How does it feel to be homeless

What it's like to be homeless at 21

It was autumn 2011 when Yasmin came home from shopping. The leaves outside were already turning. There was another argument at her home. Her father beat her since elementary school and he also mistreated her mother. That afternoon, Yasmin couldn't take all of this anymore. While her father cursed her mother, she slipped into her sneakers, pulled on a thin jacket and ran into the courtyard of her house in Linz, Austria. There she asked her neighbor to take her to the train station. A short time later, Yasmin got on a train to Vienna. At the age of 16, with no ID, money or cell phone, she drove black to the capital. It doesn't matter - finally away from my father.

When Yasmin got off the train in Vienna, she didn't know anyone. She slept on a park bench for the first seven months. It got colder every day. Sometimes she managed to find shelter in a doorway without being evicted. People gave her blankets and jackets. Yasmin did not accept the emergency shelters because she was not yet 18 years old at the time. Eventually she began training as a paramedic and found accommodation in an apartment through acquaintances. To pay the high rent, Yasmin had to borrow money, but she still didn't get a rental agreement or registration slip because the main tenant took advantage of her situation and illegally sublet the room to her. Shortly afterwards she was thrown out of the apartment.

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In 2015 the Ester day center in Vienna looked after 882 women. In the Austrian capital, Caritas also offers its own women's living room) and its own women's room in the day center at the main train station.

The Federal Working Group for Homeless Aid estimates the number of homeless women in Germany at 86,000, and the trend is rising. According to expert estimates, a total of around 12,000 people are homeless in Austria. Vienna has an estimated 8,000 permanently homeless. There is no breakdown into male and female, and the number of hidden homeless people who live in situations similar to Yasmin's is not determined separately.

Today Yasmin is 21 years old, has long black hair, wears a Nike sports vest, dark gray skinny jeans and burgundy sneakers. She wears a black bandana in her hair, which she has knotted on the left side. Her eyes are dark brown and her makeup makes them appear even darker. She has a glittering piercing in her nose and painted her fingernails to French nails. No one who sees Yasmin this way would think she is homeless.

A well-groomed appearance protects against attacks, which is why it is so important to women, explains Gabriele Mechovsky. She heads the team at Ester — the day center for homeless women in Esterhazygasse in Vienna. Beauty becomes a real compulsion to hide the actual problems underneath: “A well-groomed woman is more likely to smile at, the door is held open, she is less often looked at crookedly, even if she spends hours on a bank in a department store or with a drink in one Café sits, "she explains.

"You look like the neighbor next door, don't you?"

I look through the Esther's lounge, where women drink coffee or smear a roll with jam. "You look like the neighbor next door, don't you?" Asks Mechovsky and is right. With neglected women - who are often seen as the supposedly "typical" image of a homeless person - a mental illness or addiction is usually so much in the foreground that they are can no longer maintain. With the majority of women, however, one does not recognize their precarious living situation from the outside.

The majority of homeless people in German-speaking countries are male, but homelessness is also problematic for women on various levels. Mechovsky says that they are confronted more often than the average with sexist-motivated violence in all forms - from verbal to massive physical assault. That is why she wants her facility to offer a place where women can shower, wash clothes and rest among themselves.

“Most women would not come to us if it were mixed gender. The rooms are automatically dominated by men because they are often the larger and stronger group, "says the leader.

Often the women would enter into partnerships of purpose in order to protect themselves from further stigmatization, exclusion and violence. "In return, they often accept violent partners or accommodation providers as well as all kinds of services in return," says Mechovsky.

The reasons why women end up on the streets or in precarious living conditions are complex. Violence is almost always part of their life story. Poverty also plays an important role. And with children who grow up in precarious circumstances and never experience what safe living is, the probability of living precariously themselves increases even further, explains Mechovsky from her many years of experience. As was the case with Yasmin, who was unlucky to be born into a violent family. She herself calls it "fate", it could happen to anyone to become homeless, even if one has already successfully made it off the street.

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Yasmin is a trained paramedic. She already had a job in Vienna and Caritas even offered her a temporary apartment. But she refused this because her boyfriend at the time had found an apartment. “I had saved some money and was able to pay the deposit and commission. We were so happy, "she tells me. She didn't get an official lease because the apartment belonged to her ex-boyfriend.

My parents haven't protected me all my life, why should they do it now?

She often watched him inject something. When she asked him what he was taking, he said, "something to calm down", she should try it too. This is how Yasmin got onto heroin. Later also Substitol, weed and pills. After six months he was just gone one morning and she Police rang the doorbell. He had set her. He was just a lodger himself and ran away with Yasmin's money. She had two hours to clear the apartment, but no place for her belongings or a car. Again she had to leave everything behind She only took her documents with her this time. "I even had to sell my cell phone so that I could have money to buy food," she says. During that time, she was late for work three times and was eventually fired. Yasmin had lost everything again: apartment, money and job.

She currently lives on the minimum income - 837 euros a month - and is currently housed in an emergency shelter in Ottakring. However, she is only allowed there from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. She spends the rest of the time in the Esther's lounge. During the day she reads, watches TV, takes a shower or knits - everything to make the time go by.

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Yasmin is clean today. “I know a lot of women who are homeless and on drugs and who are selling their bodies. But I still have this pride - my body is only mine. "When friends want to accompany her home in the evening, she makes up excuses. Nobody knows - not even her best friend. Yasmin knows that her friends would help, but they can Still don't tell about it. "I'm so embarrassed, I don't want you to know about it." Sometimes she feels very alone with her problems. When asked whether she will call her parents for Christmas, she vehemently denies. "You haven't protected me my whole life, why should you do it now?"

Yasmin wants to be a social worker. "After five years on the street, I know my way around homeless people," she says. She has applied to several positions. Her only wish for the future: an apartment of her own. A small room with a lease would be somewhere in Vienna enough, a life without constant uncertainty and violence, a life that she can share with her friends.


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