Winter is coming -- and where should Germany's homeless go?

For some years, the Berlin underground has kept several of its stations open overnight in winter to offer shelter to the homeless. But not this winter, it seems.

Daria Sukharchuk
Daria Sukharchuk NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Winter is coming -- and where should Germany's homeless go? - NewsMavens
Berlin metro, Pixabay

Why this story matters:

As anyone who's visited Berlin for longer then an hour knows, this city has many homeless. Many of them came here in search of better jobs and ended up in the streets, others fell through the cracks of the welfare system.

While in summer they sleep in the city's parks and squares, in winter, they need shelter. For several years, the city could not provide enough shelters -- that's when the underground stepped in and kept some of its stations open overnight to give them shelter. Train stations can hardly be called comfortable, but they are still better than an open street. And while this is definitely a very humane approach, it is not without its own problems. Train stations weren't built as shelters, and they aren't safe enough, or clean enough.

The underground staff are not trained volunteers or social workers, and there are no bathrooms.

And if too many homeless people turn up in one station -- up to a couple of dozens, as the BVG (Berlin transport operator) claims happened last year, the situation can become dangerous for everyone involved. Not to mention the unhappy commuters.

BVG has repeatedly petitioned the city government to provide more shelter for the homeless -- and this year, it seems, the goal has been achieved. There are over 1000 places ready to take in the city's homeless. There is no longer any need to keep the underground stations open to shelter the city's homeless. But we won't know this for sure until the winter starts, and it becomes clear how many homeless really need shelter. The problem here is that, as the city's population grows, so does the number of homeless people (some of them have been priced out of their apartments as Berlins rent prices soared skywards). And we cannot say how many of them will need shelter when winter comes.

In the end, it is not the transport system's job to give shelter to the homeless. But the very fact that this problem has ended up on their plate, shows that it has become too big.

Details from the story:

  • in 2017, the Berlin underground kept two big stations, Südstend, and Lichtenberg, open to the homeless overnight in winter.
  • Some nights, over a dozen homeless would use them for shelter, and since many of them were be drunk or drugged, the situation could turn dangerous
  • Hypothermia is a serious risk for rough sleepers, even in the relatively mild German winter -- the temperature doesn't even need to fall below 0.
  • Berlin's rent prices are the fastest-growing in the world
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