The Rootless is a project about homeless people in Denmark, which is intended to further understanding of the situation of the homeless by focusing on their lives and living conditions through a photo exhibition and the nationwide publishing of a book.

‘The Rootless’ are a group of 30 people who has somehow been pushed out of society either by or without conscious choice and who need more help than that which is provided by the efforts of our society. A large part of the problem is the fact that we do not look the people we are supposed to help in the eye.

Most of us would rather not face the reality we are confronted by through these people. Most of us fail to grasp the relations that take place in the streets and that makes it challenging for us to understand the homeless rather than turning our backs on them. This project tries to diminish the distance between us and homeless people by giving them facial features and telling their stories.

REVIEW | 2010

By Kristina Lykke Hansen

The photo book De Rodløse (The Rootless) is a troughly appealing project where the Danish photographer Helga C. Theilgaard (b. 1976) has photographed thirty homeless people and got Preben Brandt,, former chairman of the Council for the Socially Vulnerable, to write a postscript. The aim of the project, which has also been shown as a travelling exhibition, is to draw attention to homeless and thus lessen the distance between “us” and “Them”. You see them, you even recognize some of them as you walk past, yet they are not really a part of “us”. But Denmark has about 5000 homeless, 70% of whom have abuse problems and 37% of whom suffer from mental illnesses – people at the edge of society. For each of the photo book´s thirty photographs of homeless people there is a short description that tells us a little about the subject´s background – their upbringing, their earlier life, their present life situation and its challenges. For example the aging doctor´s wife who began to drinking, was divorced and started a descent from privileged life among the respectable bourgeoisie to the bottom of society, or the young painter and hash abuser who has stagnated in his life situation. Their fates are harsh and in certain cases also pretty hopeless, but the portraits by no means show weak people. Theilgaard – not for nothing was she apprenticed to the Royal Court Photographer Rigmor Mydtskov – has photographed the homeless in her studio, where they have all been places quite consistently in front of a white background in a frontal position. This creates uniformity and gives the book a simple but captivating continuity. The black-and-white portraits are very straightforward, and the homeless appear with honesty and integrity.


‘The Rootless is a unique photo documentation of homeless people in Denmark. A moving photo-book with an inescapable message. A defiant vitality against all odds radiates from the moments captured in the book. ‘Damn it, we are humans too!’ it seems to say, claiming visibility, presence and care.’

Carsten Güllich-Nørby, Librarian´s annotation, DBC – Danish Library Center


Grethe Larsen grew up in Vejle and after her confirmation, she work in an artist group that travelled around Europe. When she was 18, she fell head over heels in love with a man with whom she had two sons and they were married for 13 years before she found out that her husband betrayed her. They were divorced and Grethe got a job in a sewing factory, where she sustained a bad work injury. Later, her house burned down, she became homeless and went to Copenhagen, where she lives in a women’s shelter in Hvidovre.


Patrick Zimmerman was born in Ishøj and became a painter in 2004.  There were problems at home and his parents threw him out when they believed he was old enough to take care of himself. Patrick lived with different friends and later in a reception centre, where he lived for a year and found a girlfriend.

He now lives in Kirkens Korshær’s shelter in Hillerødgade in Copenhagen, is an hashish addict and finds it difficult to get on with his life.


Søren Pedersen grew up in a family of artists on Bornholm. When he was 19 years old, he went to Paris where he met a music group which he became manager for. Later, he travelled around the world as a dock worker, cook and waiter. He found a girlfriend and had two children in the early ’70s. The couple later split. Søren was never good with money and spends more than he earns. Therefore, he was not able to pay his rent one day and ended up on the street.


Finn Majlund was born and raised in Frederikshavn.

At the age of 12, he asked to be sent to a children’s home because his mother beat him. He needed safety after having lived alone with her for a few years after his parents’ divorce. Later, his father died of cancer and his mother of a cerebral haemorrhage.

Finn began drinking in earnest as a 14-year-old and after finishing school, he tried to survive with different jobs. After four years in the army and a turn in prison for robbery, he became a trained floor fitter in 1989. He travelled to Norway, but instead he got a job in a carnival and returned to Denmark as a vagabond.

Today, Finn is living as an alcoholic on the streets of Odense.


Amanda Oline Rosendahl was born in Copenhagen, but moved to Langeland when she was five years old with her mother and her new husband. She was often home alone because her mother was working in a pub.  Because Amanda’s father was manic-depressive, she could not live with him and therefore moved to Odense with her father’s girlfriend. She dropped out of school because her everyday life and not having enough money to live on had become too much for her.

Amanda has returned to Copenhagen and lives in different places around the city. At the time being, in a tent in the park ‘The Blue Garden’ in Åboulevarden in Copenhagen. Here, she feels free and there is nothing to tie her down.


Erik Rosenlund Jensen is from Middelfart and became a skilled carpenter at the age of 15. He married and had two children. When he was 26, he bet his friends that he could become a member of the army special forces. He applied for admission and got in. Erik was later stationed in Afghanistan, where he by mistake shot a father and his child. Erik returned to Denmark and tried to resume his family life and work as carpenters. But the experiences continued to mark him.

When he was 50, he finally got divorced, gave everything he had to his children and began living on the street.


Jesper Andersen was born in Odense. His childhood was marked by his parents’ alcoholism and that he practically took care of himself from the age of six. When he was 13, he was placed into a foster family after his parents’ divorce and his mother died. He did not finish school and also dropped out of the production school. For a short while, Jesper lived with his brother, but after that he lived on the streets. He found ‘Gaderummet’, a group home and drop-in centre in Copenhagen, where he has lived for a year and a half. (The place has now closed)


Gheorghe Dumitrache is from Buzau in Romania. The family home was destroyed by a natural disaster, so the family moved around and lived with friends and family. He has three children, whom he cannot provide for, so he is in Denmark to find a permanent job and a place to live. Gheorghe sleeps in different parks in Copenhagen.


Maria Thomassen grew up on Vesterbro in Copenhagen. She lived alone with her mother, who was an alcoholic, and Maria started smoking hashish as 13-year-old. She was sent to boarding school in West Jutland, got a degree in office administration and after that, she got a flat. But she got bored, returned to Copenhagen and became a drug addict at the age of 21. She met Lee, with whom she found peace and a kind of safety.

In 1998, she was diagnosed HIV-positive, and lived on the streets of Copenhagen with her belongings in two baby carriages until 2009, when she got her own flat.


Dennis Patrick Knudsen was born in Nyboder in Copenhagen.

His father beat both him and his mother. When he was 19, he had had enough and threatened to kill his father if he continued. The family disowned him and Dennis went into the military for 3 years. When he was returned, the love of his life had found another. Dennis ended up on the street, homeless and has been for 25 years.

Dennis died in 2016.


Michael Boserup grew up in a foster family on Djursland and had a good childhood. He never got an education, but travelled around in Denmark for a few years where he also found a girlfriend. They were together for a long time, but finally broke up. It was not a conscious decision that he came to live on the street, it just slowly happened.

Michael was homeless for 13 years, but in 2008, he was diagnosed with sclerosis and is now living in a care home in Odense.

Michael died in 2010.


Anni Kærsholm Frederiksen used to be a doctor’s wife with a large house, cars and three children, but when her loneliness became too much, she began drinking for comfort. Problems and disagreements with her husband could no longer be hidden and they were divorced after 32 years of marriage. Shortly after, Anni had a cerebral haemorrhage and when she was discharged, she did not get any support. She began drinking again. She could not paying the rent and ended up losing her flat and had to stay overnight in a shelter, where she was raped.

Anni now has her own flat.


Dion Christiansen is from Glostrup.

He grew up with a sick mother and lived mainly with a foster family.  Dion’s mother died when he was 11 years old. After that, he had it difficult in school, but when he, as a 17-year-old, was accepted to the film and theatre school Holberg, his life changed – he began to feel success. At the age of 19, Dion went travelling, but when he returned he had a hard time settling down again. He did not have a place to live and began living on the street. He was later hospitalised due to a drug-induced psychosis and spent the next couple of years recovering.

Dion then rented a room, but was thrown out and has lived on the streets these last years.


Lee Høgsberg was born in Germany, but was adopted to Denmark when he was one month old. He was very attached to his mother and when she died of cancer, he became violent and criminal from pure powerlessness. He was 14 years old. Lee went sailing for a couple of years, but when he returned, he fell into the criminal environment again and became a drug addict. For 16 years, he lived alternately on the street and in prisons. Seven years ago, he was diagnosed HIV-positive, but he is on medication and gets by with a flat in Emdrup.


Mitzi Julendal is from Copenhagen.

She grew up in a family where the father drank and she had to do the washing and hoovering. As a 9-year-old, she moved in with an old lady, where she found the love and care she did not receive from her parents.

The lady died of a heart attack and Mitzi was placed with a Christian foster family, where her friends were not allowed to visit. Later, she was sent to an independent school, but she soon lost interest in her surroundings when she started taking drugs. In the following years, she lived in different places, in shelters, in a car and on the street. Today, she lives in a flat in Copenhagen with her boyfriend.

Mitzi died in 2014.

ROCKY | AGE 4 1/2

Rocky is Johnny Gram’s and Bettina Borregaard’s dog.


Gioacchino Lo Easelo came to Denmark for the first time in 2002 and worked as a waiter in a restaurant. He lost the job and went back home to Sicily, but did not find work and therefore returned to Denmark. He hopes to find a job, but it has not worked out for him yet. Gioacchino usually sleeps in the shelter in Stengade in Copenhagen.


Britta Larsen grew up with five siblings in a working-class home in Fredriksberg in Copenhagen. The family was happy despite living under difficult conditions, but there was never any peace to do homework and enjoy some quiet time alone. Britta therefore got a position in the house when she was 15 and afterwards, she worked at the Heidelberg vinegar factory and later as a casual labourer. She had a son when she was 21. The father was not of much help and moved, but she managed. In 1999, she was out of work and went on social security and could not pay her bank loans or for her flat.

Britta has lived on the street for the last five years.


Peter Bak Dalstrand is from Ballerup. He worked as a zookeeper for eight years at the Copenhagen Zoo and lived with his girlfriend and two children on a large property on Zealand with animals and fields, but the couple broke up when he was 30.

Peter then began drinking himself to death and living on the street.


John Thomsen was born and raised in Frederikshavn. After 9th grade, he began training to become a skilled iron and steel worker, but he was bullied and began smoking hashish and taking drugs to forget.  After that, he got by dealing drugs to fund his own use. He lived with friends, acquaintances and on the street.

John has now decided he wants his life back on track and has for the last two years lived in the reception centre Svenstrupgård in Aalborg.


Lars Sonne is originally from Greenland, but grew up in Hillerød.  After 10th grade, he travelled around in Denmark and had various minor jobs. He began drinking already as a 12-year-old because he felt restless. Because of his problems with alcohol, Lars has been homeless for long periods of his life and has never started a family.

Frank Jensen was born on Falster and grew up in Valby. Throughout his professional life he has been a lorry driver in the Nordic countries. When he lost his wife, he moved out of his flat and has since lived in rented rooms, boarding houses and reception centres or been homeless on the streets.

Both Lars and Frank live in Kirkens Korshær’s shelter in Hillerødgade in Copenhagen.

Lars died in 2012 and Frank in 2013.


Carol Larsen is Britta Larsen’s younger brother. He lived at home until he was 21 years old, has never received any education, but has had different warehouse and factories jobs. Carol does not put up with anything and therefore has difficulty getting references from previous jobs. He became unemployed and got bored when he lacked content in his life. He began drinking, lost his unemployment benefits and his flat, and ended up on the street in 2004 where he has managed on his own ever since.


Sabina Lennart was born in Greenland, but came to Denmark as a 5-year-old. She lived a chaotic life with her mother and finally ended up in a children’s home. Sabina dreamt of becoming a dental technician, but was never given any support and therefore never received an education.

She had her first child when she was 25 years old and later, she had four more children with a different man, but ended up alone with all the children when the man left her. This, she could not cope with and ended up on the street. The children grew up in different places with foster families. After five years, Sabina got a flat, but she cannot stand being there. Therefore, she often sleeps in the shelters around the city.


Michael Eliassen is originally from Aarhus. When he was 11, he got a baby sister, and she received all the attention. Michael began drinking booze and smoking joints. His friend’s father, drug addict and alcoholic, took care of him and introduced him to that world. He died, and Michael lost any joy of life and started on heroin. Later, he almost completed training as a chef, but crime and drugs had too strong a hold on him. After a turn in prison he met a Christian woman, but her care became too much for him. He has chosen to return to the streets, which he cannot let go.


Kurt Holm Christensen has lived his whole life in Copenhagen. For many years, he worked as a lorry driver and at Carlsberg. He had a wife and three children, but after 18 years of marriage, he got divorced and ended up on the street. Both of his legs were amputated due to gangrene after suffering a blood clot in 1993.

Kurt lived on the street for 15 years and died in 2008.


Lillian Thelin grew up on Amager with her parents. When her mother died, her father could not cope with the children, so she and her sisters went to stay in a boarding house for a few years. She found a man from Greenland and had a daughter with him. The daughter was removed from their home when she was four and a half months old because there was too much drinking, rowing and noise. They were also thrown out of their flat and lived on the street for a while.  Lillian lost her husband a few years ago and now lives in flat in Sydhavnen in Copenhagen.

Lillian died in 2015.


Palle Larsen was born and raised in Copenhagen.

When he was 14 years old, Palle’s parents got divorced. He did not want to choose which of the parents to live with, so instead he left home and went to live with friends and in shelters. Palle has been an alcoholic for many years, but was trained as radio mechanic and sailed with EAC. In 2000, he served a prison sentence and after he was release, he lived on the street for six and a half years.  Although he now lives in subsidised housing in Valby, he often returns to the street environment and stay overnight.

Palle died in 2012.


Johnny Gram grew up in Tåstrup with a single, alcoholic mother the first ten years of his life. The problems at home became so serious that he ran away when he was 15 and lived on the street for two years. He started smoking hashish and taking hard drugs, and he also went to prison several times for theft. Ten years ago, he went into a methadone treatment program, met his girlfriend Bettina and now works various minor jobs.

Bettina Borregaard grew up in Copenhagen and has always felt like the black sheep of the family. She had a good upbringing, but she was tired of school, bored and began smoking hashish. Later, she was introduced to heroin and became addicted. She lived a turbulent life, but when she was 25, she decided to stop and get help. She met Johnny in a substance abuse centre and has been with him ever since.

Bettina and Johnny have lived with Bettina’s mother several times and on the streets of Copenhagen, but are no longer together.