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Stockholm launches 'beggar hotline'

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A homeless Romanian girl in Stockholm. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
17:18 CEST+02:00
Stockholm is opening a telephone hotline to help the city's growing homeless population, but one local charity worker says the move is just a government ploy.

The past few years have seen a dramatic increase in homelessness in Stockholm, largely due to migrants from poorer EU nations.

"Unfortunately many of these people are living under very difficult conditions," Stockholm political secretary Ole-Jörgen Persson told The Local.

"We have seen a need for the social services to play a more active role, and try to find these people and see if they need and want help."

He added that there are more beggars on Stockholm's streets than ever before, and that many have no source of income at all. 

Immigrants from countries such as Romania frequently end up with neither job nor shelter in the city, crouching in doorways and hunching in the corners of subway stations hoping for a bit of spare change. 

The Stockholm social services department has now received an additional 5 million kronor ($750,000) from the city, funds with which they plan to hire a team of Romany-speaking social welfare workers to work exclusively with homeless EU immigrants. In addition, a telephone hotline will be launched on June 18th.

"What we’re doing now is starting a hotline people can call and give information, so they can let the social services know about anything that needs our attention. It could be that someone is worried about a homeless person’s health, or that a child needs help, or that they've set up a tent outside a preschool," Persson said.

He added that the city has made many efforts to help the city's homeless, whether it be to assist them to return home or by increasing their quality of life while in Stockholm. 

Joakim Trolle, co-founder of non-profit organization BonzaiBeat, is not convinced.

"That's bullshit. If you read about the purpose of the hotline, it isn’t actually to help these people," Trolle told The Local. "It’s just to give answers to people calling in."

Trolle added that there are already Romany-speakers out on the streets assisting the homeless - volunteers. He said that the city's initiative might be a step in the right direction, but was far from a solution. 

"They're just sweeping it under the rug. The problem is that we have accepted an ideology with open borders, but we can’t accept that it means poor people turn up too," Trolle explained.  "We need to understand that when we work with open borders, we have to handle the negative aspects as well."

On occasion groups of beggars gather and build small shacks and settlements, which generally stand for a few days or weeks until the Swedish Enforcement Authority (Kronofogden) gets around to tearing them down. To set up camp on municipality land is illegal, regardless of whether the campers are Swedes or immigrants.

The city's evictions combined with increasing homelessness has resulted in a cat-and-mouse game between authorities and immigrants, who are constantly on the move.

"It's still illegal to camp on city ground," Trolle remarked, wondering how it could help simply for the city to know where people were camping.

"We drive over their camps with a bloody bulldozer, literally, every day, right now. Before we can find a solution, we have to decide: Do we want to help these people or not? We can’t say that we want to help them and then not actually come up with any helpful solutions."

Trolle also worried that the hotline will primarily be used for racist complaints.

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"This is nothing new. It’s how these people have been treated for hundreds of years. It’s basically the way the Nazis treated the Jews."

But Ole-Jörgen Persson disagrees.

"Of course there is a risk that there will be negative calls as well," he told The Local. "But the receptionists are trained and will certainly be able to tell when it’s a serious caller." 

The hotline will be staffed by social workers. Additional details about the social work team have yet to be released, but Persson is optimistic about the move. 

"It’s a very exciting project to follow, and see how we can help people. That’s the goal of the project, to help."

Solveig Rundquist
Follow Solveig on Twitter.

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