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.
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.