Homelessness in Germany
The visible form of true poverty
by Andrea Bistrich
An analysis of how/why some 860,000 people are homeless in Germany, which like
most nations, has no governmental structure to address this human rights problem.
They are known as "tramps", "winos", "hobos", "street people", "bums", or simply
homeless. They are the poor within our rich society, unemployed and with no resources,
living on the fringes. In official terms they are called "people in social distress" or more
commonly "homeless". In the terms of social federal welfare laws they are classified as
"people who roam with no secure form of income, singles without a home-address and
regular employment capable of being taxed for social security, without a secured mode
of existence and often without a sound relationship to either family or other community
... people whose social problems prevent them from participating in
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Officially they do not exist. The numbers of homeless in Germany are not registered in
any governmental statistics; the only estimates were made by independent institutions
offering social services. One of these institutions is the Bundesarbeitgemeinschaft
Wohnungslosenhilfe (BAG), a labour organization which aids the homeless. BAG has
long demanded official governmental statistics as an indicator of housing required, but
to no avail. Estimates, however, indicate that there are approximately 591,000
homeless people in Germany; if you add in the number of homeless immigrants the total
adds up to approximately 860,000 people. By way of comparison, that is the size of
Cologne, Germany’s fourth-largest city.
Who are the homeless? Almost a third are women, nearly the same number are young
people and children, and 39 per cent are men. As if the statistics weren’t bad enough,
BAG estimates that a further one million people are under threat of homelessness or
living in sub-standard housing.
Is homelessness harder for some than for others? Most definitely, since it is easier for
families to get temporary accommodation than for single people. This means that
approximately 35,000 single people face life on the street.
Just how tough is it being homeless in Germany? According to BAG, in the winter of