“Blijf Binnen!” Rutte tells the nation.
Despite the general call for social distancing and remaining indoors, Amsterdam’s municipal medics advise that both documented and undocumented homeless citizens, who constitute diverse groups, should spend their days outdoors. My daily urban activities now revolve around this group, compelled to be on Amsterdam’s streets, and I am part of a diverse support group that accompanies them. The homeless lead me to makeshift shelters and tents in empty garages or chilly parks, where they stay day and night.
Me and the Empty City
As a supporting activist and artist, I cycle through the desolate city, feeling disconnected from the lives others lead indoors.
I reflect on my artistic life and how distant it seems. Creation is now only in my mind. I ponder what the other artists are doing. Are they creating content in their houses? If so, what does it all mean?
I feel physically detached from my artistic expression. I feel angered, fired up by this exclusion of homeless people that is visible to me. While cycling, I wonder how the city will change in the coming years, will it affect my role and motivations?
Will the homeless eventually be expelled from the citylimits and its facilities moved to some distant place, after these extraordinary pandemic times? Will this pandemic be used as an excuse to cleanse the city, allowing gentrification to proceed? And fo me: Being part of this homeless lifestyle, will I also be kicked out?
And what if public buildings, museums, and events become increasingly inaccessible? Will people’s social rights be further diminished? What if you need to show your ID everywhere, to prove that you are healthy. What does that mean for undocumented people?
Or will we address the necessary physical space – inside and outside – per person for a healthy urban life, including for these vulnerable groups? Will we all feel connected to other citizens outside our own peer groups?
Questions, questions, questions.
I feel like a solitary thread, biking too quickly through the city, unimpeded by tourists and Amsterdammers. I wonder if only those artists who obey authorities and don’t advocate for the unjustly treated will remain here. Artists should now be even more cautious of becoming mere decoration. We must reclaim the streets as open public spaces.
Tackle the issue that housing is a human right.
Continue to make space public.