What problems do the homeless face

Cold and CoronaHomeless in the pandemic winter

The mood is irritable in the evening at half past seven in front of the emergency shelter of the city mission at Berlin Central Station. "Just get in the back, then you can get in." "Let me go, no food, no nothing, just sleep." "Yes, but you still have to wait like everyone else."

About 25 homeless people stand in a long line waiting to be let into the city mission. Because before there is a warm soup and a bed for the night, a corona rapid test is mandatory, every day anew. And that means standing in line and waiting. For a waiting number, then for the test and then for the result.

That doesn't put you in a good mood: "Well, going down the throat with a chopstick every day is superfluous. You can do that now and then, but not every day. Bad idea. Corona Virus no! What is Corona Virus? Three bottles of vodka is no Corona Virus. "

The city mission prefers not to rely on three bottles of vodka to fight the virus - and neither does the Berlin Senate. The state of Berlin pays for the rapid corona tests for the homeless. 120,000 test kits were distributed in the city's homeless facilities in December.

(dpa / picture alliance / Britta Pedersen) Corona test for the homeless - mood in emergency shelters ″ like a powder keg ″
Eating and staying overnight only with a negative Corona rapid test - this is the new reality in Berlin emergency shelters for the homeless. What is well-intentioned prolongs the process, annoys many homeless people and unsettles the staff in the emergency shelters.

For the homeless, i.e. for people who actually live on the streets, there are around 1,000 emergency overnight accommodation places in Berlin - the places here at the city mission are one of them. In addition, almost 34,000 people in the capital are homeless, which means that they do not have their own apartment and live permanently in public accommodation, for example in dormitories.

Cold aid: "Now only 80 people are allowed in"

Quick tests are now carried out in many accommodations, but not in all of them. The reason for this is that only people with medical training are allowed to carry out the tests, criticizes Berlin's Senator for Social Affairs, Elke Breitenbach, and calls for this provision to be corrected: "Because we cannot find any doctors who stand in front of a refrigeration facility from 5 to 11 pm. And we are on it instructed that we get support now. Because that is actually again a fairly high level of protection. When we test and determine where people are positive, because the symptoms are definitely different, or are not at all. "

During the city mission at the main train station, doctors and trained nurses test on the basis of a joint project with the Charité. Every evening, four people with blue plastic coats, face masks and visors stand in front of their faces at the entrance to the emergency shelter and use test sticks to decide their fate - at least that's how the homeless see it, says Ulrich Neugebauer, the head of the cold help on Lehrter Straße. Because of the Corona regulations, he had to reduce the number of beds here by almost half.

"I have the feeling it's like a powder keg. We notice how people treat us, how the aggression and violence against employees increases. They all stand in front of you in a friendly way, smile at you and say, test again, Yes. And they boil, I tested yesterday, but you only come in when you test, otherwise you go away. And Lehrter Strasse used to be always a place, you could have 4.5 per mille, you could before Killed someone, you kept coming in here, all the night, all night. And now only 80 people are allowed in. And now they stand here and know that if I don't get there in time, I won't get any space. And that makes a lot of pressure. "

(dpa) Head of the station mission at Berlin Zoo - "The homeless are not Martians"
He is the head of the largest station mission in Germany: Dieter Puhl and his team work at the Berlin Zoo station. Many homeless people have mental health problems or are alcoholics, he says. You should give them something too, because a beer can save lives.

Those who lived at their place of work are left with nothing

An emergency shelter in Berlin had to be closed so far because ten people there tested positive. In a so-called "Night of Solidarity" a year ago, almost 2,000 people were counted in Berlin who spent the night outside. Aid organizations suspect, however, that there are actually at least twice as many. According to estimates, around 60 percent of Berlin's homeless come from Eastern and Southeastern Europe. And overall, due to Corona, there are now more people on the street than before, suspects historian Nico Rollmann, who carried out a study on the subject of homeless people in Corona times.

"This is about the so-called undocumented workers, for example, in the past one would have said about those who work black, who often come from Southeastern or Eastern Europe and sometimes live at their place of work. They now have their jobs very often lost and then ended up on the street. Or maybe to name another example, the sex workers. Well, as you know, there is a big sex industry in Berlin. The women, who sometimes also live in these brothels, are closed and some of the women ended up on the street. "

Spend the night in the hostel, then hit the streets again

With 1000 emergency overnight places for people who live on the street, Berlin now has almost as many as before the pandemic. Because not so many people should stay overnight in one place, the social administration has created additional accommodation. In addition to the well-known addresses, such as the one at the main train station, there are now also places to stay in three hostels that the State of Berlin has rented. Because of Corona, the hostels had no guests anyway and now benefit from the arrangement, just like the homeless. However, like all other emergency overnight stays, the hostels have to be vacated in the morning.

The young Pole Gregor and his girlfriend are sleeping in one of the hostels in Berlin Adlershof tonight: "We lost our job because of this Corona crisis. We worked on a probationary period in a hotel. that's why we got the notice, after that we were in a pension for three weeks, then unfortunately, the money was over. "

And so the two young Poles ended up on the street. Almost all homeless people can stay in two-bed rooms here in the hostel - this is not the case in the usual emergency overnight stays in the city. The Corona rapid test did not deter Gregor and his girlfriend, but that is not always the case, says Katrin Liebscher from the Arbeiter Samariter Bund, who now runs the house.

"The problem is actually that most people do not go into the accommodations because they just hear it, word gets around that tests are or should be carried out. And they are afraid that they will be held somewhere. They want their freedom. That's why they are often on the street. "

(dpa / Florian Schuh) Homeless in the pandemic - "I don't care about Corona - I'm hungry"
Winter is a difficult season for the homeless. If winter and Corona come together, the situation will become even more precarious for many. Take Cologne as an example: Aid associations and social services are trying to prepare for the coming months.

"Nobody is locked up, not even in the quarantine accommodation"

The queue in front of the emergency overnight stay at the main train station is getting longer and longer despite the reservations about the mandatory corona tests. Many of the men do not speak German, and from time to time the city mission supervisors have to remind them of the mask. A homeless woman is sitting a little apart, next to her an intoxicated man. Some test results have already been positive in the past few days, says Anna Behnke from the city mission.

"If there is a suspicion, then they are isolated alone, in a single room with their own bathroom. And when we have done the second test, the PCR smear, and know that the person has Corona, then they come to the quarantine station. In the quarantine station if they are medically cared for, doctors who look regularly also work there. "

The quarantine station right next to the emergency shelter has 16 places, with the possibility of increasing to 100. So far, this has not been used - at the beginning of January, seven infected homeless people were in quarantine here. Some felt good and were calming down, says Anna Behnke, while others have already fled the prescribed quarantine. Many are alcoholic or addicted - and in order to persuade these people to stay, in many cases it is not possible without alcohol, says the Berlin State Secretary for Labor and Social Affairs, Alexander Fischer.

He sees the matter pragmatically: "Nobody is locked up, not even in the quarantine accommodation. And every day it happens several times that a person is very excited and wants to get out and at least wants to get some alcohol. And then that has something to do with to communicate with people and also to organize that they - and that is also part of the reality in this quarantine station - to supply them with alcohol. It cannot happen that you simply provide a lot of alcohol at random. That means then Specifically, that one measures the alcohol content in the blood to find out how much alcohol a person needs in order to keep the condition halfway stable, so to speak, and then to provide this alcohol. "

Hospitals only offer short-term acute treatment for the homeless

Berlin's Senator for Social Affairs, Elke Breitenbach, believes that a lot has to be taken into account: protecting the homeless from Corona, preventing the homeless from becoming carriers and that the homeless often suffer more from the corona protection regulations than from the virus itself. In the meantime, things are quite good in the capital under control: "The second wave was more difficult than the first wave, I have to say that now, but of course we were able to provide a lot more offers of help and support in the second wave than in the first wave. Because it was just a unbelievably great pressure and, especially in the first wave, I was infinitely afraid that we would have mass outbreaks among the homeless and that they would then be completely isolated and we didn't even know what to do with them. "

Overview on the subject of coronavirus (imago / Rob Engelaar / Hollandse Hoogte)

Hotels, quarantine station, alcohol distribution. Corona makes many things possible that seemed unthinkable in earlier times. On the other hand, because of Corona, new problems for the homeless would arise, says Harry Fenzel from the Limburg Homeless Aid in an online conference of the Federal Homeless Aid Association. Namely, that hospitals are reducing their aid: "And so clinics that vacate entire wards in pandemic times because intensive care beds are available become the place where precisely these people have at best received short-term acute treatment and then have been sent back to the streets . And the end justifies the means and Corona legitimizes the exclusion of help. "

Aid to the homeless is not always considered to be systemically relevant

And then the aid organizations would have to somehow solve the problem and would then come to the edge of their resilience. Gabriele Kraft from the League Committee for Homeless Aid in Baden-Wuerttemberg explains that assistance to the homeless is not seen as systemically relevant in all federal states or municipalities: "Only when we received the label, for example, were our employees allowed to bring their children to the Provide emergency supplies to daycare centers and schools and were thus able to return to their workplaces. The systemic relevance would have made it easier for many to get protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic, etc. "

This also plays a role for the people on the street, because they are more dependent on the aid organizations than before. Life outside has gotten tougher. Sources of income such as collecting bottles, selling homeless newspapers or begging have become smaller because fewer people are on the road overall. Shopping centers to warm up are closed, as are some public toilets.

Homeless and vulnerable people can stay in the overnight café at night. (Deutschlandradio / Jannis Keil)

Goods fences with food, hygiene articles, clothing

The fences, on which helpful Berliners hang food and clothes for the homeless in various places in the city, were a ray of hope at the beginning of the pandemic, says the homeless Maria: "It was a difficult situation for the homeless and homeless. So you really got to zero from one moment to the next. What surprised me were these goods fences, which I thought were incredibly great. Especially in the initial phase, they were really well stocked. So there was food, there were hygiene items, Especially for us women, it was a great thing if you didn't have any money and didn't know where to get what, here it was. "

Unfortunately, the willingness to donate has decreased. The bow that Berliners make about the homeless has grown again - that is also meant literally. Obviously, the homeless are particularly in need of help right now. The Federal Association for Homeless Aid has surveyed institutions across Germany: Almost six percent of the offers of help for the homeless have been completely discontinued due to Corona, every third offer is only available to a limited extent, all the others have somehow organized themselves in a corona-compliant manner - and that often means: as much as possible Free relocated.

(picture alliance / dpa / Andreas Arnold) Mainz - Creative help for the homeless in Corona times
Where are those at home who have no home? Where do they collect bottles or donations when the streets are empty? In Mainz, helpers have good ideas and can accommodate a sick homeless person in a closed hotel, for example.

"You must not rest, not warm up"

Like the clothing store of the Berlin City Mission. At half past nine in the morning, almost 20 people are waiting with temperatures around zero degrees. The closet is more of an open-air dressing room. In the meantime there is at least one tent, says Barbara Breuer from the city mission.

"We had to move that outside because of the corona, because the clothes closet is so small that two people are not allowed to be there at once. For all homeless people in Berlin, almost everywhere, you stay outside and not inside. That means , all distributions, whether here the clothes distribution, whether the food distribution, almost everything is open air, that means people come to a window, to a counter or sit in the queue like here outside and then get what they need, but they they are not allowed to come in. That means they are not allowed to rest, they are not allowed to warm up and that is a condition that is very unpleasant at these temperatures. "

A homeless man stands under a bridge at the Zoo train station in Berlin. (imago / Ralph Peters)

Most of the people waiting here come from Eastern or Southeastern Europe. Many came from EU countries such as Poland, Romania or Bulgaria to work in Germany as part of the freedom of movement and then failed for various reasons, say the city mission staff.

"There are very many people who are really on the verge of suicide"

Anna Gindina, the head of the clothing store, is looking for warm shoes or thick jackets for those affected. Today, as always, underwear is in short supply. Most of the people here are more worried about the cold than Corona: "For us too, most of the time we are confronted with a wide variety of diseases. We have a lot to do with tuberculosis and then hepatitis or scabies. And to be honest, I have scabies more fear and of lice too. "

And from the cold. And before the loneliness, says the homeless person from Berlin, Ralf: "We get something to pick up, but we have no more contact with each other and therefore hardly any opportunity to talk to each other. And there are a lot of people who are really on It's a very, very different life. It used to be like this, we met in the soup kitchen at lunchtime or in the evening at events, we always met people, that has disappeared. It's difficult for normal people . "

Berlin has now responded. In addition to the emergency overnight accommodation, which must always be vacated in the morning, there are now several accommodations where over 300 homeless people can stay during the day. It is true that the number of people in need is much higher. But the offer is now much better than before Corona, explains Senator Elke Breitenbach: "That is something special, what we have not had before, that now people who are not entitled to benefits, that people first have the opportunity to actually having a place to stay for a longer period of time. "

Homeless people on Alexanderplatz in Berlin (picture alliance / dpa / Wolfram Steinberg)

One sponsor pays 170 people accommodation for three months

With such additional accommodations, offers and hostels, the supply and accommodation of the Berlin homeless in this corona year will now cost 10 to 13 million euros more than a little more than three million euros, estimates the Berlin social administration. In Hamburg they have had good experiences with a round-the-clock offer, says Maren Sievert from the Salvation Army in Hamburg in the online conference of the Federal Association for Homeless Aid. With money from a sponsor, 170 people were accommodated in a hotel for three months. These included people who, as a rule, have no entitlement to social support here.

"They live in single rooms and were advised and accompanied by social pedagogues. And thanks to the peace and relaxation that most of them were able to experience there and the support and advice, many people were able to stabilize themselves very well during this time. And it happened during this time three months to astonishing personal developments. Some were then able to move to permanent accommodation, some were able to take up normal insurance-based employment and some people who were really completely far removed from the support system could be reached.

(Hauke-Christian Dittrich / dpa) Homeless women - a hidden life without their own apartment
Women are particularly vulnerable to homelessness. If a relationship breaks up or the pension is insufficient, some of them lose their homes. Offers of help can support them, but there are too few, complain social workers.

Women are particularly vulnerable to homelessness. If a relationship breaks up or the pension is insufficient, some of them lose their homes. Help offers can support them, but there are too few, complain social workers.

In the station mission there is only food through the window

There have been similarly good experiences in Berlin with all-day accommodations. The Hamburg project was not extended, however. In Berlin, Senator for Social Affairs Breitenbach hopes that Corona has opened the door for the permanent operation of such facilities. It is still difficult for people who still spend the night outside because they do not want to or cannot adhere to the rules, have dogs or have addiction problems. Before Corona, they warmed up in shopping centers or homeless cafes during the winter during the day. Shopping centers are now often closed or no longer allow eating or drinking there. Homeless cafes are - if at all only open to very few people - and for very limited periods of time. Even in the Bahnhofsmission am Zoo, Berlin's most famous meeting place for the homeless, people only get food through the window, they have to eat while standing or sitting on their knees on the cold sidewalk in front of the house.

Many people simply don't know where to go during the day, says Roland Saurer from the Baden-Württemberg State Poverty Conference. He was only recently in Stuttgart: "Then I noticed that there is nowhere anywhere where someone can at least pick up sandwiches or even the everyday need for protection, for warmth, there is a lot of vinegar everywhere. And me also consider what is happening there to be extremely dangerous to health. "

Formerly open to everyone - today only after a corona rapid test - the homeless shelter on Lehrter Strasse in Berlin (picture alliance / dpa / Paul Zinken /)

Restaurant open as a retreat for up to 150 homeless people

Berlin has finally been a step further in this regard since mid-December. A large restaurant on Alexanderplatz has closed due to the pandemic - and has now reopened for the homeless. Up to 150 people can stay here during the day on 1,500 square meters, says Romana, who sits in a wheelchair and lives on the street: "I'm just very happy that I'm welcome here, that I'm able to chat with people, sit in the warm and eat , stay here for the day, just take a rest. "

The cooperation of the Berlin social administration with the restaurant is a win-win situation, says the managing director of the Hofbräu Berlin, Björn Schwarz: "And we are in a very good location with the Hofbräu and we have a lot of square meters and we are closed The pandemic. And then we sat down with our colleagues from the cold help and it quickly became clear that we can do something here and have something to sit around a table and advise. We do not pass on location rent in this form, but we can get almost ten employees out of short-time work here. "

The social agency Gebewo looks after the new day care center and, together with partners, also offers help and social counseling. This is always particularly difficult for people from the EU, who generally have no right to support here. But especially during the first lockdown, her work in this regard became easier rather than more difficult, says Svenja Ketelsen from Gebewo.

"During the lockdown, everything became easier. Suddenly we no longer had any problems advising EU citizens, because they received financial support, they got rooms and we suddenly had a lot of fun at work. No resistance more."

And so homeless people in Berlin not only suffer from Corona, but can also benefit a little from the pandemic in the end. However, their fate in the aftermath is uncertain.