This story starts somewhere around autumn 1994, I had a good summer behind me in which I had been playing the Djembe on the streets of Utrecht and a few weeks on the beaches of Scheveningen, a beach town near the Hague together with a good friend (by now my best friend and brother from another mother). We had made some good money and had a lot of fun but summer had come to an ending and preparations for winter had to be made. This basically meant planning ahead where to go for a bed for the next 3 or four months. In 1994, the amount of shelter for the night was limited in Utrecht and besides that it was bound to certain rules that made it tricky to be certain of a place to sleep at night. There was a place where you could stay 21 nights a month but you had to make sure to be there within a certain timeframe to make sure you had the spot and there was a place where you could stay for 5 days a month leaving 2 or 3 days a month without options. The total beds between the two locations was 41 beds and there was the “sick bay” from the Salvation Army but to be honest… you had to lay in front of it half dying before you had a chance of getting in. The total demand was around 90 to 100 at minimum.
Now of course not everybody wanted an inside place to sleep and my town has some excellent outside spots that are like a hotel room for us, and as long as it was summer or early autumn there was no real shortage in available beds. However as winter closed in, the demand got higher and tensions rose between the different groups in the shelter between each other and towards the social workers.Mix in with that the fact that the volunteers of the shelters where under-trained, often belittling, inconsiderate or just plane rude and you got a recipe for trouble. Now on the streets certain people draw together of course, groups are formed and there is a certain hierarchy. I had the good fortune to reside in the group of people that, though not “top dogs”, could move, talk and deal with almost all other groups. Although most of us smoked marijuana on a regular base and did mushrooms or lsd once in a while, we where also the group that always looked for ways to improve our lives.
Now word came about winter. During winter a special arrangement should come in place ensuring more beds. This system however was fairly new and implementation was always a struggle.
My bro (we weren’t “bro’s” back then mind you but he is my bro now so I will call him that for the remainder) had been involved in trying to get a sort of Union for Homeless and had asked me into some of the meetings at that time. During one of those the idea for a new kind of night shelter was born. This should not only be a night shelter for the homeless… no this should also be a night shelter by the homeless. They would be responsible for the shifts to keep the shelter running, they would be responsible for the cleaning, the cooking, the grocery’s the finances. Greeting the guests, keeping an eye out during night time, do the laundry, be on “the board” etc etc.
One night, just a few days before winter would begin, I was sitting kind of “high” in the night shelter, my bro was sitting on the other end of the room Suddenly one of the volunteers of the shelter came to me and told me there was a phone call for me. This was very odd, your typical 1994 homeless had nobody that would really could have the urge to call right? On the phone was one of the people I had met during the meetings. It was a young man, around 25 I think. I knew he worked at the foundation that was running the night shelter as well. He asked me to come to a certain address and to come alone.
Upon arriving there where 4 people present, the young man, his girl friend, a man I knew to be a photographer and friend of bro and a man I knew to be a homeless one who also had been involved in the meetings. They told me they where making plans to actually start with the night shelter and that they wanted me among the founding group to make the board complete. Why bro wasn’t asked I don’t know and it wasn’t told to me either and to be honest, I was still a bit high, I was a bit blown away, I was confused….but also honored and excited. So I accepted.
After a long night of talking and planning, preparations began. There was of course the need for a building, there was the need for an official by notary approved foundation so we had a legal say, there was the need for beds or anything that could serve that purpose, sheets and blankets and pillows and pots and pans…. the list was endless. Besides that there was the problem of funding…..we had no money.
Well, for most of the things we got help from a group of squatters. They promised us that if had a building the would have matrasses and blankets and other things, also there was a group called Emmaus who also promised to help out.And now it was only the matter of a good building. Then one night I got the call, the next morning there would be a building squatted, I got an address and instructions on what to do and the game was on.
By some means unknown to me, somebody had gotten hold on the keys of the building in question, so the actual squatting was a breeze. Someone turned the key, opened the door and the N.O.I.Z as we had called it was born. Of course, since this served a higher purpose, just squatting the place wouldn’t help us to much, if police reacted quick enough they could have us in problems or out in no time so we made sure we started up with a lot of noise . We called the press, had banners and flags on the building and made our presence and objective known to the public in general and city council and our homeless friends in particular. N.O.I.Z stands for Nacht Opvang In Zelfbheer, it is kind of hard to translate but it comes down to something like Night Shelter In Self Government.
The place we took was an old building in the heart of the city. It was also in close proximity of a daytime center which was the alternative (and still is for many) for walking outside.It was from the 1800”s had several floors and big rooms with high ceilings. At the back there was a huge space where an old commercial kitchen had been but all the kitchen equipment was gone. The ground floor rooms where used as “living room” for our guests, our “office”, the recreational area and the kitchen. on the first floor there where several big bedrooms the size of a good dormitory which got layered with matrasses and appointed to certain sleeping types and gender. a dormitory for those that snore, a couples dormitory, a ladies dormitory and a few men’s dormitory. And there where the showers and toilets. The building used to be a refugee shelter for a while hence the kitchen in the back.
Now two things went into motion of course. In the first place we had the responsibility to run a night shelter for as much places we had to offer. Run it at least just as good if not better then the existing ones. Negotiations with the police to make sure we could stay. Negotiations with the city council to get our intentions across and get permission to continue the project, thus being eligible to apply for financial aid. Talks with the press for I think obvious reasons. Get the public opinion behind you and you can achieve great things
All members of the founding board had their own field of operation and although I have been to meetings with the Councilor of Social affairs my involvement with the more theoretical side of it was small. My work was being the representative to the press on behalf of the homeless part of the members of the board and I had the supervision for the night shifts which meant working long nights since a lot of those shifts I worked myself. In fact in all my time that I worked for the N.O.I.Z I have worked maybe 4 evening shifts and also just a few day shifts.
Since winter means that the holidays are coming city council decided that we could stay at least till the end of winter. The still unofficial Foundation was made official by signing the needed paperwork (together with my marriage license the only time I was really proud to sign something) and the everyday business of a shelter became daily life.but that is for a next time.
so far thanks for reading
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