Governments around the world have ordered lockdowns and shelter-in-place mandates over the past few weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Non-essential businesses have been closed, employees are now allowed to work from home, and people are urged to stay indoors. However, this order can be completely impossible for a vulnerable population in society⁠—the homeless.

There has been a growing concern for those who have nowhere to stay indoors in many countries, and Germany is one of them. The number of the homeless population in the country has been on the rise and officials are now concerned about the estimated 1,986 homeless people who are sleeping on the streets of the country’s capital, Berlin. The skyrocketing rents in the city are also making it harder for the locals to find a stable abode.

The guidelines of social distancing often ignore the realities of homeless life. Even important hygiene practices like handwashing and showering can be a challenge for the homeless population with public businesses closing down amid the outbreak.

Homeless shelters usually only offer accommodation for the night, so they have no choice but to brave the streets and the risk of infection every day. Although Germany has been mass testing with 50,000 COVID-19 tests a day, it can still be easy for those who don’t have access to regular medical care to not be accounted for.

Officials are worried about the growing population of homeless people in Berlin


In recent years, Berlin has taken several initiatives to fight homelessness. In January, they became the third city in the world to administer an official homeless population survey. In 2019, Berlin also launched Housing First, a 3-year pilot program that started in the U.S. The program offers apartment contracts for those who are chronically homeless with no conditions. Currently, an estimated 35,000 people now have a place to stay.

Another project, which is dubbed Berliner Kältehilfe, offers around 1,000 temporary sleeping places during the colder months. They also have an app to locate the inhabitants.

But with this novel public health crisis, unconventional solutions are called upon. And so, officials opened a youth hostel in Tiergarten that has a capacity of 400 beds to cater to the local homeless community.

Senate Department for Integration, Labor, and Social Affairs press speaker Stefan Strauss said that this is still an experiment since people who are sleeping on the street may not be used to co-living and staying in one place for more than a night. Through an initial testing phase, officials can see if they will accept this offer and if expansion is needed.

The government has opened a 400-bed hostel to accommodate the homeless

If the program turns out successful, it can be a prototype for how they can utilize the accommodations that have been shut down. Berlin has accounted for an excess of around 130,000 hotel beds, the most in Germany. A majority of this inventory will remain vacant until April 20 or longer, according to an official mandate. According to Berliner Morgenpost, a 400-bed hostel in Friedrichshain, Industriepalast, is also willing to help house the homeless.

Strauss has said that they are hoping that this will become a lifeline to people; with a fixed bed and three daily meals provided at least for this period. The hostel staff said that many of the inhabitants have been enormously relieved not to have to search for someplace to stay every night.

The program offers a bed and full board meals to the homeless

There currently has no known case among the homeless population in Berlin, but the hostel administration is still implementing precautionary measures. All those who will enter must undergo a full physical exam. This measure can also help spot potentially untreated conditions. There are also social workers, medical staff and resources available for those struggling with issues surrounding substance abuse.

According to Strauss, Berlin chose this tactic but every city and community must still decide how they opt to handle their situations. He says that they couldn’t just look after those with apartments and jobs, even though they are also affected. Not forgetting about the homeless during this crisis is a moral obligation.

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