Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Contradictions Within the Swedish Welfare System: Social Services’ Homelessness Strategies Under Housing Inequality

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Abstract:  Sweden has seen a rise in homelessness alongside its strained housing market. References are increasingly being made to structural problems with housing provision, rather than individual issues. Housing has been organized through the local social services, which are responsible for supporting homeless people. With a foundation in housing studies, this article analyzes the Swedish social services’ challenges and actions in a time in which affordable housing is in shortage, and housing inequality a reality, through the lens of social services. The focus is on the intersection between the regular housing market and housing provision (primary welfare system), the social services needs‐tested support (secondary welfare system), and the non‐profit and for‐profit organizations (tertiary welfare system), with emphasis on the first two. The article is based on interviews with people working for the City of Malmö and illustrates how the housing shortage problem is moved around within the welfare system whilst also showing that social services’ support for homeless individuals appears insufficient. Social services act as a “first line” gatekeeper for those who have been excluded from the regular housing market. Moreover, recently implemented restrictions aim to make sure that the social services do not act as a “housing agency,” resulting in further exclusion from the housing market. The article highlights how the policies of the two welfare systems interact with and counteract each other and finally illustrates how homeless individuals fall between them. It highlights the need to link housing and homelessness in both research and practice to gain a deeper understanding of the complexities of housing markets and how homelessness is sustained.

Keywords:  homelessness policy; housing inequality; housing provision; social services; Sweden; welfare systems



© Matilda Sandberg, Carina Listerborn. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.