How homeless sleep at night

Many homeless people avoid emergency shelters despite the cold : "People don't keep their distance and spit at you"

Mario is standing right in front of his apartment, he would like to invite you in now. Unfortunately not possible. “It's not tidy,” he growls. The door is ajar, right, not really tidied up. On the other hand, it wouldn't take Mario long to keep things tidy.

He doesn't have a lot of belongings in the blue tent he pitched under a bridge next to the Ostbahnhof. Directly in front of the tent, on a concrete wall, Mario has lined up a silver coffee pot, yoghurt tub, milk and sugar, beautifully in shape, very accurate. Of course, that's how he wants it. “I'm the groundskeeper here,” he says, his Saxon dialect is unmistakable. “I make sure that there is no rubbish here.” Mario comes from Leipzig.

He's not alone here, seven or eight other homeless people live under this bridge. One lies in front of Mario's tent on a mattress, wrapped in a dark green blanket. The others have made themselves comfortable next to a crammed shopping cart.

It's 9 p.m., a day in mid-January, it's cold, Mario is wearing a winter jacket and a blue and white woolen hat. The white has already faded quite a bit. Mario wouldn't have to stay here, nor would the others. There are many emergency shelters for homeless people like him, the 45-year-old who has been living on the streets for 15 months.

But he doesn't want to, neither do the others. It's an old topic. Why do people prefer to spend the night in the bitter cold, possibly without a roof over their heads, often enough exposed to wind and rain without protection? A census last year found homeless people in 1976. But their number in Berlin is higher, not all of them have been recorded. Many were not in those places where they were counted.

Nobody knows how many homeless people avoid shelters

And no one knows exactly how many homeless people avoid emergency shelters at night. It is only known that they would rather put up with bad weather than sleep in the warm. There are around 1,100 places to stay this winter, as many as in the previous cold season.

Despite Corona, the number has not been reduced. In the second week of January, only 998 of the 1,092 places were occupied. "80 to 90 percent occupancy in the past few years was the average," says Stefan Strauss, the press spokesman for the Senate Department for Social Affairs.

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At the moment you can withstand the night temperatures, but there have been colder phases. Two homeless people have already died in the cold this winter.

So why the nights outdoors? "Corona," replies Mario. The pandemic plays a role for him. “People in shelters don't keep their distance, and when they're drunk they spit on you. They don't wear a face mask either. "

No, he doesn't feel like doing that. He's got his buddies under the bridge. "Besides, there is no violence or shit like that."

The ambulance of the city mission is now occupied until 11 p.m.

Swetlana Krasovski-Nikiforovs is the head nurse of the City Mission Ambulance on Lehrter Straße. Homeless people receive medical treatment here, and three wheelchair users usually spend the night in the waiting area. A few meters further is the largest emergency shelter during non-corona times. The city mission offers 130 places if there is not a pandemic. “But because of the distance rules, the number has been reduced to 80,” says Krasowski-Nikoforovs.

The nurse sighs. “There are many reasons why people stay away,” she says. “Many are afraid of being robbed. For some it is too loud, German guests in particular are bothered by this confusion of languages ​​that annoys some. “There is a fear of parasites, lice and scabies, and many people fear that they could become infected. And of course Corona, currently another reason to avoid accommodation.

And then there are the animals. Many homeless people have some, mostly dogs. However, animals are not allowed in every emergency shelter. And when some homeless people show up with their house rats, it's not so funny for others. The rats are locked in cages, but that does not increase their acceptance by the roommates very much.

It is then of little use to them that Svetlana Krasowski-Nikoforovs emphasizes: “We have no problem with animals.” Neither with rats, nor with cats or dogs. There are even bowls and food for the animals, but the owners have to take care of their animals themselves. There is even an extra dog room in the accommodation of the Berliner Stadtmission.

Homeless people can get warm clothes in the clothes closet

On its extensive grounds, the city mission moved some of its clothes closet to the courtyard one morning - there is no other way, the Corona rules force it to do so. The waiting tent is set up here, in which the homeless sit until they get their turn, here helpers give out what the people need, from sleeping bags to underwear.

Wojciech Greh works here as a social worker. It's cold, Greh is wearing a ski jacket, the Pole delivers soup to the homeless every Monday evening. People who do not come to the shelters. "Alcohol is a reason," he says. “You can bring it with you, but you cannot drink it with us. Many don't like it. ”Or they are put off by stories.

Your buddies describe bad experiences in the emergency shelters, maybe they were robbed, maybe something else bothered them. In any case, the stories work. Affected people who have never been in an emergency shelter often do not even come.

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That morning a woman picked up jeans, sweaters, T-shirts, underwear, a bra and a sleeping bag from the clothes closet. She does not accept any more offers from the city mission - an overnight stay? Never, not even in any other emergency quarter in the city.

Barbara Breuer, press spokeswoman for the city mission, saw the woman, she knows her story. The woman in her mid-forties has been living on the street for four years, faithfully accompanied by her dog. He's the reason she'd rather spend the night in the cold than in the warm. “She doesn't want other people to touch the animal,” says Barbara Breuer.

However, the woman is of course not alone at night, that would be far too dangerous. She forms a group with four other homeless people, says Breuer. This not only offers communication, but also acts as a security measure.

Often times, the homeless do not want to give up where they are during the day

And often those affected simply do not want to give up the space they occupy during the day. Either it is so that you can use the toilet in a pub, or maybe you can get food there. Or they piled their belongings in a shopping cart. They can't take him to emergency quarters. But they don't want to leave him alone either. He could be gone the next morning.

Sometimes those affected stay in the cold at night for psychological reasons. Kay-Gerrit Venske, Caritas' specialist in helping the homeless, knows a 32-year-old at the Friedenau train station. “He's mentally ill, he can't stand the tightness. He wants to live outside, that's where he is looked after. ”From neighbors, from passers-by.

Barbara Breuer knows another person affected, an extreme case in this regard. A man convinced that someone implanted a chip in him on an emergency night while he was sleeping. And now you can read your mind. An emergency overnight stay is no longer an issue for him.

Homeless wheelchair users are a particular problem

For helpers, on the other hand, homeless wheelchair users are an issue, even an urgent one. “We haven't really found a solution for them,” says Venske. On the contrary, Corona has exacerbated the situation. Even in non-pandemic times, there are no suitable places for them in emergency shelters. The air dome at the container terminal was one of those places to go, large, barrier-free, with staff who could carry you to bed and help you into the wheelchair in the morning.

But the huge hall is now closed, there have been corona cases. And alternative quarters are rare because of the pandemic. The waiting room of the city mission ambulance is occupied until 11 p.m. because rapid tests are being carried out there.

And Caritas only has one place in Residenzstrasse, and that is more for people who can at least take a few steps with difficulty. On a particularly cold night, the city mission opened the chapel in their headquarters so that wheelchair users could sleep there. At the moment she is checking whether she can accommodate wheelchair users in the rooms of her community on Frankfurter Allee.

A wheelchair user doesn't want to go into the warm under any circumstances

And then there are also wheelchair users who absolutely want to stay outside despite the cold and rain. Barbara Breuer met one of them a couple of times while helping out with cold weather. A man who lives on the Ostkreuz.

“He only takes soup from us,” she says, “he doesn't want a sleeping bag or anything else. He doesn't want to go to a place to stay either. Why? Breuer doesn't know. “He doesn't talk. He just nods his head. "

Mario, the Leipziger at the Ostbahnhof, on the other hand, who speaks. Mario says: "I'm 45 now, I would be happy if I were ten years older."

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