Last summer, The Big Issue reported on Danish professional provocateur Kristian von Hornsleth’s promise to end homelessness within the year by privatising it. Hornsleth’s Homeless Tracker project turns homeless people into art to be sold to the highest bidder.
It was controversial – but that was the point. Despite death threats and police investigations, the project is ongoing. Six months on, what difference has it made to the lives of homeless people?
The Big Issue: In July you claimed that there would be no homeless people in the UK by the same time next year. Are things going the way you expected?
Kristian von Horsleth (pictured above, right): I’m going to need a few more months to solve this one, but things are moving in the right direction. I have sold two of the 10 golden art works [gold-plated portraits of the 10 original participants, on sale for £25,000-£50,000 each]. We have seven golden homeless still for sale, and we have a new range of 100 silver homeless for sale. These are priced at £600, allowing the middle class to pretend they are art collectors. The criticism has been quite intense, I’ve even received death threats. What I find astonishing is I was able to find and photograph 100 homeless people in 48 hours. People were outraged. What they should be outraged about is that it was possible.
There was a police probe into your activities. What happened?
At every point we have experienced interference, we have always found a charity responsible. We have witnessed many participants being pressured and manipulated by charities to leave the project. They need the engine of the loser factory to keep pumping out losers. If you empowered the homeless fully, these charities would collapse like a house of cards.
What did you do with the money from the art sold so far?
The homeless are co-collaborators, they opted to change the project. Instead of receiving the proceeds of their individual sales, they asked to split each sale between the group as a whole. It’s a demonstration of the brotherhood among the homeless. The total sales so far account for £20,000; they chose to split this between the entire group. I hope we can sell the rest and hand over much more.
What did they do with that money?
Two of the guys moved out of London, two of the guys moved into sheltered accommodation. One guy bought a TV, computer, clothes and took a date to Alton Towers. One guy bought a guitar and an amp and started busking. Another checked into a hotel for two nights just so he could have a bath, sleep in a bed and watch TV. A couple of the guys shared most of their money with other homeless people. The others said they had a party they will remember for the rest of their lives. It’s not for me to tell them how to spend their money, they are adults.
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
Following our initial report on the project, someone got in touch concerned about the well-being of one of the men who suffers from PTSD and ADHD. Was a person’s vulnerability and mental state assessed before they became part of the project?
Of course. We spent time deciding whom to select. You can’t try to give an accurate representation of the problems and then completely filter and manipulate the people you use to illustrate the problems. People need to get real, ADHD and PTSD are the least of the problems these guys face. I don’t think there is a homeless person alive that isn’t suffering from PTSD.
Homelessness is not an economic problem, it is an empathy problem
Does a homeless person need more than just money? Do they need support to help with the issues that led them to end up homeless?
Homelessness is not an economic problem, it is an empathy problem. What the homeless gained from us was not monetary, it was honesty, friendship and acceptance without judgment of who they are, and what their real problems are. There is inadequate healthcare funding, especially mental healthcare. There is a ludicrous war on drugs that reduces people who self-medicate into criminals. These realities are uncomfortable truths that require society to be self-critical, talk about its contradictions, and change. If they accepted these realities, taxed adequately and funded sufficiently, these problems would be gone within a year.
More details at hornslethhomelesstracker.com, where a 2018 calendar (pictured top) is now on sale