Twenty kroners for a change

Nowadays, people may ask, “What is the point of buying newspapers if we can get information for free on the Internet?” A Danish initiative gives a reason why to do it.

by Erika Astudillo

A Hus Forbi seller in Strøget street. Photo: Julia Mandil

A Hus Forbi seller in Strøget street. Photo: Julia Mandil

“It helps us to survive,” says Kristian*, a homeless person who is part of a network of nearly 1.800 sellers of Hus Forbi. First published in 1996, this newspaper has two main goals: to raise debate and dialogue about homelessness and socially vulnerable people, and to provide them an opportunity to earn their own money.

It is now present in 45 cities all over Denmark, especially in Copenhagen, Aarhus, Aalborg and Odense, and according to the Index Denmark, it gained 501.000 readers until the first quarter of 2014.

In Aarhus there are 125 sellers, of which 55 work every week, according to Ove Abildgaard, head of a Day Center in the city and volunteer of Hus Forbi directory. He says that an average of 10.000 newspapers are sold in Aarhus every month, out of the 12.000 the distribution center gets. He adds that 95.000 newspapers in total are printed monthly.

Those who take part in the project pay DKK 10 per paper and sell it for DKK 20 in the streets. The money that goes to Hus Forbi is used to cover its production costs, including salaries for freelance journalists, photographers, graphic designer, editor and printing. Abildgaard explains that every year they spend one million kroner in clothing for the sellers, especially to help them during the winter.

Hus Forbi’s sales are an additional income to the benefits that homeless and vulnerable people normally obtain from the social security: 99.9% of the sellers benefits from it, says Abildgaard.

Lesson of personal finance

After two years of selling, Kristian says that thanks to his earnings he is able to buy food, cigarettes and even to pay for a night in a small hostel. He does not know how much he will earn before he hits the streets. “It depends on my mood and on my luck,” he says while taking a bottle of alcohol of one of his pockets.

There is not a control on how sellers should spend their money. Instead, Hus Forbi’s volunteers advise them on good ways of managing it. They meet monthly so the sellers can talk about their problems and they often discuss ways of approaching more people.

Each person can sell a maximum of 170 papers per week. However, as Abildgaard explains, nobody has been able to sell the maximum amount yet.

No home, but with a CPR

The  headquarters in Aarhus. Photo: Erika Astudillo

The headquarters in Aarhus. Photo: Erika Astudillo

Not everyone can sell Hus Forbi, they have to meet requirements such as having a social security card, speaking Danish and have been living in Denmark for a long period, if they come from another country. Abildgaard argues that otherwise there would not be enough places for the Danish vulnerable people to sell the newspaper.

When asked about the results of Hus Forbi’s initiative, a smile comes to his face. “We are absolutely sure that they don’t steal anymore, that they have stability to live in an apartment. Some of them buy things for their kids; they are able to approach normal life and they are not abusing so much because they don’t have time and they know that they have to be healthy to work.”

In fact, a 2007 survey made by Hus Forbi with 197 sellers showed these people are happy to have this alternative way of earning a living. Most of them find that now they are more in touch with other people; that they have more control of their lives and their self-respect has increased.

An urgent necessity

The fourth national survey of homelessness in Denmark published by the Danish National Center for Social Research shows that the number of homeless citizens in 2013 was estimated in 5.820. This represents an increase of 530 people compared to the survey in 2011. The number is even higher when compared with 2009, when the figure was 4.998 people.

The sellers usually sleep in the streets, parks and parking lots. Others find a place in the Church Army or in some special shelters for homeless people that provide a bed for one night. According to Abildgaard, there are only 10 of these special places in Aarhus. “We desperately need special home for this vulnerable people.”

*protected name

Erika Astudillo is a journalist from Ecuador doing the first year of her master’s program in Aarhus and a contributor for Jutland Station.