“Men experiencing homelessness in Denmark have been coming to the Moltrup Community since 1912,” says Ebbe Larsen, “And they just keep on coming.” Ebbe is Director of the Moltrup Community, a place where men can get back on their feet. It is built around a 300-acre farm near the town of Herning in West Jutland, and is administered by the Moltrup Foundation. Moltrup is a family effort, and the foundation’s board includes the great-grandchildren of Johannes Munck, the founder.
Johannes Munck was a minister in the Danish prison system who worked to help men understand that each one has power, potential, and value. He created Moltrup to give men a place where they could rediscover their own value. Moltrup is a model of interdependence. Without everyone’s contribution, the place wouldn’t survive. Survive it has: through two world wars and into the new millennium. Some 8,000 men have lived at Moltrup since it opened the doors.
Since 1912, the farm’s basic philosophy has stayed the same: Provide a place where men can come and regain control of their lives. At Moltrup, the rules are simple: Do your job and be sober while at the farm. In return, you receive a key to a room of your own, three good meals a day, the chance to earn a little money, and an opportunity to change your life.
“It sounds simple, but it works,” says Ebbe. Each year, some 250-300 men experiencing homelessness live at Moltrup. Some will stay for a few months and some will live out the rest of their lives there. The key is providing a sound and healthy home for each man, in a community where everyone has a role to play. Everyone must work and contribute to keeping the community running smoothly. Many men work at Moltrup, while others have a job in nearby towns but live at the farm. “There are a lot of men who can hold a job out in society but are not able to live there because of drugs or alcohol or loneliness. They need our kind of housing,” says Ebbe Larsen.
The vegetables, meat, and dairy products that feed residents, the heat to warm them, the electricity to provide light, and the money to pay the bills are all generated by the labor of community members. “Green” solutions like windmill-generated power are used whenever possible. Moltrup has 30 staff members who take their meals together with the residents. “The men can work in different places. They can work in the kitchen, in the dairy, in the box factory, in the fields, the pallet factory, or the sawmill. The men are a part of the production, and they can see it,” says Ebbe.
“For many men coming here, it’s good to learn about being a part of society. Our method is very simple: if you are too fat, eat less. You have to do it yourself. I can’t eat less for you. You have to be more motivated to deal with the problem than I am. It’s not my problem, it’s your problem, but I’ll give you a place to do it.”
There are public drug and alcohol recovery programs nearby in which the “sons of Moltrup” are encouraged to participate. The average stay at the farm is 4.5 months, although some stays are briefer. Others are so permanent that there is a nursing home facility on the grounds. Residents are subject to urine analysis, and positives for drugs or alcohol are grounds for expulsion.
While the men live in community at Moltrup, they are often the fathers of families. The problems that have put them on the streets have usually had strong effects on their families. “Often we will have fathers of families who have to stay here for a while to be stabilized so that they can go back to their families. Perhaps they are drinking too much and cannot stop it by themselves, so they come here. We have apartments where families can stay together over the weekends.”
Public funds are the primary source of operating revenue for Moltrup. In addition, everyone in Denmark is eligible for social assistance. Residents are expected to contribute $450 monthly to the farm for room and board. Those who work at the farm will recoup some of that.
“What’s more important,” says Ebbe, “is that many will regain control of their lives and move past homelessness to productive lives.”
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