The Other Side of Stockholm
by MARIJE POORT
The first thing you probably notice is the cheerful colours. Look again and you see this image actually shows a dark side of society: homelessness. The first time I visited Stockholm, I was shocked by the amount of people living on the streets. So many people, dependent on the generosity of others. So many people, having to think of where to go and where to sleep - day in, day out.
No matter what I was doing - sitting on the train, doing groceries or just walking around town - I encountered homeless people. Call it naive, but I thought that in a country known for having one of the best welfare systems in the world, there wouldn’t be that many people living on the streets.
It struck me because I am not used to this situation. You won’t hear me say that there are no homeless people in the Netherlands, but I’ve never seen so many people on the streets. Especially by night. One day I had to go to work, it was six o’clock in the morning, and I walked past ten people sleeping on the ground or on benches in the park. My way to work is a five minute walk.
During the day the homeless are begging. Every person seems to have his or her own spot and that’s where they sit. Day in, day out. If I walk to the tunnelbana I always see the same three people sitting on the ground, with blankets wrapped around their bodies and a paper cup in their hands, trying to get my attention saying: ‘hej!’.
Seeing people sit around like that, like these three man, makes me feel sad. It would make me feel much better if I would just give them some money, but I don’t. I can’t imagine how hard it is to have to live on the streets, especially during this time of the year. In my eyes nobody has to be homeless nowadays; the welfare-level of EU countries could allow all people to have a home.
Many of the homeless people in Stockholm are Roma, easily recognisable by their colourful way of dressing. After Bulgaria and Romania entered the European Union in 2014, these Romani people moved to other countries inside the EU to try and find their luck there.
It may sound cruel - and it does make me feel bad sometimes - but I think not giving money to beggars is the right thing to do. Having to live on the streets and earn money by begging is not a worthy way of living. By giving money, I believe you’re only supporting a short term solution and you’re incentivising beggars to keep on begging.
But what is the solution then? Just ignoring them certainly is not. No, the homeless people on the streets of Stockholm are part of a bigger problem. And since we all belong to the same Union, I really see this as something that has to be solved by the Union. That doesn’t mean we, as citizens, shouldn’t do anything. Give a blanket, buy a coffee or have a chat. I will certainly try to say ‘hej’ back.