Kwartiermaken: making space for vulnerable people

While municipalities are searching for the best way to organise social support, we also see the start of a bottom-up movement: kwartiermaken, literally creating a welcoming place in society for people who are different and vulnerable.

People in vulnerable positions want to participate and are looking for allies to support them in this process. They find support amongst each other, but also with informal carers, fellow citizens and inspired professionals. Useful approaches are created when these parties and municipalities manage to find each other and allow space for the solutions that are being developed.


Kwartiermaken offers solutions for dealing with transitions, but only if used properly. There are two central principles:

Aiming for inclusion: this is an important motivation in the movement of strengthening community from which Kwartiermaken originates. Belonging and participation are also important objectives of the Social Support Act.

Kwartiermaken works to create room for ‘being different’. People in vulnerable positions can only participate successfully if society really is willing and able to make space for them. This needs permanent attention: the interests of the people involved will need to be defined, articulated and promoted again and again.


The initiatives and solutions created by people in vulnerable positions may differ from the standard solutions. It is important that social support policy makers are willing to invest in getting to know people in vulnerable positions, and are able to encourage and support the solutions they come up with.

The different mentalities of system and personal world are conflicting. Many barriers experienced by people who wish to participate and to belong are difficult to get across in the language used by the institutions and agencies they have to deal with. People often find it hard to explain why solutions that work for other people would not be feasible for them; they are also sometimes ashamed to admit this.

Too strong an emphasis on self-reliance creates another risk. Being vulnerable may become a taboo issue. The people who work at Kwartiermaken attempt to link people’s strengths and vulnerabilities because sustainable approaches need to focus on both.

Elements of the approach

It is important to embrace variety, also in the ways of participating. Only by acknowledging this diversity will everyone be allowed to participate. It is risky to put pressure on people to participate in ways that have been defined beforehand. This might lead to assimilation: becoming like the others. This is precisely what causes people in vulnerable positions to collapse.

Next to social support the Social Support Act should also allow room for diversity and for people’s own individual choices. Support after all is only support if it is experienced as such. A social network is not necessarily always a supportive network. People will withdraw if their networks disapprove of their deviant behaviour or if they experience the support given as dependency and are afraid to lose their autonomy.

Kwartiermaken works on creating niches: places where people feel safe and welcome and where they are given space to participate to their capacity. Hospitality is what makes social participation by excluded groups work. Inclusion in the labour market might work for instance with job carving, when jobs and work profiles are analysed and reorganised. Specific tasks are then selected and combined to create a new job. In this way jobs are created that suit one specific individual.

Citizens’ friendships, concretely living together, have to be encouraged. Citizens’ friendships come into existence when people participate in each others lives to mutual advantage. Buddy projects are a great example, although it should be kept in mind that these cannot completely replace professional support. They complement each other. Professional guidance in the background will remain necessary.

International learning

Kwartiermaken calls for a focused process of learning and development, particularly at the local level, jointly by all stakeholders. Working towards inclusion with all relevant parties: people in vulnerable positions, vital neighbourhood residents, service providers in social support teams and civil servants involved – and possibly also educators, artists and local entrepreneurs.

As far as the experts involved in Kwartiermaken are aware, little is known about this approach outside of the Netherlands. There are some experiments in Flanders, Belgium, Germany and Austria. We would like to get in touch with people who are interested in this approach, or with people who work with similar approaches, to share and exchange our expertise in a more systematic way.