Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Playing dirty - how and why to destroy an alternative like Gaderummet

More factual information about the situation concerning Gaderummet, and some thoughts about the political background:

Gaderummet works as a foundation with a board of directors, and funded by the Ministry of Social Affairs. Mikkel Warming's role (and that of the Social Committee of Copenhagen) is to see to, that the original regulations/by-laws, on which the funding was awarded, are followed. In case they are not, and only then, he may hold back the funding.

In November '06 Gaderummet receives an inspection report, in the wake of psychiatrist Henrik Rindom's accusations against the place. The report contains several factual misjudgements (among them, that people with "mental illness" allegedly don't get treatment), and Gaderummet asks for them to get corrected, respectively for another inspection to be undertaken.

By the end of February '07, the president of the board, Ole Henriksen, and another board-member are excluded at a general meeting, because of intern difficulties (Henriksen had been involved in some drinking at Gaderummet, while exaggerated drinking isn't popular at the place).

The Social Committee of Copenhagen and Mayor Warming now see their chance to get at Gadeummet: they turn to Henriksen, and ask him, threatening him with consequences for his private economy, to ask manager Kalle Birck Madsen to dismiss himself and the rest of the staff, declaring the exclusion of Henriksen from the board not lawful, and Henriksen as well as the other excluded person, Laue Traberg Smidt, as officially responsible for Gaderummet. Staff at Gaderummet is employed/dismissed by the board. Which means, that Mayor Warming can't dismiss Kalle, and employ another manager, unless the board of Gaderummet agrees to this. The board does not agree, and Kalle rejects to dismiss anyone, and is, in consequence, suspended - by a board-director, who isn't a board-director anymore at the time.

In June '07 the users and staff at Gaderummet occupy the place.

The situation by now is that neither a closer investigation concerning the inspection report, which Gaderummet contested the validity of, nor the dismissal of Kalle are in any way near settled.

Nevertheless, yesterday Gaderummet's residents and staff received a court order to clear the place.

In context with the inspection report, Gaderummet received six orders from the Social Committee of Copenhagen/Mayor Warming:

- No one under 18 is allowed to stay at Gaderummet. (The open door would be shut)

- Gaderummet has to make sure, that young people with severe mental illness receive psychiatric treatment, responsibility for these young people has to be shared with the local hospitals. (This is where coercion, involuntary treatment, enters the picture)

- No one is allowed to sleep at places, that are not furnished for the purpose, and the young people who stay in the kitchens, are offered other places to stay. (People are allowed to stay and sleep, where they want)

- Gaderummet has to take initiative to improve the co-operation with the mental health system, and Gaderummet is not allowed to recommend to the young people to stop taking medication, unless this is discussed with a psychiatrist beforehand (I wonder, what the psychiatrist would recommend...). It has to be made sure, that young people who are in need of it, receive psychiatric treatment. (Coercion, involuntary treatment, again)

- Gaderummet has to make itself acquainted with and work according to the National Health Service's guidelines concerning the administration of medicine.

- The abuse of marihuana at Gaderummet has to stop, and staff has to intervene, when they see young people smoking (marihuana). A plan about how to achieve this at Gaderummet has to be worked out together with the young people. (Smoke when and where nobody watches... Gaderummet's policy is to tolerate smoking pot, while any other substance abuse is forbidden. Many of the young people do have a drug or alcohol problem when they arrive at Gaderummet. Gaderummet doesn't consider it suitable to ban all substance abuse, since practice has shown, that the young people under such circumstances tend to abuse all kind of substances secretly, while the risk for this to happen decreases noticeably when the young people are allowed to smoke pot.)

Gaderummet is not a facility under the mental health system. To force residents into psychiatric "treatment" thus becomes involuntary outpatient treatment, which is against the Danish law.

How this is handled at a new, local facility near Gaderummet, established by the authorities, the following example shows:

"It happened one evening at the new place, the local authorities have established, Nødrummet (Emergency room). He'd been smoking pot, earlier that evening. When the staff asked him, he said yes. Shortly after, he sat in a cab with two staff members from Nødrummet, and on his way to the emergency at Rigshospitalet (a large hospital at Copenhagen). The visit at the emergency was a short one: "You're psychotic", they told him. An ambulance took him to the psychiatric unit at Bispebjerg (another hospital at Copenhagen), where he spent the next month, committed and forcibly medicated." - Written by Kalle and the 19-year-old young man in question.


Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the world. -Archimedes

All in all, and most fundamentally, the whole fuss about Gaderummet isn't about smoking marihuana, sleeping on a sofa at the common room, or on a mattress at a kitchen. It isn't about young people under 18 being allowed to stay at the place, or others wanting to stop take "medication" and being supported in this.

It is about destroying a project, that could serve as an example and a model for other similar services. Destroying, yes.

Gaderummet has a successrate of about 80%, i.e. about 80% of it's residents and users move on to live independent, constructive lives. Without drug abuse and/or criminality. Without becoming disabled and/or revolving door patients in the mental health system.

Gaderummet practices, and thereby teaches, social accountability - all for one, one for all. In a country (in a world, actually), where right-wing neo-liberalism is in power, a facility like Gaderummet, that produces aware, critically and independently thinking individuals, and gives them a voice, a place to stand, and a space to be themselves, is a threat to the authorities, to those in power.

Some thoughts about the welfare state, from a mail I wrote some time ago:

"The other day, I watched the city repair-video, David sent a link to, and it struck me somehow, that the Danish version of the welfare state pretty much fits "The Grid": everything is predetermined and predictable, from kindergarten to residential home. No chances, no surprises. And not much responsibility/accountability left to the individual. The state and its institutions run your life for you. By standardized, square patterns. Some time ago, Danish TV asked some foreign journalists to do a profile of Denmark. The Egypt journalist Yousef Alsharif (Al Jazeera) said, he was surprised to see such a great absence of diversity and options, while it didn't surprise him at all to learn, that an increasing number of Danes suffered from "depression", as they must be incredibly bored by a life this predictable, designed and controlled by the authorities. 

Basically, I think it's ok to offer help to people who, for whatever reason, have difficulty running their lives themselves. Nevertheless, it becomes rather tricky, dangerous actually, when this help is inextricably linked to certain terms, as it mostly is the case in this country. Example: a homeless person who likes to smoke marihuana, is offered a place to live and social benefit under the condition that he undergoes drug-treatment, which he refuses since he's perfectly fine with smoking pot and doesn't want to stop. He's still living on the street. Another, maybe even more grotesque, example: a family with a disabled child asks for a special kind of help, which, as it turns out, they can't get without also accepting another kind of help they don't need, and don't want. And of course, as for the mental health area: no chance to get therapy if you don't take drugs as well, just as you risk to lose your social benefit/disability, if you don't take psych drugs when a mental health "expert" decided you ought to. Many examples like these, where the welfare state becomes more like a control state, Big Brother, taking away a great deal of people's personal freedom, trying to force them to fit the grid by leaving no other options than "all or nothing". Blackmail. Totalitarian rather than democratic.


Well, all in all, the welfare state implies the danger of becoming a total institution, where its citizens, subjects, are there for the sake of the system (as it sadly is the case in Denmark), not the other way round."

While the combination of neo-liberalism and welfare at first glance may seem paradoxical, it actually provides almost unsurpassed possibilities of control to those in power.

Social services thus are designed to keep people, who get into one or the other kind of trouble (if it is criminality, drug abuse, "mental illness", or any other kind of "maladjustment"), because they can't nor won't adjust to the increasing alienation in society, unaware about the causes of their trouble, dependent on the authorities' services, isolated, silent, and, all in all, under control. They are not designed to really help those in trouble get out of it. While Gaderummet, as it functions today, does the opposite of what it actually is expected to do.

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