European Interest

Poverty, homelessness on the rise in Germany

Flickr/Sebastian Raskop/CC BY 2.0
A homeless person's bed in an abandoned printing plant in Leipzig, Germany.

There are 860,000 people in Germany who are homeless, according to estimates by the Federal Association for the Support of the Homeless (BAG W.) Almost all of them stay with friends or spend the nights in emergency shelters.

But some – 52,000 – live in the streets. This is 6% of the people deemed “homeless”.

As regards refugees, 440,000 have a legal right to an apartment, but the majority is still housed in mass accommodation.

As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international broadcaster, women, families and migrants are hit the hardest. They are more frequently in danger of losing the roof over their heads, even if they are rented apartments.

According to DW, the state’s retreat from subsidised housing is one of the reasons. Thirty years ago, West Germany alone had four million rent-controlled apartments. Today, in a Germany that has grown much larger, that number has dwindled to 1.3m. Affordable housing is rare, and the market dictates the prices.

Small apartments are particularly expensive. They are fought over in a country that meanwhile counts about 17m one-person households with only 5.2m one- and two-room apartments on the market. Extreme increases in rents in urban areas are the consequence.

In a separate report, The Week noted that a decision by Frankfurt City Council to issue on-the-spot fines to destitute people sleeping on the street caused bewilderment and anger.

“Neither politician touched on the issues of mental illness or threats of violence that can keep the homeless from sleeping in shelters,” DW reported.

Councillor Astrid Buchheim told the news service that the fine is about €40 and that those who can’t pay must deal with Frankfurt’s regulatory authority. Officials said the homeless are fined only if they refuse “multiple requests to move” from public areas.

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