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More EU citizens join the ranks of Stockholm's homeless

Geoff Mortimore · 9 May 2011, 16:48

Published: 09 May 2011 16:48 GMT+02:00

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For many visitors to Stockholm, it comes as some relief to see how few people live on the streets, sleeping rough.

For the most part, homelessness does not appear to be a major issue. However, scratch under the surface and it becomes clear that it is a problem on the rise.

In most major capitals around the world, the sight of homeless people camping out in shop entrances or under cardboard roofs is nothing unusual.

It may be less common in Stockholm, but one group in particular is causing concern – over the past twelve months there has been a noticeable rise in the number of Europeans, from what was formerly known as the Eastern Bloc but who are now citizens of the European Union, who come here seeking better conditions than those they have left behind, but find life cold in more ways than one.

At Pelarbacken, a small reception centre at Stockholm’s Erste Hospital, Rolf Byström treats a young Romanian man, displaced from his own country, but homeless and in need of help in Sweden.

It is a sight which Byström, a man with extensive experience of looking after the homeless, says is becoming ever more common.

“We have seen a big rise in the number of EU citizens finding themselves homeless here over the past year," he tells The Local.

"What makes this group different is that they do not have the normal illnesses you associate with the homeless. They are often young, generally quite healthy, between 25 and 30, and don’t normally have the kind of addiction problems one associates with the homeless.

“Their ailments are more psychosomatic,” continues Byström.

“They come about as a direct result of having nowhere to live. They can be depressed, have problems with their joints, bad stomachs, migraines, things like that."

Their biggest problem, though, is red tape.

“Even though, thanks to the freedom of movement rights within the EU they are allowed to be here, because they don’t have the right paperwork they are not allowed proper long-term treatment, which in some cases can be relatively simple," he explains.

"It is a huge problem and one those of us who live and work in Sweden should be able to help with."

For a medical professional like Byström, the situation is extremely frustrating.

“It is terrible as a doctor not to be able to give treatment to the people that need it”, he adds.

The opening of a new centre for the homeless in Stockholm on March 1st this year is, in some ways, a positive step, but it also underlines the depth of a problem that is growing almost daily as more and more Europeans who have come to the Swedish capital find themselves caught in a bureaucratic trap that all too often leads to unemployment and homelessness.

The centre, located on the island of Södermalm in central Stockholm, is part of the Crossroads project, an effort funded by contributions from the EU, Stockholm City and the National Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen), to help job seeking migrants from within the EU find their feet in Sweden.

The money pays for food, rooms, furniture, computers and five full-time employees. In addition there are also some 40 volunteers, including psychologists, lawyers and interpreters.

Those coming from EU countries, especially Romania, but also Poland and the Baltics, face a paradoxical problem. They have the right to be in Sweden and obtain certain benefits as long as they can support themselves they are covered by insurances from their homeland.

All too often though, they don’t make use of the benefits to which they are entitled.

Although citizens of EU member states are free to take advantage of the freedom of movement provided by EU membership, each member state still has its own regulations governing how it determines who qualifies for benefits.

In the case of Sweden, rights are severely restricted for people who do not have a regular job or if they lack Swedish citizenship.

And while people from other EU member states can apply for citizenship in Sweden, they must reside in the country for three to five years and have been granted permanent residency before doing so.

Furthermore, as EU citizens they are not allowed to stay in the other homeless shelters provided by the state and NGOs around the city.

For many, unbeknown to them, the problems can start even before they arrive.

The Stockholms Stadsmission charity, one of the city's main homelessness assistance organisations and a main driver behind the Crossroads project, recently conducted interviews with 68 homeless people staying at Crossroads shelter.

Many were found to have extensive work experience in their home countries and often have had short-term jobs in Sweden.

The interviews also revealed, however, a number of common misconceptions among the shelters residents about the rights and responsibilities of being an EU citizen.

Story continues below…

Many believe, for example, that just having lived in an EU country for a while will entitle them to the same rights as full citizens.

In addition, many were also they are further misled about the ease of finding cheap accommodation and a job in Stockholm.

“Many want to go home but end up in a situation where they do not have the money for the journey back," Stadsmission project manager Malena Bonnier said in a recent interview with the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper

"They are referred to social services, which refers to the embassy, which usually says no. Then they are stuck here."

As with all such issues, it is hard to quantify exactly how many people there are living on the streets as there are no official statistics.

But one thing that those working in shelters for the homeless all agree on is that the number homeless in Stockholm is growing fast.

"This is a frightening proof of the difference between the rich and the poor – on a personal and national level," Byström concludes.

"To put it cynically, it is the export of poverty, and an issue that badly needs addressing. As Swedes living in a rich country we can and should do more.”

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Geoff Mortimore (mortimore.geoff@gmail.com)

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Your comments about this article

21:33 May 9, 2011 by TheOriginalBlackMan
I have seen plenty of homeless people in central Stockholm (Östermalm and Södermalm), all so called "white" people living on the streets. The major problem is drinking and drugs from my observation. The funny thing is that many Swedes wave it off as okay since their so called "white" people.

I take pictures of many of the homeless europeans, I plan to write a book about Sweden in the future. The truth,
22:32 May 9, 2011 by kenny8076
I have a hard time with the second to last paragraph.......

"This is a frightening proof of the difference between the rich and the poor - on a personal and national level," Byström concludes"

Thats makes no since at all...... you cannot compare the rich with the poor when the poor are coming from other countries and making themselves statistics in a new country......... if there are x amount of wealthy or above income families compared to x amount of average to below average and that number isn't a huge difference than the rich and all of the sudden add y (the EU homeless) to the x and then say the difference is huge, well of coarse it is....... if you take all of Africa and place those people in the America you will also find the difference is huge, i just dont get that thinking.

At BlackMan....LOL huh?!?! i have never in my life heard someone refer to a homeless person as White or Black or anything like that in Sweden.... In fact i have never even seen a black homeless person in the city i live in, or many black people for that matter..... Its 2011, no one cares about the race card anymore, unfortunately people like Jesse Jackson and others have soaked that one dry for everyone.
05:47 May 10, 2011 by TheOriginalBlackMan
What is the "race" card?

Is that card similar to the "denial" card?

"Its 2011, no one cares about the race card anymore, unfortunately people like Jesse Jackson and others have soaked that one dry for everyone."

Just a stupid statement. The denial of racism is essential for it's existence.
09:52 May 10, 2011 by Nemesis
It is not just in Stockholm this is happening. Southern Sweden has a major hidden homeless problem.

I have encountered homeless in my own kommune, also in Lund and Malmö from Western, Eastern, Southern and Northern Europe. I paid the flights of 3 people back to Ireland over the last 4 years,got a French woman a lift to Paris with my friends so she could get home and gave a Slovak a lift to Wroclaw, when I was getting the ferry, to meet up with his brother and get home. All were sleeping in the open.

As for excuses that people make of the homeless Europeans being mentally ill, drug addicts or alcoholics, that is completely and utterly false. Just because Swedes, Africans and Middle Eastern people are mentally ill, addicted to drugs and alcoholic, does not mean Europeans are.

The Euroeans are homeless purely because they can not access benefits that would prevent them from becoming homeless, due to intransigence from various authorities that are aupposed to help them, but instead do everything to hinder them.

A lot of East Europeans share homes that are overcrowded, to keep down high costs, as they are paid so little in there jobs. East Europeans are still treated like dirt in Sweden.

Swedes claim they have no homeless problem. I have got so angry with the self centered, blinkered selfish hypocrites over that subject on several occassions. A lot of Europeans are no different from Swedes in that context, which is a disgrace.

As for getting entitlements from the state. British and Irish are told point blank they are entitled to nothing when they seek assistance, as are Germans, French, Dutch and Austrians when they seek advice from kommunes.

People from Africa and Middle East on the other hand. They get all the asylum benefits, get an apartment, have there rent paid and get a state welfare allowance.

Europeans who fall on hard times, should be looked after in Europe not cast to the wind, like they are now.

Benefits and entitlements should be for Europeans first and foremost. Sweden needs to reverse its entitlement program to prioritise Europeans first.

Sweden and every European country, needs to stop bringing in non-European immigrants, while it has massive unemployment.
11:16 May 10, 2011 by laviniutza

I totally agree with you. Sweden spends lots of money by taking care of refugee immigrants who are not even familiar with the latin alphabet. While, east europeans and even east europeans outside EU will be way much cheaper. They learn the language easier, get them a job and they will pay the rent by themselves, and Sweden also solved its deficit in work power over the years to come. I dont see the interest that Sweden has to accept refugees and make them citezens while there are so many other communities in Europe (eg. moldavia, belarus) that really need some help.
13:53 May 10, 2011 by Rebel
I have heard that there are many Swedish families losing their homes due to mounting, and unpayable, energy costs. On top of that finding work in this country is nothing short of impossible as you have to know someone to get a job at a hamburger joint. Sweden is a sanitized society -- it hides its history, it hides its authoritarianism behind a smile, and hides its homeless/unemployment problems in much the same way. It is a sick society with a veneer of trying to pass itself off as a model to the world. News: If teh world could spend a while in Sweden it would learn that the Swedish model is as appealing as a corpse with a smiling face.
19:40 May 10, 2011 by Iraniboy
I agree with Kenny, The comparison with rich and poor is not fair.


You don't make sense with your asylum comparison! Sweden spend a lot on climate warming too, Should they decrease it to have money for other Europeans?!

"Benefits and entitlements should be for Europeans first and foremost."

This is one of the most discriminating statement I have seen! Since you're European, it doesn't mean they should treat you with red carpet and forget others! We have a good sentence in Persian. "A guest doesn't like another guest but the host doesn't like either of them!" I should admit though that Sweden is very generous to its guests.

You can not even study for free in your country, in the UK but Sweden will continue to pay your education but you still complain?! This is not fair!
19:50 May 11, 2011 by Nemesis
@ Iraniboy

I don't get anything for free from Sweden, unlike you.

I pay my own way. An example that you would be best to follow.
20:51 May 11, 2011 by calebian22
So Sweden is mostly middle class, but that means rich according to Byström. What a dingle.
01:35 May 12, 2011 by dunce
San Francisco, upset at the way many homeless people were living, gave them many benefits and then was surprised that the word spread to homeless people in other cities causing a large influx of many more homeless people looking for legislated handouts to move to San Francisco putting more strain on social services.
19:13 May 12, 2011 by Iraniboy

I didn't talk about you. I don't get anything either! You may not get anything but you argue that Sweden MUST pay more for your European counterparts by limiting what they pay for non-Europeans. This is simply absurd. Nobody has any obligation to do a favor. It is all based on kindness and you shouldn't complain!
23:19 May 12, 2011 by Nemesis
@ Iraniboy

Your arguement is absurd.

I want Sweden to reciprocate what Swedes get in other European countries for citizens from those European countries.
00:39 May 15, 2011 by Syftfel
Charity? Social services? My sweet beind. Get rid of them!! I'm sick and tired of having to see this useless refuse, these bums, in our streets and squares and train stations. Civility needs to be restored. The next election can't come soon enough.
09:26 May 15, 2011 by Nemesis
@ Syftfel,

If that the case, what are you doing in Europe?

Maybe you should pack up, ship your belongings home, sell your home in Sweden and then get a one way flight to anywhere but Europe.
12:53 May 16, 2011 by karex
Agree with Nemesis. It's good a noble to want to save the world, but before you attempt to do that, clean your own backyard first. Otherwise it is just amatter of time before the "givers" are forced to join the rank of the "needers", then who will be there to help all of us?
11:46 May 17, 2011 by johnny1939
Give them the fare to go home please. Sweden has a reputation to give away everything for free and that is unfair to all of us residents and refugees alike. The complications of establishing oneself there are monumental and we should let it be known.
13:59 May 17, 2011 by Nemesis
@ johnny1939,

If Swedes make it commonly known the problems for other Europeans to move to Sweden, do you really believe that Swedes in those countries would be welcome any longer?

There are over 100,000 swedes in the UK and over 100,000 swedes in Germany alone. Sweden would come out of your anti-European ideology, very badly.
14:27 May 17, 2011 by johnny1939
Most Swedes living abroad are not bums. I am talking of people not being able to fend for themselves. If there are Swedes in that position abroad they should be sent back to Sweden at once!!!
17:05 May 17, 2011 by jmclewis
In the USA people from the 3rd world get everything free. They get in legally easier due to refuge status. If they sneak in they get everything free too, if a child is born here they have hit the jackpot. It is harder for Europeans to get a visa and settle here. It is not about what is good for the country it is about liberal progressive fairness. Mexicans and Brazilians work here illegally, they send money home and then leave to retire there. This happens because Americans do not mind stealing from there neighbors. They loose is lost tax revenue, health care cost unpaid and allot of government services. Lastly crime is a factor too. Most of the other 3rd world people come here to live on government aid and perform zero work.
19:25 May 17, 2011 by Nemesis
@ johnny1939,

You obviously don't know to much about Swedes living in Northern and Western Europe.
19:27 May 17, 2011 by DOZ
19:48 May 17, 2011 by canuk

Nemisis is totally correct. Look after europeans first, why are you here anyways? Iran is super rich in oil wealth, you get a state benefit and who knows what else. Your just leeching off the swedish system becuase you got in and now its hard to remove you.
11:12 May 18, 2011 by Marc the Texan
Increasing services for the homeless will only do one thing. It will increase the numbers of homeless people in Stockholm. Subsidizing the homeless lifestyle will only make it a more desirable lifestyle for more people to aspire to. It may sound crazy, but many people will opt for the carefree lifestyle of comfortable homelessness. They may complain about it, but they will choose homeless lifestyle over a working life in their home country. People who sleep rough for a while get used to it, and given the choice many would prefer sleeping rough for 8 hours than working an 8 hour shift. Servicing homeless people only creates more homeless people. When will Sweden learn?
11:17 May 18, 2011 by johnny1939
Like I said above send them back to Sweden! Behaving badly and loitering is a good reason for anyone to be sent back to their country of origin.
12:10 May 19, 2011 by rafa1981
What? Even the Swedes from other regions with fixed incomes are having serious troubles to move to Stockholm, what one can expect for a foreigner who comes here withouth money and a plan for life?

Schengen gives the false appearance that you can move everywere inside the EU, but what happens if one wants to move the US, Australia, Canada, etc... one have to show money, one can not pretend to move as an immigrant and to be treated as a refugee. In other lands you have to fight for a permit, inside EU one is having the freedom to fix his own requisites, but hey, if one fails it´s not the host problem.

The problem here is Schengen, if Sweden gives shelter and everything for free they can consider themselves ruined, there are too many EU-belonging members to care of. Give shelter and you will have 3 millions of leechers more in a short period of time.

And yes Swedish universities have loads of leechers, and problems with some refugees that the only thing that they provide is expenses, it is impressive the amount of foreigners that got pregnant this year during my SFI, but that's a different story.
00:07 May 21, 2011 by Corvinus
One of the main points in the article was related to these people coming here and finding no way of funding their way home. I would think that a campaign for donations giving these guys flight tickets would be be a LOT more succesful than that for a homeless shelter ;) If such a scheme got running I'd pay for that without a second thought.
21:07 October 29, 2011 by icemano3
they all entitled to benefits and housing (not only shelter) you better start paying that out and help them cause guess what ? you are Europeans not northerners because you guys going in EU can get a proper support ............with different words they are not welcome there??????????? secondly city council should be responsible for travel money and tickets return home like any other capital city in EU London , Paris , Roma ..............................start do something lazy boring snow guys
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