10 December 2012

"Should I write you down as homeless or as a tourist?"

This evening I covered the receptionist duties at Kruispost, where volunteers provide non-emergency health care to people here who have no health insurance. Within Amsterdam, this is probably the most well-known aspect of the community of Oudezijds 100. Within the community itself, however, this is one of the most unknown aspects of the whole community, as the volunteers for the Kruispost come generally from different circles outside of the community.

A wide range of nationalities visit the Kruispost, and they come for many different reasons. Most are uninsured and many are in Amsterdam illegally. We ask names, birthdates, addresses, and country of origin. We don't ask how they've come to be here, how long they've been here, or how long they hope to stay; choosing instead to allow them to remain somewhat safely anonymous. We simply ask how we can help and ask for a donation to help cover the costs of overhead (the receptionists and doctors are all volunteers).

We don't generally turn anyone away, as long as they are not agressive or violent. We do, however, give people a hard time if they are insured (shouldn't they be finding and visiting their own family doctor and have it be paid through their insurance?). Or if they don't live in Amsterdam. Technically, everyone - even those who are uninsured and/or illegal - has the right to medical help (see paspoortamsterdam.nl.). The problem is that many doctors and/or hospitals still refuse help because of the nuisance of the paperwork. And so people come to us because they know we will help them, even though technically we're supposed to be only for those in Amsterdam.

And thus the question: "should I write you down as homeless or as a tourist?" to confirm that people are part of the Amsterdam region. This evening it was directed at a man around my age who'd neglected to give an address. Tourist seemed a popular option this evening - and this visitor also seemed happy with this choice and gave a European country to confirm. Unfortunately, when the doctor spoke to him in the language of that country, the visitor didn't understand him. Turns out that the European country was simply one of the many stops along the journey. To claim to be a tourist was highly optimistic - but better than the options I hadn't given him, like refugee or illegal. Instead, the choice of tourist spoke of a hope for a better, normaler life. Thankfully the Kruispost helps people be able to receive normal every day medical care and thus is hopefully part of allowing people to have more of that normal, better life.

The Vluchtkerk and everything happening there is hopefully also part of the journey of allowing people to be welcome here.

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