Researcher: We should contribute to a better society

Steven Arnfjord, research, homelessness, Arctic Hub, Nuuk, Science, Ilisimatusarfik, Greenland, Grønland, hjemløshed, hjemløs, bolig

Steven Arnfjord is on a mission with his research on homelessness: It should help to improve social policy in Greenland.


By Signe Ravn-Højgaard


It is 4 a.m. and the temperature is well below zero degrees outside the big housing complexes in Radiofjeldet Nuuk. Steven Arnfjord, an associate professor in social work at the University of Greenland, tiptoes up Building 17’s many old, worn staircases. He is wearing shoes that don’t make too much noise to make sure he does not wake up the people sleeping on the staircase landings. Along with the rest of the University of Greenland research team, he is investigating how many people are affected by homelessness in Greenland.


What is homelessness?

Before one can count how many people are affected by homelessness in Greenland, it is necessary to determine what it means to live in homelessness. It might be easy to conclude that people who have nowhere else to sleep but a staircase landing are affected by homelessness. But what about the people who are forced to sleep on couches at their friends or family because they have no other place to go?


“In a small society like ours the researchers have a large responsibility,” Steven Arnfjord


Steven explains: “If we do not know how many people are living in homelessness or how they ended there, it will be difficult to start the right initiatives. Only when we have defined homelessness can we find out how many people are affected by it.”

Accordingly, Steven put this issue on top of his social policy wish list for the politicians in an article in the newspaper Sermitsiaq published last year. Naalakkersuisut, the government of Greenland, listened and together with Steven Arnfjord and colleagues they designed a research project aiming to count and define people affected by homelessness. The project is currently carried out by Ilisimatusarfik.

Local researchers

Steven believes it makes a big difference that the research is carried out by the university in Greenland.


“When the research is done by local researchers, it will directly benefit the future social workers in Greenland. This is because the researchers can use the knowledge from the research project in the classrooms teaching the future social workers,” Steven says before adding:


“The kind of data we collect cannot easily cross borders. We have seen previous projects, where foreign researchers have stored the data gathered in Greenland abroad. This meant that we could not use the data for further research here in Greenland and that is just a shame. That is why it is so good that it is a Greenlandic institution collecting the data for this project, so we can ensure that the data will stay in Greenland and be usable in other projects benefiting Greenland going ahead.”


Steven and his colleagues have already planned how they will continue to work with the data after the homelessness project is handed over to the Government of Greenland in August 2022.

“For instance, it could be interesting to study the age and gender distribution of the people affected by homelessness. And of course, use all the knowledge generated to formulate some recommendations for the homelessness policy in Greenland.”

Researchers’ responsibility

Transforming research into recommendations on how to improve Greenlandic social policy is important to Steven.


“In a small society like ours the researchers have a large responsibility. This is because we have so few grassroot organizations and others proposing policy recommendations e.g., on homelessness. Therefore, I find it very important that researchers like me, who actually possess knowledge in the field, contribute with that knowledge to improve society.”


For this reason, Steven and his colleagues have written what they refer to as policy notes, where they suggest apolitical recommendations for social policy based on their research. They send these policy briefs to the authorities and politicians.

Portrait of Steven Arnfjord by Ilisimatusarfik
Block 17 in Nuuk by Steven Arnfjord
Kevin Perry and Steven Arnfjord surveying rough sleeping in Nuuk by Kevin Perry