Are we as welcoming as we want to be?

Puck Norell

15th August 2018

Our community is built up by many different societal constellations and groups. These groups can be connected by different factors such as religion, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. One division of society that can be affected by many of the factors mentioned, is class. That society and personal success is heavily influenced by our social class, or status, is inevitable when going around in different parts of the community.

“We don’t have any poverty in our country”, I remember someone saying not long ago. “Most people do have money to be able to feed themselves every day, and they have a roof over their heads”. I questioned it at that time, but since I didn’t have any statistics to back it up myself I didn’t get into it. Just like that person, I pretty much based my thoughts on gut feeling, and personal belief. But let me tell you about Lars-Olof, who I met together with Victoria and Martin a while back. He changed something in me, and I hope that he will change you as well.

Nervously, we entered the premises of Situation Stockholm, a magazine that started with the aim to help people that have been forgotten by society. Situation Stockholm is sold by homeless and socially vulnerable people, and it is a way for them to try to make a living. I was nervous, because I did not know what to expect. I think that talking to people, you kinda know what will make them engaged and interested. This because we are kind of standing on the same foundation – most of us have a house to live in, we buy our food at grocery stores, we go to the hospital when we are sick, and we enjoy reading, going out on restaurants and meeting our friends. But this time, we were going to meet a person whose life is a complete mystery. We didn’t have the slightest idea what he had been through or blessed with. I think it is important to put emphasis on that we have been blessed with all the luxury that we are living in, something that we, sadly, only take for granted.

Lars-Olof sat in the corner of the room, with his three large plastic bags full of history. He looked at us curiously as we went into the small room. Here, we were about to initiate our conversation about our project and a product that would clean water from pharmaceuticals. “I get water in bottles from different events around Stockholm, but the bottles are pretty useless. You cannot recycle them and get the money for them”, Jan-Olof said in a slightly annoyed voice. Being very keen on helping the environment, but also being able to provide food for himself and his partner, this money could help him a long way. It is especially important now he said. His partner needs to work full time with selling the magazine to earn money for her cancer treatment. He himself had difficulties with pain for many years, and the medications that his doctor gave him didn’t work. Nevertheless he didn’t want to throw out the medications, so he continued taking them. We continued on the topic of hospitals and medical need, and he excused it to be too bad. He blames it on politics, and he hopes that people will vote wisely in the election - A Sweden that works for everyone.

We asked him about our project, and what he thought of the idea to purify water from pharmaceuticals. He looked at us, and said that it sounds good. But we could see that there were more important things to him. And we understood, when we asked what his living situation looks like.

“Have you heard the Swedish song about the bridges” he says. We shook our heads, and he continues “sometimes I sleep below Västerbron, and sometimes other bridges. If the guards won’t send us off, we stay there for quite a while”.

And we understood. I had always been thinking about water being one of the most essential parts of life, and that’s something you can’t decline, but the discussion turned out in this case to be about quality of water. The reason for this was due to his view on drinkable water, and the fact that it was completely different from ours. He talked about water from the toilet being drinkable, and he was upset that we would throw that away for flushing toilets. I understood that for him, our product was a luxury problem. He agreed that it would be a great solution for the environment, but there was no apparent need for him to be able to have our product as a filter for filtering water. It was not of a great concern for him. What was of concern for him however, was not to find shelter for the day or water to drink, but finding a place to call home.

I left the meeting feeling both sad and content in a way. I was sad because we in society have failed Jan-Olof and other homeless, and let these individuals down. However, I felt happy and privileged to have gotten an insight in a new person’s life, and that he wanted to share his thoughts and life story with us.