Text by Patricia Budusan
Picture by De Regenboog
Strolling through the once busy street from Amsterdam Centraal to the Dam Square, an unusual atmosphere fills up the air. The street longs for human curiosity and exploration; the scenery has rather changed, showing only the remains of where souls once came to wander. Few tourists are still exploring and making their way through the canals, admiring the Dutch architecture and discussing their plans for the day.
Among the scenery of seemingly careless people strolling through the city, the less visible part of the streets barely surfaces through the cracks. There is Anne, sitting down next to McDonalds. She’s been homeless for two years, but he has lost track of the exact time. “Do you sleep in the shelter?”, was the question. “Sometimes, but rarely. I’d rather use the money to buy something to eat. Also, I always search for a new spot to sleep. Sometimes on a side street, sometimes on some steps, but never in the same place.” Sleeping on the street must be challenging, especially in times of Corona. “Yes, it’s challenging”, she said,” It’s not the ideal life but it’s what I have. I don’t have a lot of money, but I always make it work. And about Corona, let’s just say it’s not one of my main priorities right now”, she told us smiling.
Going further through the streets of Amsterdam, reaching the side streets that lead to the Dam Square, sits Aleksander. He’s originally from Serbia and came to the Netherlands to work. “I was on my way to the Netherlands to work. I got scammed on the way and lost all I had.”, he told. He’s had a life full of sorrows. His story continues: “I’ve been on the streets for the past three years. I get a lot of help from the Princehof. I always go there for food and shelter. They’re really nice and I get all the support they can give me. I also made some friends there.”
Princehof is a social services organization that helps people in need. It’s part of the Regenbooggroup, an organization that strives to help the poverty- stricken. Whether living in poor conditions, homeless, drug users or those in severe debt, the organization strives to offer better conditions. Aleksander often goes there for help.
What is the biggest struggle with living on the street, especially in times of Corona? He laughed and said, again, that Corona is a bigger issue to those with a roof over their head. “I don’t worry so much about Corona at the moment. I’m trying to find where I can work, even a few hours. Bu I’m still at the mercy of the kindhearted people,” he smiled. “I feel like people don’t give that much money away anymore. But there are some generous people who still help us. I manage to get by.”
A few meters away from where Aleksander is sitting down, there’s a narrow street, filed with luxurious jewelry and opulent luxury. The discrepancy is unquestionable. A discordant portrait is being painted, showing the highs and lows of Amsterdam. On one hand, there’s the richness of the opulent. On the other side, the fight for survival.
Moving further through the streets, there stays Chau, who is kindly asking people for some help. She says it’s been hard since Corona started, because people are always avoiding her. Her English is perfect, and she still talks with a smile on her face. We asked her about her life during Corona: “I’m from Vietnam, I came here with my husband. We wanted to make a beautiful life for ourselves, but we’re still struggling. He’s lost his job because of Corona and I don’t find that many work opportunities. He’s at the homeless shelter for now and I am trying to collect some money so we can buy some food”. We undoubtably helped her out. “Oh, thank you! You have made my day”, her eyes teared up a little and an even brighter smile smirked on her face. “It’s been harder since Corona started”, she continued,” people don’t help very much. I think they’re afraid I might give them the virus, but I always keep the distance. I am just trying to get a little help so I can live”.
These are just a few stories that make up the homeless life in Amsterdam. In truth, the reality is more hostile. Especially since the Coronavirus outbreak, the life of homeless people has been tougher. While the rest of us cuddle cozily in our homes during the lockdown, the less fortunate are still wandering through the city, trying to endure the pandemic.
What lesson should this bring? To be kind or one another as much as possible and to always try to help those in need. Whether through donations to the Regenboog Groep (https://www.deregenboog.org) or simply direct help to the people, we should strive to make a difference for those less fortunate.