Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.
“Being homeless in Utrecht isn’t that bad“
Damauskaitė got to know Utrecht in a way that very few locals can claim to know anything about: as a homeless person. She and her then-boyfriend spent seven months on the street with their two dogs. They slept in homeless shelters, and in a tent in Grift park. During the day, they wandered around the city, particularly along the canals.
Damauskaitė only has kind words for the way Utrecht treats its homeless. “Being homeless can be dreadful in other countries. It’s not in Utrecht. There are various places you can sleep and you can go to daytime hostels where they serve free soup and let you have a shower. It’s all so well-organised.” What’s more, Damauskaitė found the people of Utrecht to be very kind and helpful – even the homeless themselves. The idea of returning to Lithuania never occurred to Damauskaitė, she remained positive and always believed that she’d have a roof over her head again one day.
Eighteen months earlier, she and her then-boyfriend left Lithuania looking for adventure. “I was nineteen and wanted excitement. My boyfriend suggested going to Amsterdam to try our luck as street performers. The fact that cannabis is legal there was an added bonus. We were free spirits.” They hitchhiked to Amsterdam in five days, arriving with their dog and the grand sum of €2.
Damauskaitė now refers to their sudden departure as ‘incredibly stupid’. They had neither plans nor expectations. In Amsterdam, she met someone who lived in a squat on Stationsplein in Utrecht. Later, she lived in a squat on Brailledreef in Overvecht. Damauskaitė: “It was so squalid. No loo and no shower.” So how did she manage? “I peed in the bushes next to our house and went to McDonalds whenever I needed a poo.” The squat was also occupied by some aggressive Polish junkies and Damauskaitė eventually decided that she’d be better off on the streets. No sooner said than done.
Utrecht as a home base
After seven months living on the streets, she started to get herself together. She moved into the Intermezzo squat in Nieuwegein. “A place where smart, well-motivated people choose to live, people who have better things to do than partying and drinking.” She broke up with her boyfriend, and realised after jobs as a postman and a packer in a biscuit factory, that she was capable of more. In a moment of madness, she applied to the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and was accepted.
Several tough years of study later, she returned to Utrecht, her home base. She now lives close to the Juliana park with her boyfriend. Damauskaitė: “Utrecht is fun, Amsterdam doesn’t have a soul anymore.” She thinks that the ‘Dom City’ has a good mix of students, young parents ferrying kids around on their bikes and artistic people. “It’s not about extremes, but then I’m past all that myself now.” She works as the manager in a branch of the clothes shop Urban Outfitters on Oudegracht, a job that satisfies her need for creativity. She thinks she’ll stay there for a bit. And the future? “I’ll take it as it comes. I managed to get this far. I make my dreams as I go.”
Name: Justina Damauskaitė
Place of birth: Vilnius, Lithuania
Date of birth: 18 December 1986
Motto: ‘If you want something and it doesn’t work, try harder’
Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.
Article by Annabel van Heesbeen