HOMELESSNESS in Berlin & Modern Wealthy Germany
By Kevin Stoda
Last winter—one of the longest and overall coldest winters of the past decade–, Berlin saw the capacity for homelessness stretched to its limits. Average nightly capacity was overfilled at a rate of 109.5% for most of the city. This increase in numbers of homeless using public facilities occurred in the wake of three deaths due to freezing very early this past winter. Families of homeless from Eastern Europe have been particularly been on the rise over the past 4 to 5 winters as noted by volunteers and employees at some of the city’s homeless shelters. Apparently, in Eastern Europe people immigrate west to Berlin to gain warmth in the winter—just as Southern German homeless escape south of the Alps at the same time.
The large and less humane homeless shelters, such as the Berlin City Mission, are the most crowed on some nights—while the so-called homeless cafes and homeless tea shops are the only ones with extra room. These homeless cafes are often gender specific, so families are left out of access to such institutions. In all, Berlin officially offered this past winter some 43,614 beds or places to sleep. However, officially, on average some 47,776 homeless people stayed at the various shelters around the town.
By the way, most of my statistics on Berlin come from a series of articles in “MOTZ” (April 2010) , a home peoples newspaper produced at one of the homeless and half way centres in Berlin. The writers of “Motz” have noted that the homeless cafes offered room for a total of 9263 overnights for homeless persons, but are less popular with often only 75% capacity being filled this past ice-cold winter 2009-2010. However, in the past year it has been only the number of so-called homeless cafes which have been significantly increased in numbers—even though demand for places to sleep there have not been increasing .
Another article in “MOTZ” described the fact that Berlin’s number of homeless residents has increased steadily since 1990, i.e. after the Wall came down and communism collapsed (and after free-market and ludicrous-economic-notions took over in the East). Large numbers of Sinti and Roma—as well as numerous other European homeless–emigrate to the capital city, Berlin, of the richest country in Europe each year.
Last year many tent cities of gypsies and homeless became the focus of local residents concern and rage for the damages suffered to the quality of their lives and their neighbourhoods, i.e. due to neighbourhood duress caused by so many homeless settling in for the summer. Omeanwhile, the city of Berlin and the neighbouring state of Brandenburg have often recognise that many of the homeless from other lands, including gypsies, do end up working part-time or even full-time in the local economies. (This is why the creation of gypsy tents and caravans in the summertime have been accepted or tolerated to some degree in a country, which was once notorious as a persecutor of Roma and Sinti.)
Berlin, of course, is not the only city in Germany that attracts a lot of long-term homeless. It is just that Berlin works harder to take care of homeless than some other locations in the land. It is notable, for example, that the Berlin Waterworks this winter for the first time had offered to take in homeless after the 3 deaths noted earlier in the winter. The Berlin Waterworks allowed the homeless to live and stay on the ground of their various pumping facilities. I do not know of many other cities, where corporations open heir doors to the homeless like that—even if they are freezing outside daily. Many of the homeless even say there was more room and space at the Waterworks to relax than in the traditional multi-bed rooms found around the city. (Cots were put up at the water works late each afternooon.)
I visited a Diakonische homeless centre recently in Wiesbaden. The Diakonie has regular volunteers and offers volunteer medical help on Wednesdays. However, that same Wednesday evening (and again the next day), I observed many of those homeless who had been turned away from such shelters riding the buses of the city later that same rainy cold evening in May.
The city of Wiesbaden also offers assistance to homeless women and families. However, what is most notable in the evenings is a bus across the street from the train station. It is a large and luxurious bus, which serves as a meeting point for getting homeless teenagers and youth off the streets at night. It is a new and welcoming bus. Youth who arrive there are taken to a centre nearby for the night, where they can get advice, a meal, and other forms of assistance, rather than being on the street at night.
It is not clear how many homeless in Germany are foreign-born and raised, but it is clear that a large number of East Europeans have migrated westward over the past decade. In all, in any one year, one to three million homeless may live in or be passing through Germany—this includes many homeless employees who cannot afford rent in high priced Germany, such as myself.