What surprises you most about humanity
The anthropologist Luisa Schneider has been accompanying the everyday life of 27 homeless people for over a year. She warns that important networks will be lost during the crisis.
SZ: What has the crisis changed for the people whose everyday life you follow?
Cutter: One of them used to be a family doctor and worked a lot. Then his family left him and he broke down. Since then he has lived on the street. For him, the corona crisis is particularly bad. He understood the problem better than most and knew that there are many protective measures that the homeless cannot adhere to. At the same time, information leaked to the street even more slowly than usual. With that there was a lot of fear.
So there is much more to it than the oft-quoted hand washing?
Yes, but of course hygiene is a problem - and not just because of the virus. I am also accompanying a high school graduate who became homeless after an argument with her boyfriend and parents. Before the crisis, she could study in cafes or libraries for her A-levels and wash herself there. Now neither is possible anymore. Suddenly their homelessness becomes apparent. Often acquaintances and even the family don't know anything about it. I know pensioners who sleep under a balcony or in a basement. On the phone, however, they tell their grandchildren about the knitting and crocheting course that they supposedly attend.
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What has surprised you most since you started your research?
I didn't expect the solidarity on the street to be so strong. Of course there are many different groups. But the basic principle is: 'Everyone has problems. You're okay like that - now it's about getting by together '. That means, for example, sharing the food, but also making sure that girls and women don't have to sleep alone on the street. Friendships and surrogate families develop. This community has a strong pull when you have fallen out of society. It is precisely this solidarity that is actually forbidden in the crisis because it goes hand in hand with physical contact. This has increased the dependency on external help. At the beginning of the crisis it was a big problem that day care centers were closed for the time being.
There are gift fences in many cities. How do people perceive that?
Very positive. For them it was a sign that the community is still there. They saw the fences not only as a help for themselves, but also for the elderly. Many have brought what was left with them to the fence.
So the opposite of hamsters?
Absolutely. While everyone was hoarding toilet paper, the second packet of handkerchiefs was donated here. Somebody once said to me that to become homeless means to think of yourself and the world as small. Everything that was once a goal disappears from sight because it becomes unattainable. The question remains: What do I need in the here and now? This goes hand in hand with the assumption that others need it too. Many are very careful about what others need. An example of this: I am a vegetarian. This was a topic again and again in our research discussions. At some point, stuffed peppers were prepared for me when I came to the fire in the park. Many listen carefully and try to build the relationship both ways.
That almost sounds a little too romantic. Doesn't the need also create many conflicts that are exacerbated by the crisis?
Since the Corona crisis, the emergency sleeping quarters in Leipzig have been open around the clock and another emergency shelter has been set up. Some can stay there for the first time. Much in her life has changed for the better as a result.
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But what happens if offers of help are abolished after the crisis? Who then still has access? Many homeless people usually sleep with friends. Could you stay in the crisis? No, at least not in most of the cases I know. Often the homeless only came to visit in the evening to sleep on the couch. That was no longer possible.
So will more people be homeless in the future because they lose contacts?
Yes, if we can't find a way to catch it. Many networks have now collapsed. Even homeless people who used to support each other are now losing sight of each other. There are also fears that after the crisis there will be more evictions.
How do the people who accompany you see their future?
For most of them, the corona virus is one of many problems, especially since state aid structures have been rebuilt. But many ask themselves: What does Corona mean for social cohesion? When a recession comes, does society turn more against poor people?
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