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Where hopes and dreams find a home

Oak Foundation Denmark / Partner story

Photo provided by Joannahuset.

“Join in and be heard.” This is what is written on the wall of the Joanna House, Denmark’s only crisis centre for children and youth, in Copenhagen. There in the kitchen, community members can sign up to give lectures at primary schools, share their stories with the media, or contribute advice on how the house should be run. Active democratic participation, influence, and involvement have been fundamental values from day one.

Joanna House is home for young vulnerable people under the age of 18. These include children who are experiencing, for example, violence or other disruptions at home, who have dropped out of school, or who may be sleeping on the street. There are no official numbers on how many people under 18 are homeless in Denmark, but a third of the children who come to the Joanna House are experiencing some form of homelessness.

These people are also characterised by raw courage and strength. “The mere fact that they are showing up at the door of the Joanna House shows a desire to change their situation and have their voices be heard,” says Esther Norregard-Nielsen, director of the Oak Foundation Denmark Programme.

Since the Joanna House opened its doors in August 2020, it has had 276 requests from children all over Denmark, of which 212 were made in person. The youngest was just eight years old. Young people can contact the Joanna House around the clock and do not need an appointment. They can access care, food, get washed, and avail of anonymous, rights-based counselling, and emergency shelter.

From day one, it was important that the Joanna House should feel like a safe home. Sterile offices were replaced with open doors, bright spaces, and a sense of community. Everyone, both children and adults, take off their shoes before they enter – just like at home. It is a central base for young people, and they have been involved in its creation.

Nine employees, 25 students, and 50 volunteers work at Joanna House, and all support its vision, based on the fundamental rights of young people, as defined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. “Some of Joanna House’s biggest successes so far have been to promote the civil rights of young people through participation in public debate and meetings with decision-makers,” says Jette Wilhelmsen, director of the Joanna House. “Children and young people have so much to offer and are so resourceful. That’s why we must create space for their hopes and dreams, and why it is so important to always amplify children’s voices.”

The Joanna House is also in the process of establishing the “Joanna Council” – an advisory body comprised of young people, as they are the experts, and adult board members with personal experiences similar to those of the house’s target group.

“In ten years, we will hopefully be recognised as a national crisis centre for children and youth in Copenhagen, and included in the state budget,” says Jette. “But these issues are not isolated to Copenhagen, so we will also evaluate where it might make sense to place other similar centres. As pioneers, we are collecting all our experience so that others can benefit from it.”

Congratulations to the team at the Joanna Centre from all of us at Oak for all their efforts to support young people at crisis points in their lives!

Oak Foundation Denmark seeks to support innovative solutions that improve the daily lives and future prospects of socially vulnerable and marginalised groups. You can find out more about the programme here, or for information about the programme in Danish, please visit its website here. You can also find more information about Joanna House on its website here.