Lovely people who are at times just a bit different. This is how Kathleen Denkers of the Regenboog Groep describes her visitors of the walk-in shelters. Kathleen is manager of two of these shelters: ‘De Kloof’ and ‘Makom’. Last summer these walk-ins were given 200 Shelterbags which they subsequently distributed.
All the names of those individuals who receive a bag are noted. ‘At the same time, we make something very clear to them: don’t leave your Shelterbag unattended at the place where you sleep because you run the risk that a civil servant – those who clean the parks or patrol them - will take it away.
During the tropically warm, summer days in Amsterdam, I saw homeless walking around with unzipped Shelterbag coats. It’s clear that these suits are well used and greatly appreciated.’
Alleviating the need in India
Kathleen used to travel a great deal. While in India, she assisted street children for the Mother Teresa Foundation where she also provided hospice care to the extremely impoverished. During her two and a half years there, she also worked for the organization of Doctor Jack Preger, a Brit who has spent the last decades offering medical treatment to the vulnerable in India.
‘And yet, I have not upheld any friendships from that period. Yes, I lived very simply there but there was one crucial difference: a single telephone call to home and I could escape those impoverished circumstances. So, in comparison to the ‘locals’, I was detached and in a privileged position.’
From India, Kathleen travelled to Morocco and France. Once there, she worked on a farm run according to anthroposophical principles. Following that, she was mainly active in various commercial jobs.
For example, she has worked as a headhunter, and in Ireland, for Microsoft. ‘Once I had returned to Holland, I worked for a company that sold sewer pipes to Suriname and Dubai.’ She slowly but surely lost motivation in her work. A friend who was a volunteer at the walk-in Makom told her about a vacancy at the Regenboog Groep. Not long after, Kathleen began as a manager at the walk-ins.
Walk-in shelters ‘De Kloof’ and ‘Makom’
De Kloof is open for visitors from 9 am until 3 pm. Makom is open between 1 and 8 pm. Visitors can take a shower, change their clothes, and have a meal. Makom also has an arts studio where visitors can draw or even fix their clothes. ‘Sometimes we organize a film- or a karaoke afternoon.’
‘At the Rainbow Group, we accept everybody
for who they are and not because of
what they are.’
‘We are a service. People who usually roam anonymously through city streets have a place here. This is a place where people are accepted for who they are and not because of what they are.’ She adds that her former commercial jobs have proven to be useful in her new work. ‘I am trying to get homelessness on the general agenda, to get companies and other institutions involved in our organization.’
Wonderful volunteers and purity in our visitors
Both De Kloof and Makom are mainly run by volunteers. Kathleen appreciates that. ‘These volunteers truly love our visitors. They do their jobs without any pay. They also have a network far into the neighborhoods and streets of Amsterdam. In this way, they assist in getting our organization better known and they subsequently facilitate lots of donations.’
About 80 people visit De Kloof every day, and 115 pay a visit to the Makom. At the moment and due to the corona pandemic, those numbers have fallen to 40 and 70 visitors respectively. The limit of people inside De Kloof at a certain moment now stands at 45 yet that too has now been lowered to 22. ‘We wash our hands and disinfect our furniture regularly as a matter of course.
What I really admire in all our visitors is their purity. They judge me for who I am, and I consider that to be truly enriching. I have now worked at the Regenboog Groep for 16 years and in all that time, I have been very rarely been out sick. I go to my job every single day with great pleasure.’
The ‘Onder de Pannen’ project
The Regenboog Groep offers other services too. Amsterdam inhabitants with psychological problems, with an addiction or those struggling with loneliness are also welcome to come for help.
‘We have started another project – Onder de Pannen which literally means a Roof over One’s Head- for the economic homeless: those who have lost their home due to loosing their job or to divorce.’
City dwellers can rent a room when they become economically homeless. This can last one year at most whereafter the room’s owner is allowed to rent to a new homeless individual in the same predicament. The Regenboog Groep does all the necessary paperwork.’
Every shelter is different
‘We also have a separate walk-in for these economically homeless people. In addition, addicts are allowed to take their drugs in two of our walk-ins. They can trade in a used needle for a new one and in that way prevent others from becoming sick with a contagious disease, for example, HIV or Hepatitis B and C.
The Rainbow Group also has a walk-in especially for Europeans who are not Dutch citizens. There, your story, and your origins are both irrelevant. All homeless who need a Shelterbag will get one, you can count on that.’
Kathleen was not present when the Shelterbags were donated which is why she is not seen in the photograph.