, age 22 Patrick Zimmerman was born in Ishøj and became a painter in 2004. There were problems at home and his parents threw him out when they believed he was old enough to take care of himself. Patrick lived with different friends and later in a reception centre, where he lived for a year and found a girlfriend. He now lives in Kirkens Korshær’s shelter in Hillerødgade in Copenhagen, is an hashish addict and finds it difficult to get on with his life.


Søren Pedersen, age 59 Søren Pedersen grew up in a family of artists on Bornholm. When he was 19 years old, he went to Paris where he met a music group which he became manager for. Later, he travelled around the world as a dock worker, cook and waiter. He found a girlfriend and had two children in the early ’70s. The couple later split. Søren was never good with money and spends more than he earns. Therefore, he was not able to pay his rent one day and ended up on the street.


Finn Majlund, age 43 Finn Majlund was born and raised in Frederikshavn. At the age of 12, he asked to be sent to a children’s home because his mother beat him. He needed safety after having lived alone with her for a few years after his parents’ divorce. Later, his father died of cancer and his mother of a cerebral haemorrhage. Finn began drinking in earnest as a 14-year-old and after finishing school, he tried to survive with different jobs. After four years in the army and a turn in prison for robbery, he became a trained floor fitter in 1989. He travelled to Norway, but instead he got a job in a carnival and returned to Denmark as a vagabond. Today, Finn is living as an alcoholic on the streets of Odense.


Amanda Oline Rosendahl, age 14 Amanda Oline Rosendahl was born in Copenhagen, but moved to Langeland when she was five years old with her mother and her new husband. She was often home alone because her mother was working in a pub. Because Amanda’s father was manic-depressive, she could not live with him and therefore moved to Odense with her father’s girlfriend. She dropped out of school because her everyday life and not having enough money to live on had become too much for her. Amanda has returned to Copenhagen and lives in different places around the city. At the time being, in a tent in the park ‘The Blue Garden’ in Åboulevarden in Copenhagen. Here, she feels free and there is nothing to tie her down.


Erik Rosenlund Jensen, age 58 Erik Rosenlund Jensen is from Middelfart and became a skilled carpenter at the age of 15. He married and had two children. When he was 26, he bet his friends that he could become a member of the army special forces. He applied for admission and got in. Erik was later stationed in Afghanistan, where he by mistake shot a father and his child. Erik returned to Denmark and tried to resume his family life and work as carpenters. But the experiences continued to mark him. When he was 50, he finally got divorced, gave everything he had to his children and began living on the street.


Jesper Andersen, age 19 Jesper Andersen was born in Odense. His childhood was marked by his parents’ alcoholism and that he practically took care of himself from the age of six. When he was 13, he was placed into a foster family after his parents’ divorce and his mother died. He did not finish school and also dropped out of the production school. For a short while, Jesper lived with his brother, but after that he lived on the streets. He found ‘Gaderummet’, a group home and drop-in centre in Copenhagen, where he has lived for a year and a half. (The place has now closed)


Gheorghe Dumitrache, age 32 Gheorghe Dumitrache is from Buzau in Romania. The family home was destroyed by a natural disaster, so the family moved around and lived with friends and family. He has three children, whom he cannot provide for, so he is in Denmark to find a permanent job and a place to live. Gheorghe sleeps in different parks in Copenhagen.


Maria Thomassen, age 36 Maria Thomassen grew up on Vesterbro in Copenhagen. She lived alone with her mother, who was an alcoholic, and Maria started smoking hashish as 13-year-old. She was sent to boarding school in West Jutland, got a degree in office administration and after that, she got a flat. But she got bored, returned to Copenhagen and became a drug addict at the age of 21. She met Lee, with whom she found peace and a kind of safety. In 1998, she was diagnosed HIV-positive, and lived on the streets of Copenhagen with her belongings in two baby carriages until 2009, when she got her own flat.


Dennis Patrick Knudsen, age 44 Dennis Patrick Knudsen was born in Nyboder in Copenhagen. His father beat both him and his mother. When he was 19, he had had enough and threatened to kill his father if he continued. The family disowned him and Dennis went into the military for 3 years. When he was returned, the love of his life had found another. Dennis ended up on the street, homeless and has been for 25 years.


Michael Boserup, age 35 Michael Boserup grew up in a foster family on Djursland and had a good childhood. He never got an education, but travelled around in Denmark for a few years where he also found a girlfriend. They were together for a long time, but finally broke up. It was not a conscious decision that he came to live on the street, it just slowly happened. Michael was homeless for 13 years, but in 2008, he was diagnosed with sclerosis and is now living in a care home in Odense.


Anni KÌrsholm Frederiksen, age 62 Anni KÌrsholm Frederiksen used to be a doctor’s wife with a large house, cars and three children, but when her loneliness became too much, she began drinking for comfort. Problems and disagreements with her husband could no longer be hidden and they were divorced after 32 years of marriage. Shortly after, Anni had a cerebral haemorrhage and when she was discharged, she did not get any support. She began drinking again. She could not pay the rent and ended up losing her flat and had to stay overnight in a shelter, where she was raped. Anni now has her own flat.


Dion Christiansen, age 25 Dion Christiansen is from Glostrup. He grew up with a sick mother and lived mainly with a foster family. Dion’s mother died when he was 11 years old. After that, he had it difficult in school, but when he, as a 17-year-old, was accepted to the film and theatre school Holberg, his life changed – he began to feel success. At the age of 19, Dion went travelling, but when he returned he had a hard time settling down again. He did not have a place to live and began living on the street. He was later hospitalised due to a druginduced psychosis and spent the next couple of years recovering. Dion then rented a room, but was thrown out and has lived on the streets these last years.


Lee Høgsberg, age 39 Lee Høgsberg was born in Germany, but was adopted to Denmark when he was one month old. He was very attached to his mother and when she died of cancer, he became violent and criminal from pure powerlessness. He was 14 years old. Lee went sailing for a couple of years, but when he returned, he fell into the criminal environment again and became a drug addict. For 16 years, he lived alternately on the street and in prisons. Seven years ago, he was diagnosed HIV-positive, but he is on medication and gets by with a flat in Emdrup.


Mitzi Julendal, age 22 Mitzi Julendal is from Copenhagen. She grew up in a family where the father drank and she had to do the washing and hoovering. As a 9-year-old, she moved in with an old lady, where she found the love and care she did not receive from her parents. The lady died of a heart attack and Mitzi was placed with a Christian foster family, where her friends were not allowed to visit. Later, she was sent to an independent school, but she soon lost interest in her surroundings when she started taking drugs. In the following years, she lived in different places, in shelters, in a car and on the street. Today, she lives in a flat in Copenhagen with her boyfriend.


Rocky, age 4 1/2 Rocky is Johnny Gram’s and Bettina Borregaard’s dog.


Gioacchino Lo Easelo, age 33 Gioacchino Lo Easelo came to Denmark for the first time in 2002 and worked as a waiter in a restaurant. He lost the job and went back home to Sicily, but did not find work and therefore returned to Denmark. He hopes to find a job, but he has not succeeded yet. Gioacchino usually sleeps in the shelter in Stengade in Copenhagen.


Britta Larsen, age 52 Britta Larsen grew up with five siblings in a working-class home in Fredriksberg in Copenhagen. The family was happy despite living under difficult conditions, but there was never any peace to do homework and enjoy some quiet time alone. Britta therefore got a position in the house when she was 15 and afterwards, she worked at the Heidelberg vinegar factory and later as a casual labourer. She had a son when she was 21. The father was not of much help and moved, but she managed. In 1999, she was out of work and went on social security and could not pay her bank loans or for her flat. Britta has lived on the street for the last five years.


Peter Bak Dalstrand / Røde orm ‘Red worm’, age 41 Peter Bak Dalstrand is from Ballerup. He worked as a zookeeper for eight years at the Copenhagen Zoo and lived with his girlfriend and two children on a large property on Zealand with animals and fields, but the couple broke up when he was 30. Peter then began drinking himself to death and living on the street.


John Thomsen, age 39 John Thomsen was born and raised in Frederikshavn. After 9th grade, he began training to become a skilled iron and steel worker, but he was bullied and began smoking hashish and taking drugs to forget. After that, he got by dealing drugs to fund his own use. He lived with friends, acquaintances and on the street. John has now decided he wants his life back on track and has for the last two years lived in the reception centre Svenstrupg책rd in Aalborg.


Pilar Artero Philpsen, age 15 Pilar Artero Philpsen is from Copenhagen. Pilar is a child of divorce and has a lot of problems with her family. In school she felt like an outsider and started to drink, smoke hashish and steal, and her parents could not agree who should take on the responsibility of her, so Pilar took care of herself. To find some love and security she went out with different men, and when she found a boyfriend in 2007, she became pregnant – and had an abortion. Pilar lived in a tent in the park ‘The Blue Garden’ and on the street, but now she has a flat.


Lars Sonne, age 49, and Frank Jensen, age 78 Lars Sonne is originally from Greenland, but grew up in Hillerød. After 10th grade, he travelled around in Denmark and had various minor jobs. He began drinking already as a 12-year-old because he felt restless. Because of his problems with alcohol, Lars has been homeless for long periods of his life and has never started a family. Frank Jensen was born on Falster and grew up in Valby. Throughout his professional life he has been a lorry driver in the Nordic countries. When he lost his wife, he moved out of his flat and has since lived in rented rooms, boarding houses and reception centres or been homeless on the streets. Both Lars and Frank live in Kirkens Korshær’s shelter in Hillerødgade in Copenhagen.


Carol Larsen, age 51 Carol Larsen is Britta Larsen’s younger brother. He lived at home until he was 21 years old, has never received any education, but has had different warehouse and factories jobs. Carol does not put up with anything and therefore has difficulty getting references from previous jobs. He became unemployed and got bored when he lacked content in his life. He began drinking, lost his unemployment benefits and his flat, and ended up on the street in 2004 where he has managed on his own ever since.


Sabina Lennart, age 45 Sabina Lennart was born in Greenland, but came to Denmark as a 5year-old. She lived a chaotic life with her mother and finally ended up in a children’s home. Sabina dreamt of becoming a dental technician, but was never given any support and therefore never received an education. She had her first child when she was 25 years old and later, she had four more children with a different man, but ended up alone with all the children when the man left her. This, she could not cope with and ended up on the street. The children grew up in different places with foster families. After five years, Sabina got a flat, but she cannot stand being there. Therefore, she often sleeps in the shelters around the city.


Michael Eliassen, age 33 Michael Eliassen is originally from Aarhus. When he was 11, he got a baby sister, and she received all the attention. Michael began drinking booze and smoking joints. His friend’s father, drug addict and alcoholic, took care of him and introduced him to that world. He died, and Michael lost any joy of life and started on heroin. Later, he almost completed training as a chef, but crime and drugs had too strong a hold on him. After a turn in prison he met a Christian woman, but her care became too much for him. He has chosen to return to the streets, which he cannot let go.


Kurt Holm Christensen, age 62 Kurt Holm Christensen has lived his whole life in Copenhagen. For many years, he worked as a lorry driver and at Carlsberg. He had a wife and three children, but after 18 years of marriage, he got divorced and ended up on the street. Both of his legs were amputated due to gangrene after suffering a blood clot in 1993. Kurt lived on the street for 15 years and died in 2008.


Lillian Thelin, age 45 Lillian Thelin grew up on Amager with her parents. When her mother died, her father could not cope with the children, so she and her sisters went to stay in a boarding house for a few years. She found a man from Greenland and had a daughter with him. The daughter was removed from their home when she was four and a half months old because there was too much drinking, rowing and noise. They were also thrown out of their flat and lived on the street for a while. Lillian lost her husband a few years ago and now lives in flat in Sydhavnen in Copenhagen.


Palle Larsen, age 49 Palle Larsen was born and raised in Copenhagen. When he was 14 years old, Palle’s parents got divorced. He did not want to choose which of the parents to live with, so instead he left home and went to live with friends and in shelters. Palle has been an alcoholic for many years, but was trained as radio mechanic and sailed with EAC. In 2000, he served a prison sentence and after he was released, he lived on the street for six and a half years. Although he now lives in subsidised housing in Valby, he often returns to the street environment and stay overnight.


Johnny Gram, age 40, and Bettina Borregaard, age 28 Johnny Gram grew up in Tüstrup with a single, alcoholic mother the first ten years of his life. The problems at home became so serious that he ran away when he was 15 and lived on the street for two years. He started smoking hashish and taking hard drugs, and he also went to prison several times for theft. Ten years ago, he went into a methadone treatment program, met his girlfriend Bettina and now works various minor jobs. Bettina Borregaard grew up in Copenhagen and has always felt like the black sheep of the family. She had a good upbringing, but she was tired of school, bored and began smoking hashish. Later, she was introduced to heroin and became addicted. She lived a turbulent life, but when she was 25, she decided to stop and get help. She met Johnny in a substance abuse centre and has been with him ever since. Bettina and Johnny have lived with Bettina’s mother several times and on the streets of Copenhagen, but are now living in Gørlev, where they have found a flat.


The Homeless are not just numbers By Preben Brandt, Dr.Med. Chairman of the board of project UDENFOR, Project OUTSIDE & The Danish Council for Socially Marginalized Groups If being homeless was just a question of lacking accomodation, it should bed something that could be resolved in a rich welfare society such as ours. Especially, if the only thing distinctive about homelessness was that there were not enough dwellings for the average citizen. But that is not how it is either. Homelessness is something that happens to other people. Those, who are not part of the average and ordinary. Those who do not feel at home in society, though they are still a part of it and cannot just escape, they are the homeless. Most of them do not have housing at their disposal, although some do. Others sleep at friend’s houses here and there, whatever happens to turn up, yet others use shelters as housing and overnight accomodation and some choose to live day and night on the street. Those who are homeles do not feel at home themselves. But we do not think they belong either – at least not with the way they are and behave. Therefore, we want to make them normal, good citizens who behave like the majority. There is really nothing wrong with that, because being homeless it is not a good life. And yet, something does not ring right. It is not only the homeless with all their problems we have to consider. We also have to look at ourselves and see our judgemental attitude, our readiness to stigmatise and our demands for uniformity. If these people are excluded – and they are – we must be the ones doing the exclusion. And we are. It is often the number of homeless people you focus on, but homelessness is not just numbers. There are people behind those numbers. Real people, living people. People who live a life. A life that is often so dif65

ferent that it can be difficult to understand what it is that makes some

Until the beginning of the 1980s, the vast majority of the homeless

people able to or even choose to live in this way.

were older men with lifelong excessive alcohol consumption. In the

And the will to choose we must not take from them. If the require-

following years, this picture changed. More and more young people be-

ments for opening the door to a shelter are so high for a person that he

came homeless and among them also a growing number of women. To-

does not want to meet them – or he knows that he will not be able to

day, one in four homeless people is under the age of 30, and the major-

meet them – the choice to sleep on a piece of cardboard on the pave-

ity is between 35-50 years of age. Every fifth homeless person is female.

ment may be a bad one, but still the best choice. If a person knows that

It is no longer enough to be able to work an unskilled job, while at the

the housing regulations that apply in a building, where he is offered a

same time, be unstable with respect to keeping that job. The poor, but

home are such that it will be difficult for him to comply. And he knows

cheap accommodation, whether it is a small flat or a rented room, is

that already from the time he moves in, he will be looked at with scep-

not so easy to find either and the more individualised society places

ticism or even dislike from the other residents. Then maybe staying in

higher demands on the individual’s ability to cope with the strain

a shelter may seem like a bad choice, but it may well still be the best



The opportunities for coping alone are not evenly spread. One does not become homeless out of the blue or by some random incident.

On any day of the year, there are between 5,000 and 6,000 homeless

There is more, much more to it. The vast majority of young homeless

people in Denmark who do not have their own housing. One out of

people have a story to tell which is neither pleasant for them to re-

every thousand of us is evicted, both literally and socially. Annually, it

member or for us to hear. It is a story that for most goes back to child-

is about three times that.

hood. A story about not having received what it takes to be able to live

The majority are men. Many are without housing for a shorter period

a normal, safe and good childhood. Regardless whether it be diffi-

of time, while others live this way for many years, some even through

culties that arise from circumstances of the child itself or from the

their entire adult life. For many, homes come and go along the way,

child’s surroundings, they will along with materially and socially de-

while the feeling of not belonging continues, independent of whether

prived backgrounds help lay the foundation for future homelessness.

life is lived with or without a home.

Some will of course overcome neglect and defeat upon defeat through

This does not mean that having a home is irrelevant. No one,

childhood, but the risk increases along with the extent of the neglect

whether homeless or not will assert that. A dwelling to be homeless in

and lack of options in the child’s family. A very large part of homeless-

is always better than being homeless with endless temporary shelters,

ness must be seen in this light.

if the framework and conditions for living in the dwelling are equi-

Very few of us go through life without experiencing defeat, conflicts,

valent to the needs and opportunities. Who has not as a child built a

humiliations and sorrows at some point in time. But for homeless

hideout and thus created a sanctuary where we could hide away with

people it is not simply something that is experienced in few times of

our thoughts and away prying eyes? The hideout, the home we need,

crisis. These are the conditions of everyday life.

regardless of who we are. Also, if like a houseless homeless person you only have the public space as a habitat. That is where you built your

The homeless person need not be abuser. Need never have committed

hideout. It may be a makeshift bed in the thicket of a particularly good

anything criminal. He or she may be both physically and mentally

bush, it may be a small shelter made of plastic cover or it may be a very

healthy, and have friends and family that they have close contact to.

small hut built of collected wood and camouflaged in vegetation.

However, only the very, very few that are in this situation – it is more a theoretical possibility than a reality. On the contrary, the fact is that



one of the many contributory sources for homelessness and sub-

was at home – and in a society that did not quite know what to do for

sequent consequences of homelessness is alcohol abuse, drug abuse,

such a child. And later, not what to do for such an adult either.

mental illness, physical diseases, crime, prostitution, lack contact with family, and poverty.

It is first and foremost in the big city you will notice the homeless.

When such problems become a part of a person’s life, it is always a

That does not mean that homelessness does not exist in the me-

significant strain on to the individual and their circle of acquaintances.

dium-sized provincial city, the small town or the village. And in all

When the problems are lifelong and part of a massive social margin-

places, the homeless person falls victim to the same problems and the

alization, they become a social disability.

same stigmatisation. Stigmatisation gives the right to exclude. He will be deemed dirty and seen as a threat. Could his behaviour be conta-

Being homeless is a hard life.

gious, only through the power of example, they wonder. He does not

It wears on the body, which ages prematurely. Diseases will increase

look neat and tidy either there on the bench at the city market. It is

the risk of dying of old age, but at an age, when others have yet to

offensive to watch. And it is disturbing. He may very well be looking

reach retirement. The elderly, worn homeless person does not fit in a

to steal or trick something out of them which he should obtain in an

care home and has difficulties coping in a home of his own. The lone-

honest manner. He begs, when the money is spent and that, many do

liness is absolute. The risk of dying in solitude without friends and

not like. If he was offered a place to live, his behaviour in that place

without family is great.

would be just as unwelcome.

There is he, who for years, has lived on the streets, driven out there by psychotic ideas of persecution and plots. He is over 70 years, walks

It is not an easy matter to be homeless, neither in the big city or the small community.

around with his belongings and sleeps in a park all year round. His body is healthy and well. A strong survivor and absorbed with watch-

Being homeless means that you probably have many wounds to the

ing the lives others live around him.

soul and body and have social limitations in relation to what the ma-

His solitude is of a different kind, but no lesser kind – and we are no less powerless in the face of it. Then there is she, who began drinking alcohol at the age of 12 and who had started abusing heroin already at the age of 15. At the same time, she had to procure money to buy drugs which she did through

jority sees as a normal way of life. But being homeless does not mean that you are not also a whole person. It does not mean that you do not have friends, interests and knowledge.

prostitution and trafficking of illegal substances. Of course, there was

It does not mean that you do not have free choice.

no time or opportunity for education. When she was around the age of

It does not mean that you cannot be happy.

20, the unobtrusive but painful psychosis began, where voices directed

It does not mean that you cannot love another person. Or that you do

her and mocked her. Other diseases followed after this. A series of spe-

not need to be loved.

cialised and effective treatment offers did not work. Like many other homeless people, her chances for a long life were small. She died at the age of 36.

It would be quite wrong to romanticise homelessness. And just as wrong only to see homelessness as misery. Homeless people are just as strong as they are weak, and should be

It ended this badly for many reasons, not least because she grew up

respected for the people they are. They are entitled to be offered help.

with repeated stays at children’s homes, with severe neglect when she

And to be allowed to live a different life. In this duality lies the challenge for understanding homelessness.



Special Thanks Thanks to the many foundations, sponsors and partners who have believed in the project and supported the publication of this book and associated exhibition. I especially thank the homeless who have made themselves available for this project. Thanks to Holger Henriksen, Joanna Din Mitchew, Michael Espensen’s Morgencafeen on Blågårdsplads, Lotte Albrechtsen, Martin Skriver Nielsen and Peter Bich, Michael Elmkjær Madsen, Lars Schwander, Anders Petersen, Preben Brandt, Lars Tordendahl, Stig Fog, Michael Trinskjær, Astrid Bjørg Mortensen, Thorstein Theilgaard, Lotte Kirkeby Hansen, Jannie Rosenberg Bendsen, Johanna Maj Thorning, Elisabeth and Hans Theilgaard, Teddy Petersen and last but least my patient husband and partner Thomas Jæger. I also thank Henrik Pedersen, Stig Tarnow, Heidi Riel, Jaku-Lina Nielsen, Jannie og Kirsten Hotellet, Kaj from Klippen, Steen Viggo Jensen, Dieter Sebelin, Jan LP, Kaj Skjøldstrup, Heinz Wolff, Erik Hansen, Bodil Larsen, Per Weise, Benny Sørensen, Erik Pedersen, Stine og Daniel, Helen Jensen, Thor Johansen, Jesper Jørgensen, Claus Hesselberg Grove, Jacob Ørum, Christian Christiansen, Mads Elling, Jesper Nørgaard Pagh, Gert Meins, Max Wagner Jensen, Stephen Dixen, Niels Bo Christensen, Helle Faust, Inge Lise Nielsen, Pernille Madsen and Henriette Tost, Søren Rud, Thomas Tolstrup, Gitte Mortensen and Christian Dølpher.

Project Manager and fundraiser Joanna Din Mitchew


Calendar 2013 Hus Forbi  

Hus Forbi Year Calendar 2013: Portraits and stories from Svenstrupgaard in Northern Jutland - a reception center for homeless people.