There are hundreds of thousands of homeless people across Germany and for them, the corona crisis has meant even more hardship.
Everything is closed – from public toilets to many homeless shelters. There are less people on the street – meaning less food and less donations. And with no access to washing facilities, how can they maintain the hygiene standards needed to keep the virus at bay?
Organisations for helping the homeless up and down the country are struggling to maintain their support systems for those who need it most.
We take a look at some of the ways such organisations have been trying to keep going and what the rest of us can do to help out.
Demanding help from central and local government
Werena Rosenke, the Director of the Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Wohnungslosenhilfe (Federal Working Group on Homeless Aid) has said that many of the organisation’s workers across the country feel that the vast majority of services and facilities for homeless people are being neglected by politicians and by health authorities.
In order to mitigate the situation, the Working Group is demanding that forced evictions be suspended, that emergency shelters open their doors even during the day and that municipalities create additional living space.
There have also been appeals to the local government to keep aid workers supplied with protection they need to safely care for their homeless guests.
In Hesse, for example, the local League of Free Welfare Care made an appeal on Tuesday to the state government to ensure the supply of materials such as face masks and disposable gloves.
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A place to stay
Most Notunterkünfte (emergency accommodations) house their guests in multiple occupancy sleeping rooms, but the necessity of social distancing means that such conditions are no longer safe.
In response to pleas from these services, many local authorities have been trying to make other spaces available for homeless people.
Hamburg: Homeless people wait for clothes and food. Photo: DPA
In Berlin, a city with nearly 2000 homeless people, a hostel with places for 200 people was opened on Wednesday night and will be open all day, every day.
In Hamburg, the local authorities have extended their emergency winter programme by keeping shelters open until the end of May.
Keeping people fed
Many of the homeless shelters across Germany which are no longer able to offer their usual services are operating instead as take away food dispensers to ensure that their visitors are at least still fed.
Many independent food delivery initiatives have also been springing up across the country.
In Berlin, a special BVG bus with the slogan #GemeinsamfürBerlin (together for Berlin) carrying grocery packages from 20 Berlin EDEKA markets made its first tour around the city on Wednesday.
Countless smaller initiatives are also underway – from a pizzeria in Leverkusen preparing pizzas for homeless people, to another in Lünen offering a pizza delivery service to locals living on the streets, to a local church group cooking warm food in Rendsburg, to name just a few.
How can you help?
For most of us, following the social distancing rules is, ironically, one of the best ways we can help homeless people.
Many of those living on the streets have existing health conditions and thus belong to the group most at risk from the virus, so taking action to slow its spread is a vital way we can help them. But there is also plenty more we can still do from a distance.
Donations of food and money are always welcomed by charitable organisations. Most states have a Bahnhofsmission (Railway mission) and you can find your local one here.
On the website you will find the contact details for your local organisation – you can give them a call and ask how you can help out or you can simply make a financial donation via the website.
Members of the public hang donations on a fence in Bochum, NRW. Source: dpa
Gabenzäune (donation fences) have become a popular way to make small, practical donations across the country, by hanging packages of food and other necessities to local fences.
As mentioned above, action by local and central government action is what is really needed to house and feed the thousands of people in Germany still living on the streets. There are numerous petitions demanding help for homeless people on Change.org, which you can sign here, or you can even start one yourself.
On the now limited occasions when you are walking your local streets and encounter a homeless person, give them at the very least a smile or, even better, ask them how they are doing.
The closure of homeless shelters and cancelling of activities which were keeping people connected to society means that they are even more isolated than usual. Now, more than ever, homeless people will need a little human interaction, albeit from a distance of 1,5 metres.