What happens to the homeless

Waldemar Kessler (Name changed) knows life on the street. Its hard. Kessler would have described it that way even before the corona pandemic. His current situation, however, cannot be summed up in one sentence. After the outbreak of the Corona crisis, the emergency sleeping quarters were closed for weeks or they were only operated to a limited extent. Kessler, who has already looked for a roof over his head in many cities in Germany, is glad that the Christophorus Society in Würzburg did not leave him out in the rain - literally.

Michael Schramm, who was on duty at the hostel for the homeless when Kessler arrived, is the first to hear Kessler's story. The one about the "freezing night" that the homeless can no longer get out of the mind. In Mainz, too, he says, he was turned away. Since he didn't want to "make a record" in the middle of the city, he ran around in the pouring rain until he stood in front of a cemetery. "Fortunately there was a covered bench at the morgue," Kessler's story ends.

Many homeless people in Bavaria - in 2017 there were 15,517 - are currently doing the same as Waldemar Kessler. Even without a pandemic, they are not in the focus of public perception. "Homeless people often withdraw themselves. Most of the time they are at a stage where they have given up fighting for themselves," says Bernhard Gattner, spokesman for the Caritas Association for the Diocese of Augsburg. Pia Haertinger, spokeswoman for the social service for Catholic men, experiences it that way too. Corona isolates you, makes you lonely - this formula applies even more to the homeless.

The warming room where these people could stay for hours - in Augsburg it is closed due to the pandemic and not only there for a long time. As an alternative, the social service in Augsburg has set up a heated 150-square-meter tent. There the homeless can have a warm meal. But only if the safety margin is strictly observed. "Talking to each other, exchanging ideas or even just sleeping with your head on the table top for an hour, none of that is possible anymore," says Haertinger.

She thinks back to the first corona wave with a very bad feeling. "The first lockdown was really awesome because the homeless weren't even allowed to sleep on a bench," she says. Finding a place to sleep is no less difficult now. "Even the boys who were able to stay afloat with friends by couch-surfing for some time can now hardly hope to be accepted," says Haertinger. The hospitality is now reaching its limits, "already purely legal".

All the more important, says the Augsburg diocesan Caritas director Andreas Magg, is now the work of the homeless services and aid organizations. "This is especially true now in this time of the corona pandemic, which also brings a lot of loneliness," says Magg - combined with an urgent appeal: "Let us help the services, facilities and organizations that take special care of these people through Help, commitment and also with donations. "

Of course, the Free State is also required. The Bavarian Homeless Aid Coordination Office warns of financial bottlenecks in the care of the homeless and calls for help from the federal and state governments. "The hygiene measures will result in high additional costs for the municipalities," says Jörn Scheuermann from the coordination office in Southern Bavaria. The higher financial burden is mainly due to the fact that additional rooms have to be rented. This is the only way to adhere to the distance rules in many accommodations. The accommodation options have so far been expanded in Munich, Nuremberg, Regensburg and Würzburg, for example. The state government supports, as it is said, the municipalities from the action plan "Help with homelessness".

For the homeless, the biggest problem during the pandemic is increasing social isolation. "Many homeless people already have few contacts anyway," says Anton Stadler from the Regensburg train station mission. These few would now, due to the contact restrictions, also disappear. In the station mission, people in need before the pandemic could warm up for half an hour, have a drink, and talk about their worries and needs. That is different now. Because of the hygiene regulations - as in Augsburg - one had to switch to just serving food.

Anita Dorsch from the Nuremberg train station mission assumes that the psychological stress of many people who live on the street will increase significantly: "The need and demand has increased extremely," she says. Pia Haertinger in Augsburg also fears that the number of homeless will soon be much higher than it is now. The reason for this can be summed up in one word: Corona. "Many people currently live in danger of losing their job and not being able to pay the rent," she says. The Ministry of Social Affairs in Munich is also aware of what is rolling towards society. There one also expects "a drastic increase in the number of citizens who are currently unable to meet their rent due to short-time work and self-employment".

© SZ from November 24th, 2020 / van / syn