The country's homeless are dealing with food scarcity, not to mention the absence of medical care and lack of safe places to sleep, while 40,000 of them are without a roof over their heads.
Like many European countries, Germany has imposed a lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus. While a large number of people are staying at home to keep Covid-19 at bay, it's the homeless who are struggling to survive on the streets.
Although there's no official data on the exact number of homeless in the country, a non-profit named the Federal Working Group for Assistance to the Homeless (BAGW) estimates that in 2018 alone, a total of 678,000 people had no home, including approximately 441,000 recognised refugees. They live in state-run emergency quarters or spend the night in shelters. According to BAGW figures, at least 41,000 people are entirely homeless, which means they are living on the streets with no roof over their heads. They are now at higher risk of contracting the virus.
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, not all homeless people could be accommodated in community shelters. Even for couples, the options are limited, explains Werena Rosenke, managing director of the BAGW. "There are problems for homeless citizens from other EU countries, because many municipalities refuse to accommodate them," she says.
Vacating shelters during the day
In times of the coronavirus crisis, the situation for accommodation in multi-bed rooms becomes considerably worse. Keeping a distance is not possible in such places. Access to sanitary facilities for showering or washing hands proves to be almost impossible. The facilities are barely equipped with protective utensils such as masks, disinfectants or hygiene products. In any case, the accommodations are only available for the night. During the day people have to leave the facilities.
Meanwhile, the homeless in Germany are also denied a warm meal from non-profits, as the lockdown has brought the entire city to a standstill. "The situation is exacerbated by the fact that many homeless people are dependent on collecting returnable bottles, selling street newspapers and begging. In corona times, this collapses," says Rosenke. In a deserted city, such activities become more difficult.
For fear of contracting coronavirus, many helpers withdraw. Medical care is also particularly bad, explains Rosenke. "Projects are largely discontinued because they often work with volunteers — often retired doctors and nurses, who are themselves now part of the at-risk group.
Disinfectants are in short supply
Protective clothing and even disinfectants are missing. They can also no longer be procured. Other professional groups such as medical staff or the nursing sector have priority.
Without staff, the system of homeless help collapses. The BAGW therefore urges, "The accommodation situation must be improved quickly so that people can keep their distance. Many hotels and pensions are empty. These must be rented urgently, in order to accommodate homeless people there."
Mobile supply remains an option
The situation is a challenge for homeless people as well as for aid organisations, says Eva Lindemann, Hamburg Places of Hope spokeswoman. "We have to find the right balance in order to maintain the care of the people entrusted to us, which is a particularly vulnerable group," says Lindemann. One solution could be the mobile supply of "lunch packages," but these would not reach everyone.
Around 1.8 billion people worldwide are homeless. Since they lack adequate nutrition and hygiene, they are more exposed to the risk of infection than others.