Skaeve Pilot

In 2007, five living containers were placed in a remote location in the Houthavens. These were called “Skaeve huse”, inspired by the Danish concept “Skæve huse til skæve existense”: peculiar houses for people with peculiar lives. According to implementers and researchers, at that time Amsterdam needed 150 to 250 of such living spaces. The pilot seemed to be a success, as the residents were quite content. However, the project ended in 2010, as the location was needed for regular housing for people with regular lives. And despite the fact that dozens of Skaeve huse have since been built in many cities and towns, Amsterdam still lacks them. However, a new pilot called “Maatwerk” is now being launched. 

Where should you go if you can’t manage to live in a regular house because, for example, your neighbors find you too disruptive? Or if you can’t stay in a shelter provided by the Leger des Heils (Salvation Army) or HVO-Querido? Most of the time, you end up on the streets.


Ruurd, a regular visitor of the MDHG, has lost his home several times due to neighbors’ complaints and had to survive on the streets each time. The Ombudsman of Amsterdam found this unacceptable, partially due to Ruurd’s age. Along with other parties, they sought for a tailored solution for him. Ruurd explains, “They had to create a place because I can’t survive on the streets in the winter. They came up with the concept, but the idea of a boat was mine. They devised a workboat: a barge with an insulated management shed on it. I have light from all sides, and it’s like a penthouse on three wheels. I have an iron garden in the front and back. I like being outside because I’ve been homeless and get a bit claustrophobic indoors. I don’t have a shower, can’t cook, and warm up my food in an ingenious way.” So, the facilities are a bit sparse? “No,” laughs Ruurd, contentedly, “I have an eight-meter-deep body of water that I can dive into. It’s of the Rijkswaterstaat, so the municipal police can’t touch me. I’m extremely happy with my little boat: it’s fantastic. I want to throw a party for all the people who made this happen.”

Customized Solution

The solution for Ruurd is not a typical example of Skaeve huse, rather a Maatwerkoplossing, or customized solution. Skaeve huse also have drawbacks. Because they are usually intended for people who are considered very disruptive, they are often located far from populated areas, effectively placing the residents outside of society. Additionally, such a separate neighborhood can be stigmatizing: some media even refer to them as “antisocial houses” and “hooligan huts”. Moreover, Skaeve huse are not suitable for everyone who doesn’t fit within existing solutions. Therefore, Amsterdam is not focused on building Skaeve huse but rather on providing customized solutions – “Maatwerk” – like the one for Ruurd.

At the MDHG, we have seen for years that special solutions are urgently needed for a segment of the homeless population. Organizations like the GGD, HVO-Querido, and the Leger des Heils know this too. But it was the Ombudsman who began collecting examples of Amsterdam residents who don’t fit into existing housing forms. Along with the Doorbraakteam (Breakthrough Team), they pressured the municipality and institutions to come up with solutions now. In June, the GGD, together with the Leger des Heils, HVO-Querido, Veldwerk, WPI, and the Zorgkantoor, started a pilot. For five people, a specially tailored housing form will be designed, with the necessary care or guidance for each of them.


The primary goal of the pilot is to provide these five Amsterdam residents with a sustainable form of shelter. But it also aims to develop a method to deliver truly customized approaches so that, after the pilot, such solutions can be found for other Amsterdam residents as well. The demand for this is still high, creating a high workload for aid workers, as well as the police and judiciary. However, providing customized solutions proves challenging in practice. Ruurd and his boat were evicted after just a few months due to complaints from local residents. Fortunately, he has now found another little boat in a different location.

By: Geert Battjes