Sobering side notes

Ontbijt van Matias Cordiviola in de RuimteWhat a high flying feeling, enjoying the fringes of society from the safe and comfortable construct of an art project. Winter has come to the Netherlands in the form of storm hail and Sinterklaas, but I have a permanent hide-out in the garden of cafe de Ruimte.
Whenever I want I can pop inside to draw, drink and use the Internet. While writing the last newsletter Gwen tells a story of asylum seekers who just landed on the street. She is working at BAK, a politically engaged artist base who will propose a solution for the situation of two hundred people. They cannot go back home and they are not allowed to stay here. They cannot be part of society as it is forbidden to work, live somewhere or do anything else to create a decent existence.
To break the stalemate between policy and reality BAK wants to connect every person to an artist, so the artist can be their legal counterpart and both can exchange and help each other. I am humbled by their initiative as I feel they are directly stepping into the mess of everyday politics. Meanwhile I am enjoying Matias’ scone with lemon curd.

Homeless but heartily
There is more stark reality on the side. I talked to people who live on the streets, sometime for decades. Most find a mode in which they live with the street but no longer on it. Geert has his own boat and trades in bicycles, Hannah finally lives inside but is still part of the community, helping out others to get back on their feet.
I expected people to be annoyed with my happy-daisy attitude about living outside. But so far I met curiousity and openhearted sharing of stories, information on food and where to shower. Some advised me to get inside as soon as possible as the fringes are always safer from the inside of society. Out there it is a jungle once you get tangled up in drugs, small crime and extreme wandering. ‘It is not safe for a woman to be on the streets’ Mo says to me while we warm ourselves at a bonfire. ‘I warn you, think clear and deep and go back into a warm home. People are dangerous’. His friend disagrees but Mo is not the only one with warnings. People will dupe you for dope, they say, use each other without blinking twice and can lie for random reasons. The last I already found out for myself, but I did not loose more than electronic devices and a few shattered illusions.

Why is it so hard for some and easy for others?
Another told me that you do not have to be poor, living on the road. You get a ‘homeless person allowance’  when you arrange a postal address at social security. I know someone who saved a few hundred Euros a month and payed off some important debts within no time. In Amsterdam there are programs to help you get a house. ‘If someone is begging on the streets it is usually because of drugs or mental illnesses’ someone said. That might be true but it does not mean that everyone can pick themselves up. To get a home from social securities means to come to appointments on time, stick to agreements and contracts. For some this is too much to ask. Mo tells me that he does not want to stay homeless but he also cannot conform to the rules that come with the assistance. And thus he remains sleeping here and there, doing odd jobs like painting or of a more shady kind.

‘Not everyone can stay in my backyard, I don’t even want to think about it’
That is what my hostess said. Why does she let me in? How long would she allow me to stay? When does it turn from an attraction to a burden? I have heard of people living in tents in the reeds and woods of Amsterdam-Noord for months. I met quite some neighbours who were fine with it. People just mutually leave each other alone. Stay strangers as the one lives inside – both in society and a beautiful home – and the other outside but still part of this world. Wandering on the skin of this city organism. whether it is wandering or fading away seems to rely at least as much on society’s preconditions as the abilities of an individual.
Are you illegal and hiding for the law? Mentally ill or damaged beyond repair? Did you surrender your life to drugs? Good luck creating a life for yourself. Or did you live an ordinary life before, and are you having a tough time due to simultaneous loss of job and relationship? Come back inside in due time, or find your niche on the fringes and few free places of this world.

Meanwhile I have finished breakfast in the cafe, ready to work on an illustration job. All these musing about the kindness of so many people, so many because it is not too much. Because it is fun, because it is art, because in some ways I am very normal. I am one of them. I look outside from within, not the other way around.

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One Comment

  1. froit

    speechless

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