Freezing temperatures pose constant danger to Germany’s homeless

A warm bed for a night is not always enough for Germany's homeless. Because homeless people are continually exposed to the current cold, Experts believe that even the daytime can pose many dangers.

Freezing temperatures pose constant danger to Germany's homeless
A homeless man sits with several shopping bags in a bus stop in Berlin. Photo: DPA

The German Federal Working Community for Assisting the Homeless (BagW) is calling for homeless shelters to stay open throughout the day during the cold winter months.

It is not enough to provide shelter at night only to send homeless people back onto the streets in the morning, BagW director Werena Rosenke said. “A person can also freeze to death during the day”.

Germany is currently experiencing a cold snap caused by a high pressure which has arrived from Russia. On Tuesday night temperatures dropped to -13C in the north of the country.

In many cities, there are limited options for homeless people seeking warmth during daytime hours. “We also need safe homeless shelters in order to provide for these people”, says Rosenke.

Especially threatened in the freezing temperatures are people with pre-existing conditions. In this season alone, BagW has already registered four people who have died from exposure to the extreme cold.  

SEE MORE: What it's like to be homeless in Germany's winter 

Approximately 52,000 people currently live on the streets in Germany, according to Rosenke. “Many big cities have expanded their emergency services for the winter months. Whether that is enough is another matter”, she notes. 

Rosenke claims that it is not only a matter of providing room within the facilities: they would also need be safe and humane spaces that offer the minimum standard of personal privacy. “I cannot accommodate eight complete strangers together within one room”, she explains. 

Even homeless women, who are likely to have experienced violence during their lives on the street, are often not worried enough about the cold conditions. Many homeless people avoid emergency shelters altogether because they do not feel that they are safe.

In addition, pets are often not welcome in these shelters – the last friend for many within the homeless community. “I cannot be asked to choose between an animal and a place to sleep” says Rosenke. There are, however, already a few shelters where homeless people are allowed to stay with their furry friends.

The homeless population is just the tip of the iceberg when looking at the problem of housing, according to Rosenke. More than 860,000 people live without their own housing in Germany, of which 440,000 are refugees who often have to stay in public shelters. For the other 420,000 people, many are able to seek partial accommodation in special housing communities that have been erected by local authorities. “Others are able to stay with friends or relatives,” says Rosenke.

In Germany, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be able move into an apartment. One reason for this is the acute lack of housing in the low-price sector. “We had times in the past when there were significantly more people who were unemployed and recipients of other social benefits, but fewer homeless people, simply because more homes were available”, says Rosenke.

As Germany currently experiences some of its coldest days of the year, it is important to note that weather-related danger for homeless people is not just a problem in big cities, but rather a trend that is occurring across the whole of Germany.

SEE MORE: 10 pictures to show just how freezing it is in Germany


Damaged freighter blocks traffic at drought-hit Rhine

A stranded cargo ship caused traffic to be halted Wednesday at the Rhine river in western Germany after suffering a technical fault, authorities said, at a time when water transport was already ailing from a drought.

Damaged freighter blocks traffic at drought-hit Rhine

The vessel is stuck at St. Goar and Oberwesel, in between the cities of Mainz and Koblenz, water police said, adding that they were expecting to clear the stricken ship within the day.

The machine damage came as water levels in the Rhine had dropped to critical points at several locations, including at nearby Kaub — a known bottleneck for shipping where the river runs narrow and shallow.

The gauge at Kaub stood at 34 cm (13 inches) on Wednesday, well below the 40-cm reference point.

While vessels are still able to navigate at low water levels, they are forced to reduce their loads to avoid the risk of running aground.

About four percent of freight is transported on waterways in Germany, including on the Rhine, which originates in Switzerland and runs through several countries including France and Germany before flowing into the sea in the Netherlands.

READ ALSO: How the Rhine’s low water levels are impacting Germany

Transport on the Rhine has gained significance in recent months because among cargo moved on the river is coal, now all the more necessary as Germany seeks to wean itself off Russian gas.

Germany’s biggest companies have already warned that major disruptions to river traffic could deal another blow to an economy already beset by logistical difficulties.

The 2018 drought, which saw the benchmark depth of the Rhine in Kaub drop to 25 cm in October, shrank German GDP by 0.2 percent that year, according to Deutsche Bank Research.