Background information on Mathilde’s Misses




About Miss Homeless

Who organized the Miss Homeless pageant?

The Miss Homeless pageant is an initiative by Mathilde Pelsers and her daughter Aline Duportail. Mathilde’s organization “Le Petit Portail” has been providing shelter for homeless people for twenty years now.

Mathilde and Aline are always looking for donations and volunteers. Contact them here.

Why did they organize this pageant?

Aline and Mathilde set two goals. On the one hand they wanted to bring attention to the poverty issue through this initiative. On the other hand they wanted to celebrate the participating women, to help them build their self-confidence.

When did the pageant take place, and how did it happen?

On January 14, 2009, fifteen women applied for the “pre-selection”. All women were allowed to participate in the pageant. On October 10, 2009, Marie-Thérèse Van Belle was elected as “Miss Sdf” (French for “Miss Homeless”) during a grandiose pageant show.

During the months in between the participants received social and medical counseling, as well as participated in regular activities in relation to the pageant. The contestants took part in workshops and tourist outings and campaigned on the poverty issue. Parallel to this they also received help in their search for permanent housing, as well as medical and psychosocial counseling.

Visit the Miss Homeless website for more information.

How was the pageant financed?

The pageant realized with the support of sponsors and volunteers.

The winner received the rent-free year; what happened to the other contestants?

Mathilde has been providing shelter for the homeless for over twenty years. Her system is to help small groups of people to rent a house together. This makes it possible to split the cost of rent and to start social reintegration. At the same time the people are helped to get financial government assistance, which allows them to provide for their own rent and sustenance (a permanent address is required to apply for government allowances). The aim is to create a stable living environment which allows for room to work on other problems. Mathilde supports about forty people this way.

The pageant contestants were helped in the same way. This means they were all helped to find housing at the beginning of the pageant. The difference with the winner was that she did not have to pay rent for the first year. When that year ended, a few people moved in with Marie-Thérèse, and they split the cost of rent.

Will there be a Mister Homeless pageant?

On December 22, 2012, the final show for the Mister Homeless pageant will take place in Brussels. You can find more information here.

About “Mathilde’s Misses”

Were the film makers involved in the organization of the pageant?

Docwerkers is an independent production platform that is realizing this documentary project autonomously. We are sympathetic towards Aline and Mathilde, but we are not directly involved in their initiatives.

Why this documentary?

Poverty is not a sexy subject and homeless people are seldom popular. While the poverty rate keeps rising in Belgium and Europe, the position towards people in poverty is hardening. Docwerkers uses the “sensational” character of the pageant to sketch a portrait of a few women in the margin of society. We hope that this documentary can grow into an instrument to create more solidarity. For that purpose we invite you to organize your own screening of the film.

How did this documentary come about?

The contestants were followed during a period of eighteen months, which means the nine months of the duration of the pageants as well as a period of nine months after the conclusion of the pageant. During that time director Pieter De Vos regularly went to Brussels to film the individual stories as well as the group activities of the contestants.

After a year and a half, that made for a hundred-and-thirty hours of film material, which was edited into a fifty-two minute documentary in the subsequent eighteen months. The film was realized without a budget, and was completed with the support of a few generous collaborators.

For the film nerds: the documentary was filmed with a Panasonic DVX100B camera and edited with Adobe Premiere.

Who collaborated on this documentary?

director, sound, camera, montage: Pieter De Vos

montage assistance: Geert Veuskens

additional filming: Geert Veuskens, Sebastiaan Beysen, Ringo Gomez Jorge

montage consultants: David Verdurme, Ludo Troch

translations: Erwin Carpentier, Laura De Vos, Luis Roman Alcaide

production assistance: Clara Van Gompel

color and sound processing: New Impact


Will there be another showing of the film?

Follow Docwerkers on facebook to stay updated on all showing dates.

I want to organize a showing

Organizing a showing of the film is entirely free of charge. The only prerequisite is that admission to your showing is also free. Send in your application here and we will send you a link to download the film. The packet includes a manual about projecting the film. You can also organize a paying showing, the prize for a paying showing is €150.

Why do you give away the film for free?

We hope the film can grow into a work instrument, a discussion starter on homelessness and poverty in our society. To help it along we want to make the film easily accessible, using the opportunities offered by the internet. We are counting on you to spread the film. That is why we chose the flexible copyright license “Creative Commons”: this way you can watch and show the film for free for non-commercial purposes. The only stipulation is that you do not change the film, and do not make any profit off of it yourself. Of course donations are welcome.

Visit the Creative Commons website for more information on these licenses.


Listen to the interview by Interne Keuken on Radio 1 (in Dutch) or read the interview in HUMO magazine:

Three years ago Mathilde Pelsers and her daughter Aline Duportail organized the world’s first Miss Homeless pageant in Brussels, a pageant with one rent-free year as the prize. This may sound wrong, but please delay your judgment until you have seen “Mathilde’s Misses”.

Documentary filmmaker Pieter De Vos followed three of the contestants – Pascale, Calimero and Marie-Thérèse – with a camera on his shoulder, and soon enough his film turned a corner: before you know it, you are accompanying him in a touching portrait of three women marked by life. It earned him the prize for Young Talent by the Flemish Film Critique Association.

Pieter De Vos «Every once in a while I work for the news website De Wereld Morgen, and they had asked me to accompany a journalist to the start meeting of the Miss Homeless pageant. At first I thought it was all pretty off, until I met Mathilde and Aline. Mathilde has been working with homeless people for twenty-five years: she is in charge of the organization Le Petit Portail, which provides shelter for homeless people for a low price. They knew, of course, many people would find the pageant shocking, but they mostly wanted to sensibilize – and they provided shelter for all contestants.

«The idea was that the winner could save up during that first year, as a springboard to a somewhat more comfortable life. When I learned all of that, I made up my mind to use the pageant to make a portrait of people living in the margin.»

HUMO: Was it difficult to gain the trust of the homeless?

De Vos «At first it was, but after three months it was as if they gave me carte blanche: all of a sudden they started telling me everything. It helped that I always visited them by myself, with my camera. They, of course, noticed that I was one of the few who kept coming back, and who was not just trying to shoot a few sensational scenes. You should know the Miss Homeless pageant unleashed a worldwide fuss: at the pageant show itself even Al Jazeera was present.

«Calimero and me immediately clicked. She was constantly yelling at me, but at the same time she always wanted me there, with everything. Aline had approached her in the Brussels Midi station – where Calimero had already been sleeping for a year at that time – and had asked her to participate. “Well, yeah, why not?” she had responded, and two hours later she was already dancing pirouettes in front of the gathered press (laughs).

«For most of the contestants the main prize was of secondary importance: they felt like they had won before they even started, because they now at least had a roof over their heads. But for Pascale things were different: she had had her daughter put in a care facility because she could not provide sufficient care for her. Having her own home could change everything. She figured: “If I win, I will get my daughter back.” »

HUMO: I assume the past eighteen months were rough on you too?

De Vos «Quite rough, yeah. I had only sort of finished my degree when I started the project, and I was immediately catapulted to a different universe. It happened a few times that friends invited me out for a drink, but I preferred to stay in and continue staring at the wall. But there were a number of beautiful moments too, though. When the ladies just beamed during the defiles, that was definitely touching.

«However you feel about the Miss Homeless pageant, it remains surreal that it requires a pageant to see to the needs of the homeless. Then there has to be something fundamentally wrong with the government policy, right?»



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