Stockholm soup kitchen exposes homeless plight
Published: 18 Feb 2013 13:12 GMT+01:00
Updated: 18 Feb 2013 13:12 GMT+01:00
Hundreds of free lunches were served on a Stockholm square on Sunday as part of a local group's efforts to raise awareness about homelessness in the Swedish capital.
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While home comforts were on the menu for the hundreds of homeless people who showed up to the event, organizers say hot food and warm clothes won't solve Stockholm's rising homeless problem.
"We are not just a charity," says Tanvir Mansur, one of the founders of Soppkök Stockholm ('Soup Kitchen Stockholm'), a voluntary project that began a year ago.
"We want it to be seen as a political action, so we have developed a platform to raise awareness about homelessness."
Once a month, a square in the Södermalm district of the city is turned into a meeting place for the city’s homeless with free food, clothes and entertainment on offer.
"Everybody is welcome to contribute so it's an opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t meet each other," Mansur adds.
"One of the problems is the negative attitude towards homeless people and the pretense that the issue doesn't exist."
The latest national mapping of homelessness was carried out by The National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialsytrelsen) in 2011, citing a homeless count of around 34,000 people in Sweden, 8,000 of which are in Stockholm.
Mansur says that although this figure is dramatically on the rise, especially among EU migrants, the issue is not being prioritized at a political level.
"Politicians don’t act," he adds.
"No one talks about homelessness today and we must since we can’t live in a society in 2013 where we have so many homeless in Sweden."
Ahead of Sunday’s event, politicians were invited to come and see how the project works in practice.
One local member of parliament, Social Democrat Roger Mogert, took up the offer.
"I’m basically here because they are doing a very important job in actually highlighting what is happening right now," he tells The Local.
"Up until recently, the centre-right city council has taken tough stance on supporting EU migrants – nothing has really been done to tackle the issue - but it's about giving at least basic shelter and social work."
"There are as many different stories as there are people here but so often they came to Sweden looking for work and haven’t been able to find it," Mogert adds.
On the advice of a friend, Janne left his native Poland and came to Sweden seven years ago.
He currently has neither a job nor a home.
"I was told it wouldn’t be a problem getting work here," he says.
"I have worked on building sites but I want to stay in Sweden and get a permanent job with a contract.”"
Janne lives rough in the city but is enrolled on a Swedish language course in the hope of securing future work.
For the moment, he is happy to show off his new shoes, a second-hand donation from the Soup Kitchen project.
While the soup tent maintains a steady stream of customers, the clothes stall is the first port of call for many.
As soon as a donation is handed over there is a sense of desperation among the crowds to be first in line for a new coat or sleeping bag.
Viorel from Romania is leaving with a bag full of clothes in hand.
He arrived in Sweden one year ago leaving his family, including five children, behind.
"No job," he says.
"Romania - big problem - catastrophe."
Organizers of Soppkök Stockholm would like to see the government create a national strategy to tackle the country’s homeless problem.
"We want all political parties to prioritize the issue," Tanvir Mansur says.
"The situation is unbearable.
"When we meet homeless people and listen to their stories we realize we can’t make a difference by simply handing out food and clothes.
"We have to do something more," he adds.