A Day in the Life of a Homeless Man

By William Macmaster and Tadhg O’ Sullivan

John is an eloquent and charming man who speaks three languages. John previously trained to be an artist. He is creative and has a keen eye for details. John is homeless.

Despite his welcoming persona and upbeat attitude, he, unfortunately, found himself in a situation where he couldn’t pay his rent in Rotterdam and had to move to Groningen to seek refuge. He is one of many people who has found themselves in such a situation.

Sometimes when we see people in the streets looking raggedy or asking for money, it can be an inconvenience or even annoying to us. What we never do is put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand their day to day life. That was until now.

The Stand’s Tadhg O’Sullivan and William Macmaster spent a day with John, followed him around the streets of Groningen and saw what he gets up to on a daily basis. John spoke openly about he views on his own life, as well as the members of the public he meets every day.

The video you are about to watch will reveal to you how John manages to keep his head above water and live the life of a homeless man.

Through the lens of a Groningen photographer

By Clémence Waller

Joram Krol (39) is a well-known face amongst the marginalized homeless, addicts and prostitute communities of Groningen. He wanders around the city streets with his camera and backpack in search for justthe right shot.

Joram walks towards me with a slow, confident swagger, a discreet backpack casually hanging over his green jacket. His style is his own, unique and matching to his personality. He is covered in intricate, dark tattoos, indicative of his nature as an artist.  They represent images, words and phrases that have different meanings in his life. The afternoon is graced with blazing sunshine and a cool breeze.

Great weather, in his opinion, to take photos. Not so much because of the light, though.  “People tend to be more open to having their picture taken on days like this,” says Joram. He guides me around the city as I take the rare opportunity to see what the day may bring to this photographer.

“I have no typical day. I once had to walk 18 kilometers for just for one photo. We shall just see what happens today. If we meet somebody, that’s great, if we don’t meet somebody, then we don’t,” he says calmly.

Getting up close and personal

His story as a photographer begins at the age of 34, even though he has built roots in Groningen since he was a student.One day, he picked up a camera and started shooting.

He has always been an active person, needing to move, to vibrate. “I have always been an athlete, you know, whatever gets my energy out. Walking two or three hours is a way to vent, it relaxes my mind. So, I put a camera on my back and I just wanted to take pictures.”

Throughout the years his photography style evolved and developed. Inevitably, a particular theme started to recur in his work: photographing those marginalized and ignored by society.

Joram has been patiently taking photos of the homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes for over four years.  After documenting around 100 homeless people in Groningen, he has gained some ‘positive notoriety’, as he puts it. 

He vehemently corrects a misconception people have made about him and his work as a photographer. “People think I only take photos of the homeless, that’s not true.  I take photos of interesting people in one moment in time. If it’s not natural, I don’t think it’s interesting.”

Joram walks and scans the streets. He spots Kareem, a homeless man. Kareem is dressed from head to toe in black and khaki. He is a kind faced man with weathered features from his time in the streets. A single white tulip is delicately tucked into his backpack strap.

Joram immediately accosts him and switches to Dutch. Kareem agrees to have his picture taken and Joram leads him to a quiet street with a redbrick wall. I watch as Joram unpacks his kit and starts directing his model.

Nothing else matters in the moment: Joram gets inches away from Kareem’s face. The air is still and silent. Suddenly, Joram shouts “OH STOP, STOP, STOP! Dit is perfect. YES! Dit is it, Kareem”. The camera makes a clicking sound. The shots are taken. Kareem observes the screen curiously. He nods. And then they part company.

“I have a duty”

To the streets, Joram is a watchdog, trying in his own way to help them claim back their face, their name, their identity. “[The subjects of the photographs] really appreciate me giving them a face.  It says, ‘I am a person, I have a name’. I want to give people their name back.”

According to Joram, most homeless people like Kareem are addressed by their name once every three months. “They hear their name four times a year,” he stresses.

He follows a specific mantra that guides his work.  “As a photographer, I feel like I have an obligation to show reality. I want my photos to have a social impact.”

He describes an experience he had with a 19-year-old homeless boy.

“I deliberately posted a photo of this 19-year-old homeless kid in front of a big Christmas tree on Christmas eve. It went viral!  I didn’t make a cent off that picture but I wanted to shove it in people’s faces that ‘Hey, there is this kid out there tonight with no home’.”

The same kid is no longer homeless and has since put on weight and is working through his trauma. When he sees Joram, he smiles and thanks him.

Joram is also smiling. “This means the world to me.”

See you in court

To some institutions, he is that sharp thorn in their side, armed with a camera and a fire in his belly for social change.

“The shelters don’t like me because they think I’m meddling around. I see things they don’t want me to see. The Gemeente wants to sweep things under the carpet and I’m exposing them.”

He finishes with one more anecdote about a prostitute. Joram took a photo of her during a vulnerable moment where she had a psychotic episode. He then posted it on his professional Facebook page. Not long after, the shelter where she lived at contacted him to pull it down.

“I told them ‘I’ll see you in court. Get at me. I am a photographer. I have my values. I took a photo in a public space and she gave her consent even after the episode.’ In the end they couldn’t get me to take it down.”

Today, the woman is in a mental and rehabilitation facility and getting the help she needs. For Joram, that is why he takes his photos. He says that this type of photography has never been done in Groningen. Before him, there weren´t any good photos of those marginalized.

“We live life through an Instagram filter. I wanted to distinguish myself from others. I took photos of people taking crack cocaine, and of prostitutes selling their bodies. It’s raw. It’s never been done before.”

When asked if he has ever been to court, he smiles and shakes his head with impatient glee. “No, I haven’t but I look forward to it. Bring it on!”

Photo credit to Joram Krol

Learn more about his work on Twitter and Facebook

Hundreds of Students Still Homeless in Groningen

By Rebekah Daunt

In September 2018, the Democratische Academie Groningen (DAG), a critical student movement which strives for the profound democratization of the University of Groningen, calculated that 500 international students were still without homes in the first week of the academic year.

“The city of Groningen cannot handle the number of students attending university, the housing market is not ready for this.” said Koen Marée (24) a spokesperson for the DAG.

According to law, Dutch universities are under no obligation to provide housing for students, but The RUG encourages students to start searching for accommodation as early as April each year.

However, despite beginning their research in good time, many students found it extremely difficult to secure accommodation from overseas. “I arrived in Groningen last Thursday, but I have been searching for a room since mid-June” said Camélia Barbachi (20), an International Business and Management student.

Like so many others, Miss Barbachi has spent months contacting agencies and independent landlords advertising rooms on Facebook without success. “I really hope to find accommodation soon, otherwise… well, I don’t want to think about what might happen” said Miss Barbachi.

There are approximately 50,000 students studying at the University of Groningen and Hanze University combined. According to the briefing notes from the University Council meeting on the 28th of June 2018, the University of Groningen (RUG) will continue to raise the head count with an average of 800 students per year resulting in a grand total of 35,000 students by 2025.

RUG’s competitive ratings have been evaluated across a set of impressive standards. According to the World University Ranking website, these standards include teaching, research, international outlook and reputation.

Reporting for UKRANT magazine, Gijs Altena outlines how an increase in the number of international students at RUG will benefit the university’s growth, financial position, and higher education rankings.

Marée, who is also a Freelance journalist for Dagblad van het Noorden, believes that the housing crisis is due to overpopulation and bad planning.

UKRANT magazine has specified that the DAG, along with a number of other student organisations have been trying to raise awareness of the great need for student housing and the unbridled growth the university is experiencing.

The DAG Couch Surfing Initiative connected 130 students to a couch or a spare bed in the first week of September. This initiative strives to provide safe and homely temporary solutions for students without the price tag.

This is not the first time there has been a housing crisis in Groningen. Hundreds of students also struggled to find accommodation in 2017.

This year the university assured students that new rooms would be made available and uploaded to the new housing module, At Home in Groningen, in due course.

However, this initiate was not launched until July, and by the middle of August, when students were arriving in Groningen, only 320 rooms had been listed.

The Suikerlaan Container Project is another university led initiative. These purposely built containers were made available to students a batch at a time. Students had permission to reserve these containers upon signing a contract, agreeing to a rental fee of 500 euro per month. These containers have yet to be completed.

A Delayed start in the Suikerlaan Student Container Project means that students who have already paid their deposit and first month’s rent, must find alternative accommodation until the 15th of October 2018.

“I am lucky to have finally secured a container” said Karl, a German Erasmus Student dining at the Feel Good cafe in Groningen this afternoon. “This container will not be ready until mid October, so in the meantime I am grateful to be sleeping on my friend’s couch”.

Jorien Bakker, a spokesperson for the university, acknowledges the overwhelming demand for student housing but believes that the university warned international students in good time.

“Efforts made by the DAG are making the situation better” concluded Marée, “I never want to see a student sleeping on the street but this is not our responsibility”.