The shelter is run by Stadsmissionen, a charity which provides beds, healthcare and clothing for the homeless population of the capital.
The goodwill meal was provided at Bostället, a shelter and half-way house located just a few minutes’ walk from the bustling shopping area and trendy bars of Slussen.
“We have thirty long term places here at Bostället, with about another thirty in our temporary shelter wards. So at any time we can have approximately 60 to 70 people staying here,” Bostället worker Halina Nowicka explained.
Stadsmissionen estimates there to be around 3,900 homeless people in the capital, although Novicka explained that it is very hard to get a precise count:
“The problem is that there are many grey areas within the homeless population. For example, some people are never in contact with the authorities such as the social services, so we just do not know that they exist.
“Also, many young women who find themselves homeless become prostitutes and disappear from the streets.”
The Thanksgiving celebration at Bostället was organized by Gary Baker, President of the American Club of Sweden.
“This is the second year running we have put on this Thanksgiving dinner here. The Club has celebrated Thanksgiving for many years, but it is a something of a highbrow event held at a nice hotel,” he said.
“It’s still a great celebration, but I felt that it was missing an another aspect of Thanksgiving, which is about charity and goodwill. It is very common for people in the US to give their time to help those who need it over the Thanksgiving period.
“When I suggested hosting a charity dinner to the board of the Club, everyone was unanimously in favour,” Baker added
The Thanksgiving meal provided included all the traditional elements such as turkey, sweet potato and even pumpkin pie.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to try foods they never have before,” said volunteer Germaine, who originally comes from New York.
Among the group of volunteers helping out in the kitchen, Juan, Bostället’s resident chef, talked about the importance of the food the shelter provides.
“I cook for about 400 people every day, and that’s only for this building and one other shelter. There are a lot of people who are in need.”
However, not all the volunteers are American. With a strong trans-Atlantic twang Ulrika explained how, although “Swedish born and raised”, her strong connections to the US led her to become involved with the Club.
“Volunteering isn’t really the same in Sweden as it is in the US or other countries. It’s not really part of Swedish society. I guess it’s because the Swedish social security blanket, if you could call it that, takes such good care of people.
“When I told my Swedish friends I was getting involved today, they joked saying I was ‘so Americanized’. Swedes think that people in need are just automatically taken care of by the state and they don’t need to help personally, but volunteering is part of who I am.”
After the turkey was cleared away and food packaged up for Stadmissionen’s ‘acute centres’ out on the streets, several residents relaxed in the TV room upstairs.
One of these was Daniel* who, drawing on a cigarette and resting on a walking aid, explained how he became homeless:
“I have never had a home of my own. I used to live with my parents, but when they died I had nowhere to go, and I was in a bit of trouble with the law too. I used to be in an institution, but eventually they put me out.”
Bostället is a space full of warmth, care and respect, but the hardship of years on the streets still tells on the faces of some of the residents. Daniel has been living at the shelter for five months but the strain of such a hard life is not so easily shrugged off:
“We have a tragic life,” he said, gesturing around the room where another five or six members of the shelter are sitting. With a weary smile, Daniel explained how dislocated he felt from the rest of society:
“You see, I am outside people. Someone like me is outside from everyone.”
* Name changed by request