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‘Covid has made homelessness so much worse’: Meet the man who sleeps rough at Davos

Andrew Funk is sleeping out in the Swiss ski resort to ensure the CEOs and millionaires meeting at the World Economic Forum take notice of homelessness

CEOs and millionaires have flocked to Davos to discuss the world’s biggest issues – and so has the man who sleeps rough at the lavish event every year.

The World Economic Forum has returned to the Swiss ski resort for its regular meeting after a two-year break enforced by Covid and Andrew Funk is attending for the fourth time.

The American campaigner made the journey over from his Barcelona base to ensure homelessness is represented in discussions among the rich and powerful as they grapple with global economic turmoil, the war in Ukraine and the climate fight.

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Things are a little different this time around, Funk tells The Big Issue, from his sleeping spot under a bridge by the river Landwasser and the local train line.

Andrew’s view from his sleeping spot in Davos. Image: Jeff Makana

“It’s a bit warmer!” says Funk. The event is traditionally held in sub-zero temperatures in January but Covid means it has moved to the much more temperate May.

“Homelessness has got much worse through Covid. The funny thing about Covid is that it showed that governments and the tourism sector could house homeless people. But it also proved the need to have an empowerment-based model that goes beyond assistance.

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“But then you have got people who have been made homeless all of a sudden in Ukraine. Then you have on top of that inflation which affects the purchasing power to buy basic things.

“People experiencing poverty get affected the most by war, by inflation and by disease. You have to keep that in mind.”

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Funk, who runs the Homeless Entrepreneur programme that helps people experiencing homelessness into accommodation and work, first came to Davos in 2018 following a conversation with his father about Trump’s intended visit to the forum that year.

That triggered an impulsive visit, with Funk and his colleagues sleeping in a teepee battling temperatures in the double figures below zero.

That first year he says he was invited to speak about poverty with tech giants Cisco and IBM. The next year he was rubbing shoulders with Bourne actor and campaigner Matt Damon.

The annual pilgrimage is to ensure homelessness – an issue that affects millions of people across the globe but often flies under the radar – is given its acknowledgement by the elite.

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This year the controversial event, often criticised for its lavish opulence and producing few results, is pared back somewhat, Funk says.

“It’s positive that it is taking place,” he says. “You can feel that it doesn’t have the same atmosphere. I believe there’s a great opportunity for us to build private-public collaborations when there’s less people and there’s less competition per se. 

“We can speak to those that are here much easier than then when it’s completely packed.”

However, Funk and his contingent of 13 people faced problems when setting up their sleeping spot for this week’s five-day event.

Marco Robinson, a British filmmaker and property tycoon who runs homelessness charity FreedomX, is part of Funk’s group. He says they received a frosty reception on arrival.

“We did get visited by five policeman,” says Robinson. “Obviously someone reported us and they said in Swiss law you’re not allowed to camp out here.

“We told them we’re not camping with our tents, we’re sleeping out because we’re doing a campaign in Davos and Andrew had to show some evidence of that. Then they were quite okay and they let us stay.”

Robinson and Funk are hoping their trip will lead to more permanent campaigning tools to tackle homelessness.

Robinson is promoting his film ‘You Could Be Homeless’ while Funk is hoping to meet with Davos’ mayor to greenlight a sculpture in the town. Funk hopes the bronze and stainless steel sculpture, designed by artists Veronica and Edwin Dam de Nogales, will act as a reminder to the rich and powerful to keep homelessness in mind.

Andrew Funk homeless at Davos
Andrew Funk with a model of the sculpture he is hoping to develop in Davos with the support of town officials. Image: Andrew Funk

But until that’s in place Funk will continue to sleep out in Davos to find collaborators and supporters and to bring the message that homelesness must end to the world leaders, CEOs and multi-millionaires who fly in with the so-called aim of making the world a better place.

“It’s always of the utmost importance to reduce poverty. So the numbers being higher don’t make it more urgent for us. It’s always urgent, as it should be,” says Funk.

“The urgency is always there, the only difference is there are many more people that are affected.

“It’s important that everyone can collaborate and come together so that we can really promote change.”

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