23 March 2016
On Tuesday 22th of March, 22 people arrived to the emergency social services to ask for emergency accommodation during the cold weather. The social workers refused to process the request and called the police to remove people from the premises after some four hours of waiting.
“In Helsinki, people are sleeping outdoors without any rights. The city has promised that during the freezing cold everybody gets a sleeping place. Total refusal of aid by the emergency social services was humiliating. Even the elderly and sick had to leave into the cold night, threatened by the police”, says Atlas Saarikoski, one of the volunteers who accompanied people to the emergency social services.
The Department of Social Services released a briefing on Monday advising those in need of emergency accommodation to turn to the emergency social services. Deputy mayor Laura Räty, in charge of the municipal social administration, tweeted the briefing. Räty had commented on the right to emergency accommodation in A-studio on 24th February saying that social and crisis emergency services can be accessed around the clock and nobody will be left outside. She has also promised that each person’s case will always be assessed.
Emergency accommodation was requested by five women and 17 men who had had to sleep outdoors in the cold without emergency accommodation. They are all Roma from Bulgaria and Romania.
The social workers in the emergency social services refused to assess the situation of all applicants. They said they had neither resources to handle the situation nor enough sleeping places.
The workers interviewed one couple and after that announced that they had received orders from the head of office to drop assessing other cases.
“Getting up in the morning people already knew that they would not have a place to sleep in the night”, argued the social worker who announced the decision. Therefore it was not considered as a case of emergency. The applicants had requested emergency accommodation for the time during which it was too cold to sleep outside.
“We just wanted a place to sleep”, said a Bulgarian man. “We are in a very vulnerable position”, added a Romanian man.
Everybody residing in Finland has the right to immediate shelter according to the Constitution (19.1). This means a warm sleeping place during cold weather. Providing for emergency accommodation is the duty of the municipality.
The social workers refused to give the people a written decision on not granting them emergency accommodation.
Among those requesting for emergency accommodation were persons with frost injuries due to sleeping outdoors, people whose illnesses would have required care during the hours of waiting, elderly, exhausted and hungry people.
“The incident shows that not everybody has the right to access emergency accommodation in Helsinki. A right protecting a person’s life and health cannot be at the mercy of the consideration of social workers. Emergency accommodation is needed in Helsinki to which people can directly arrive at. At the moment the city of Helsinki is blatantly disregarding people’s basic rights”, comments Markus Himanen from the Free Movement Network.
“We are people too. Why are we treated like this?” wonders a woman who had requested for emergency accommodation. “We just want to earn our living and sleep in a warm place. Now we sleep outside in the freezing cold.”
After the police had been called in people left and had to seek sleeping places outdoors in the middle of the night. They said they would go to sleep in parks, forests, public toilets, cloth collection boxes and the street. The temperature during the night between Tuesday and Wednesday was minus 6 degrees Celcius.
At least 50-60 East Europeans are currently sleeping outdoors in Helsinki without access to emergency accommodation.