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Muhabet – serving 38,000 meals each year

Oak Foundation Denmark / Partner story

Photo credit: Muhabet

In the Copenhagen neighbourhood of Nørrebro lies the city’s only community outreach centre for mentally ill and traumatised refugees and immigrants: Muhabet. At first glance, however, one might mistake the centre for a homely living room, with the smell of quality food and coffee drifting in and music playing in the background.

The name Muhabet means “loving fellowship”, and it was chosen for a special reason. The gathering for a daily, nutritious, and free meal is the focal point for the house’s guests, who represent up to 30 different nationalities. When Muhabet was first founded 18 years ago, it was only able to offer guests one serving of soup twice a week. Now, many years later, the organisation has grown – both with more employees and a large group of volunteers – and the population it serves has grown with it.

“Muhabet was founded by a married couple with Turkish and Moroccan roots who worked as psychiatric interpreters. They experienced time and again that vulnerable patients were discharged with no safety net. That was why they formed the foundation for Muhabet,”says director Lise Poulsen.

“Many of our users have fled war and imprisonment,” says Lise. “Many of them suffer from anxiety, PTSD, and depression. We have become a mouthpiece for those who are particularly vulnerable due to illness and language barriers. They need qualified, targeted treatment and the right to live a dignified life, where they are part of communities.”

The cosy rooms of Muhabet currently host 38,000 meals a year and are open to all refugees and immigrants regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or political or religious beliefs. Muhabet is one of the largest community outreach organisations in Copenhagen. The 50 daily guests that Muhabet welcomes on a normal day (which is also the maximum number that can fit in the room) are referred from doctors, job centres, and psychiatric centres, among others. Other guests come themselves, directly from the street.

For the most part, guests are not part of the labour market, and more than half are on either cash or integration benefits. Over 40 per cent have no family in Denmark and are very lonely. Figures from psychiatric departments in Denmark show that up to 45 per cent of inpatients are of non-Danish ethnic backgrounds, and shelters report a predominance of refugees and immigrants among their residents, of which up to 75 per cent have a psychiatric illness.

In addition to a daily meal, which is prepared from surplus food by Fødevarebanken,Denmark’s largest food bank, Muhabet also offers athletic activities, poetry readings, dance evenings, and more. The regular community events offer a daily structure and routine for Muhabet’s guests, creating a committed community and family-like social structure.

Going forward, Muhabet aims to introduce a more professional board of directors, provide professional development to staff members, invest in developing new methods, and secure social psychiatric services for its target group in the years to come. Muhabet has not yet succeeded in being fully funded, but with financing from the public and private sectors, its operations are secure until 2024.

“Our vision for the future is to get solid ground under our feet, and to continue to provide a deeply professional and continuously improving service,” says Lise Poulsen.

In 2021 the Danish Government introduced a 10-year action plan to help strengthen care for people with mental illnesses. The plan calls for easily accessible and flexible solutions within social psychiatry to support people who have been discharged from hospitals, reducing the number of readmissions. In this context, Muhabet can play an important role for those who need stability in their lives after hospitalisation, helping to relieve some loneliness.

“Muhabet has become a part of me and I have found my way back to myself,” says one of the people who frequents the centre. “In Muhabet, I experienced respect and equality. I was not looked down on. I was still good enough.”

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