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Sad for the Netherlands

 Straatnieuws (The Netherlands) 08 June 2019

Quietly hidden amongst the midnight calm of the Lekstraat train depot, many of the Netherlands homeless have no choice but to pass the bitingly cold night outside the sanctuary of the cities hostels. “People often think that’s it’s not that bad at all, or that it’s a choice homeless people make. They have no idea how hard the life of the homeless is” says former rough sleeper Steef Stappendel. (715 Words) - By Jeroen Stam



 Rough sleeper Steef Stappendel. Photo: ERIC KAMPHERBEEK.

It's almost midnight, we're near the Lekstraat: the train depot of the Dutch railway company. Trains are passing slowly while scatttered around us are plastic bags, cans, and newspapers.

Steef Stappendel (61) points at three neatly placed supermarket bags. "Those belong to someone", he whispers. Steef is our guide tonight. He was homeless once for 6 months and spent time on the street and in shelters. "People often think that's it's not that bad at all, or that it's a choice homeless people make". They have no idea how hard the life of the homeless is", he says.

We are standing under the arch of a motorway and we can't see much in the dark. In the corner of the arch we can make out a small pile. It moves. It's a person under blankets. "I'm sleeping man, leave me alone". The man gestures us to go away, but then sits up. In exchange for three cigarettes he shakes our hand. His name is Mohammed. He has been homeless since September and has been sleeping under the motorway arch for the last two weeks.

The corner he is staying in keeps him out of freezing wind. He'll survive the cold this night as under his blankets are newspapers and cardboard to ward off the chill. But why doesn't he go to any of the shelters in the city?

"I've been jail for four years, in Tangiers, Morocco. I've been abused, gone through a lot of things, you know. I can't be around other people anymore. I go crazy in shelters. Everyone should do his own thing, you know? I can't stand the rules. Here I've got my joint, my beer, this is my place."

Steef promises Mohammed to bring some more blankets tomorrow and urges him to go to the Central Help Centre to arrange a place in one of the shelters. "This isn't good, mate, you really have to get of the cold."



The Central Station lounge is completely empty at 1:00 am. Railway service and security employees are talking in the hall. They tell that the station will close soon. Everyone has to go outside. Behind their backs a man, unsteady on his legs, manages to get back in. When one of the railway employees turns around and sees him, he is promptly sent away.

He's not allowed to stay in the station overnight and the homeless people who stay around the station know this. "When it's really cold, we keep an eye closed. Then they get coffee or they can stay in the station's main square or hall. It's a little bit warmer there and there's no wind. They don't bother us much. Except the Polish homeless people. There are many around that really cause trouble. The other day I let two stay in the station, ten minutes later there was a huge fight going on. The Turkish, Morroccans and Dutch don't cause any trouble. But the Polish are hard to handle, especially when they're drunk.

A group of Polish men sits in front of the station hall. Five men, ranging from twenty to forty-five years old, huddle together in the cold. Two have a black eyes, three miss several teeth and one has a broken nose. In poor English they tell us that they will stay here tonight. They occasionally have temporary jobs. When they've got work, the job agency arranges a place for them to stay.

They work in construction, the green houses, the flower exchange or as cleaners. They ask us for some money so they can buy a phone card. Steef gives them some Euro coins. "I really feel sorry for these guys", he says. "It's so cold and they can't stay in any shelter. The shelters in The Hague tend to refuse East-Europeans, because they could be potential economic migrants. They could use the shelters to get a meal and place to sleep for a few Euros. Most of them work during the day and go home after couple of months with their money. When I was sleeping rough in the Zuiderpark last summer, there was a big Polish group staying. They drank and they fought. It was terrible. I think a lot of people don't know what's happening in the city they live in."

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