Why are homeless people homeless

Homelessness fact check: We answer your most common questions

The issue of homelessness is more relevant and topical than ever right now. Nevertheless, there are still a number of ambiguities, doubts and open questions in this area:

What prejudices do homeless people have to contend with? Are homeless people even entitled to social assistance? Is there a "begging mafia"? And how can I specifically help homeless people this winter?

We have collected your most frequent questions about homelessness and provide you with the most important answers at a glance.

Nobody knows that exactly at the moment (yet). There is no official figure about how many people are actually homeless in Germany because there are still no official statistics or census about this. But that is about to change: The Federal Statistical Office is planning an annual survey from 2022.

In the last estimate in 2018, the Federal Association for Homeless Aid e.V. (BAG W) the number of all homeless people in Germany is estimated at 678,000. That corresponds roughly to the population of the whole of Bremen. Incidentally, 441,000 of them were refugees. In the meantime, however, the number of homeless is likely to be significantly higher.

In theory, and at best, no child should have to live on the streets in Germany. Because as soon as a family or a single mother with child loses their apartment, the municipality takes care of the accommodation in an institution.

According to the Federal Association of Homeless Aid e.V. (BAG W), the number of homeless families with children has increased steadily in recent years and it is becoming more and more difficult to find accommodation. It is estimated that around 11% of all homeless families live on the streets with their children. You can find out why more and more women and single mothers are affected by homelessness in our article on the topic.

There are. Some people have made a conscious choice to live in the open air. For example, there is the former philosophy student “Schnitte”, who only feels really free on the street, wants to escape social conventions and shares his birthday cake with passers-by every year. Or there is the Briton Stef Roberts, who, despite having a job and his own animation company, decided a few years ago to sleep in the open air every day with a hammock in the woods. The “digital nomad” documented his experiences on his YouTube channel until two years ago.

These people are not the norm, however, and street life is far from romantic. Most of the homeless people do not voluntarily live on the streets. In some cases, a stroke of fate has caused them to lose their home: For example, escape, separation, debt, addiction, job loss or health problems.

“Neglected, work-shy, addicted.” Homeless people have to struggle again and again with the same prejudices and marginalization. What are the prejudices against homeless people and how do they come about?

It is not true that homeless people generally do not want to work. Some of them have an employment contract, regularly take odd jobs or are job seekers. You just don't see it “at first glance”. In many cases, however, homeless people are not able to work at all because they have to struggle with essential problems. And many employers do not employ applicants without a permanent address.

Some people who live on the street are addicted to alcohol. Some sufferers report that this is the only way to cope with the tough everyday life and the cold. Withdrawal or detoxification is a huge challenge even in a stable living environment - for homeless people, however, cold withdrawal without any help can be life-threatening. The assumption that all homeless fellow citizens are generally alcoholics is wrong, however.

Most homeless people don't care about poor personal hygiene. Many of them regularly go to facilities where they can shower and wash their clothes. A well-groomed, well-dressed: n homeless: n would not necessarily be identified as a homeless fellow human being at first glance. If you live in the open air, you usually don't have the opportunity to shower and brush your teeth every morning. However, that doesn't mean that homeless people don't care about hygiene at all. However, some of them have lost track of their own personal hygiene because they are struggling with other problems.

Begging in Germany has been permitted in principle since 1974 and is no longer a criminal offense. If, however, the question of money is too intrusive or too aggressive, it can be classified as an administrative offense and punished that way. As soon as false statements such as “I am deaf and dumb and blind!” Or “I have 3 children!” Come into play, it is a case of fraud which, in the worst case, can be reported. Incidentally, begging is tax-free in Germany as long as it is not commercial or serves a company.

In some tabloids you read again and again about the "Eastern European begging mafia". Criminal gangs are supposed to send large groups of men, women and also children onto the streets of the city to beg in an organized manner. The income from this is to be given to the wire-pullers, who (as it is called) withhold a large part of the donations. According to Caritas, however, there is so far only "little police evidence" that a criminal, Eastern European "begging mafia" exists. In any case, organized begging should not automatically be equated with criminal begging.

Theoretically, and at best, nobody in Germany should be homeless or homeless if they don't want to. In the international social charter, the “right to housing” is firmly anchored as a human right. And in Germany, the municipalities are legally obliged to accommodate homeless people in emergency shelters or social institutions for a short time.

In order to get people off the streets in the long term, however, sufficient living space must be made available. And bureaucracy still plays a major role when it comes to finding a home: If you are homeless and want to rent an apartment, you first have to deal with a few administrative procedures and a lot of paperwork and be able to present valid ID.

In Germany, homeless people also have a right to basic social security. Hartz4-4 benefits can also be obtained if you do not have a permanent address.

However, a valid identity card and an address to which the post can be sent is required for the application for Hartz 4 benefits. This is exactly where many homeless people reach their limits. In addition, homeless, foreign citizens in Germany are not entitled to social assistance. However, the majority of the homeless are refugees.

The term "homeless" is derived from roof (Roof) as well -Come on ab and freely translated means something like "without a protective roof". It is currently hotly debated whether the term “homeless” is possibly not politically correct because of its negative connotation.

The Federal Association for Aid to the Homeless uses the term “homeless” for example for people who do not have a rental agreement. This term includes both homeless people, but also people who are currently living with friends or for temporary rent. By the way, we have put together a complete overview of the terms “homelessness”, “homelessness” and “poverty” in this article.

There are many ways to help homeless people in your area. The help ranges from gift fences, clothing, money or food donations to active help on site. Here you will find a wide variety of projects in which you can get involved with homeless people.

You can find out how you can specifically help homeless people in the corona pandemic in our article on the subject.

You can address a homeless fellow human being as you would like to be addressed yourself: in a friendly, respectful and eye-to-eye manner. Most people appreciate a few nice words, a “How are you?” Or a willingness to help.

Does the person you are addressing currently not need any help or does they not want to talk to you acutely? Then respect their wish. Maybe she just needs some rest right now. Homeless people cannot retreat to their own room or their own four walls if they do not want to be disturbed.

The Berlin Association for Street Social Work "Gangway" has published a FAQ guide for dealing with the homeless, which has a lot of information for you.

Whether you want to support a homeless person with a direct donation and how it should turn out is up to you. Because donations are often based on the prejudice that the recipient will only spend the money on alcohol, many people prefer to give food or donations in kind.

Before you simply bring a salami roll, a coffee or an apple from the supermarket to a homeless person, you should ask in a friendly manner beforehand what the person needs. Maybe the person you are talking to is a vegetarian and can't do much with a salami bun. Perhaps the person has already been given ten coffees today. Or maybe she just can't eat an apple because of dental problems.

The cold season presents many homeless people with particular challenges. The emergency shelters are always very popular in the winter months. This year, however, there is another difficulty: Due to the current Corona distance regulations, many facilities can provide fewer sleeping places than usual. When the temperatures drop into sub-zero at night, spending the night outdoors can quickly become a dangerous proposition. The Diakonie is already expecting far more cold deaths this winter.

All help is needed now. This can range from clothing or food donations to financial aid and active support. Anyone who walks through the city with watchful eyes and asks freezing, homeless people in a friendly manner whether they need help, can literally save lives.

The Berliner Kältehilfe can not only be contacted about accommodation options, you can also support them with donations in kind or in cash. By the way, the cold aid app can be used to select the required help in seconds. The anti-cold aid is active in Hamburg, the cold bus regularly makes its rounds in Munich and the cold bus of the FDKS association can be contacted in Cologne.

If you want to get actively involved in helping homeless people this winter, you should take a look at our projects in the area of ​​“Poverty & Homelessness”. Any help counts right now.