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By Gabby Castle, 2022

When I was in high school, I volunteered for an organization called Hemlösa in Stockholm, Sweden and learned first hand about the connection between homelessness, hunger, and the challenges people face when trying to make their way back to society. 

Kevian Ferdowsi is the founder and leader of Hemlösa. Once homeless himself, he now has a kinship with and advocates for some 300 homeless people each day, 365 days a year.


Every morning at 6:00 am, with the help of volunteers, Kavian goes around to all of the restaurants in Stockholm’s Central Station to pick up food from the previous day that can no longer be sold to commuters, workers, and shoppers. Boxes get filled with wraps, sandwiches, kanelbullar (a hugely popular Swedish cinnamon bun), salads, and fruit, and are then set out on the street to feed the homeless, along with hot coffee. “Fika” is an important Swedish custom, a mindset, of taking a break from activity to drink coffee, eat a snack or cake and relax with others. The Hemlösa offering is a fika of sorts, because it sustains people who are food insecure. Homeless people come from all over the city and Kevian often wakes up people who are sleeping in the station to make sure they are fed. This act of human kindness.

On the mornings I volunteered, I would rise earlier than usual, take a quick shower, dress, grab breakfast, and my backpack, and leave the warmth of my family’s apartment in Östermalm. While most people were still sound asleep and buildings were dark, I made my way towards Strandväven, past the fancy shopping district, and on to Central Station to help other volunteers pick up food, set up tables, greet and hand out food. Some days we would give out gently-worn clothing that we had previously gathered. Then I would head off to my classes. Those days are when I really started to see and learn about the vulnerability that comes from being homeless. How not having a home address can make it hard to apply for a job. How not being seen can impact one’s mental health. How being exposed to harsh weather can negatively impact one’s physical health. Empathy is understanding that someone else’s world is real. My eyes were opened. 

My family and I lived in Stockholm for five years, followed by two years in Paris, and now in London, although I’m currently attending university in Chicago. Sadly, I’ve seen lots of people living on the streets in every city. Homelessness is pervasive and entrenched in our society. 


In addition to my university coursework, I work about 24 hours a week at a grab-and-go restaurant. My job includes working front and back of the house, taking and making orders and doing food prep. From time-to-time I’m assigned the night shift which means working with my colleagues to close the restaurant. It breaks my heart to see so much perfectly good food go into trash bins at the end of those shifts. To be sure, there are non-profit organizations like Waste No Food and Rescuing Leftover Cuisines whose missions are to prevent food waste and help those who are food insecure or homeless. Utilizing user-friendly apps, restaurants can post excess food information, and the pickup location that charities use to feed those who are in need. They do what they can. 

My capacity for empathy has grown in the days since volunteering at Hemlösa and I try to do what I can. It’s a small act, but a friend and I have started taking our free employee perk meals to give to a man named Lester who sits in front of a drugstore on a street corner near the restaurant. After grocery shopping, my roommate and I have been giving something from our grocery bags to one of several homeless people we encounter on our walk home. Recently, I watched my roommate give a homeless man her hat on a bitterly cold Chicago day because, as she said “I have so many hats at home and he clearly needs it more than I do.”

Still, it doesn’t feel like the societal response is enough. Homelessness is on the rise, as is food insecurity. Through the British Broadcast System (BBC), I’ve become aware of Finland’s efforts to reduce homelessness. Over the last 30 years, the government of Finland has made it a key priority to reduce the number of people without homes from 18,000 in 1987 to 6,600 people in 2017, the large majority of which are now living with friends or family. Today, only a relatively small number of people are living on the streets. Unlike most other countries, Finland follows a “Housing First'' principle which functions to ensure that anyone who is experiencing homelessness, regardless of circumstances, receives a stable and permanent home as quickly as possible. Once housing is secured, collaborating social welfare, health and disability service organizations provide wrap-around services to address issues like health care, substance abuse, mental health, or job search assistance to help individuals overcome the obstacles that contributed to homelessness. Research shows that it is less expensive to first house the homeless, so that supporting resources can go further. “The Housing First principle is guided by the notion that having a place to live is both a human right and a basic right” and the policy does not discriminate. Notably, Finland is the only European country where homelessness numbers are in a decline. 

The United States military is working to duplicate the success of the Housing First strategy to end veteran homelessness by encouraging a similar community-wide priority approach. Finding success with the Housing First strategy can serve as a model for other communities that are experiencing homelessness. 


The lack of affordable housing is a very complex issue in cities large and small all over the world, considering the wide range of local economies, the high cost of housing, immigration challenges, and expense of funding social services. A national commitment to the Housing First strategy, implemented by states and giving people in local communities a say on where housing the homeless can best work in their communities could help to end the homeless crisis in this country. Providing housing assistance first could help improve health and well-being while lowering the overall social and economic cost to our society. Finland has provided the blueprint for all countries and hopefully it won’t take 30 years to address the issue here. For the sake of human dignity, the principle of “Housing First” is worth deep consideration and I hope other countries will look at the long term benefits. No one deserves to be homeless or food insecure.

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Works Cited

“Boldly Working for Human Dignity: Deaconess Foundation.” Diakonissalaitos, 14 Apr. 2022,

“Hemlö” Hemlö | Arbetar Med Att På Många Sätt Hjälpa De Hemlösa Runt Om i Världen., 19 Feb. 2022,

“Housing First Scheme in Finland: Y-Foundation (Y-Säätiö).” Y, 16 Feb. 2021, Housing

First principle is,be the provision of housing.

Hummel, Brad. “What Are NBEA Standards?” CTE Curriculum for Middle and High School Teachers, 3 Oct. 2022,

Ma, Runbai. “Chicago, IL: Rescuing Leftover Cuisine.” Chicago, IL | Rescuing Leftover Cuisine,

Trewern, Mat. “The City with No Homelessness on Its Streets.” BBC News, BBC, 31 Jan. 2019,

WasteNoFood, 31 Mar. 2022,

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