Connect with us

Europe

Germany’s new government pledges to tackle homelessness

Published

on

dw– It’s quiet during the day at the Caritas shelter in Gesundbrunnen, a diverse and working-class area in northern Berlin. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t lots to do. Martin Parlow, a part-time employee who organizes the shelter for the Catholic social welfare organization, has food to buy, bills to pay and staff and resources to organize.

Every night, around 18 men come in out of the cold, he says. They’re here for a shower, a warm meal and a safe place to sleep. Some are drunk when they arrive. Others are running from the law for small-time offenses. Most are off the grid in Germany, coming from elsewhere in the European Union.

They go out again the next morning to face a variety of difficult circumstances: low-paid jobs or begging, struggles with addiction, and mental and physical ailments that go untreated. The elements are their enemy. “Some people have been coming here for years, which is strange and sad because this is a really basic accommodation,” Parlow, who oversees a team of eight workers, tells DW.

The shelter is warm but austere. The main sleeping area has the look of a cheap backpacker hostel: metal bunk beds spread out across a linoleum floor, divided by simple privacy screens. Many of the “guests,” the term Parlow uses for those who sleep here, come back every night and leave some basic possessions — slippers, hats, drinks and body products — at their bedsides.

Parlow is in his third year at the shelter, which means most of his experience has been under pandemic conditions. Despite widespread fear at the beginning, he said the shelter refused to stop its work when COVID-19 came to Germany, though adjustments had to be made, such as reducing the number of people accommodated in compliance with social distancing restrictions. There used to be 25 people allowed in on a night, he said, and more if a desperate situation called for it.

Masks, tests and contact tracing are luxuries. The staff is now vaccinated, as are some of the homeless people who come in — but that was months ago with the Johnson & Johnson shot, which might be less effective now.

Long-term problem, winter-only solution

“Our mission is to save lives by providing a warm bed,” Parlow explains. “When this system was created 30 or 40 years ago, people were dying out on the streets.”

The advantage of being open only at night and during the winter, he says, is that people can come without formalities — no papers shown, no questions asked. But there are many downsides. Running the night shelter is expensive — around €45 ($50.80) per bed, per night — despite the limited services offered. Berlin’s homeless network is moving towards a 24/7 model, says Parlow, which would make it possible to provide more in terms of counseling, job help and longer-term housing prospects.

Even that is a stopgap. In Berlin and across Germany, a housing shortage and skyrocketing rents are making it harder to find and hold onto stable living conditions. Germany has a substantial low-wage sector, and major studies have shown that income inequality is rising, a greater share of salary has to go to rent and these pressures are creeping into the middle class.

“If you don’t have the security of your own four walls, everything else is so hard,” Parlow said. “How do you recover from being an alcoholic if you’re sharing a room with an alcoholic?”

Even huge organizations like Caritas are having trouble securing affordable housing stock to pass onto people in need, he added. A mix of for- and non-profit companies, working with the city, offer short-term space for tens of thousands of people, which they can end up living in for years.

Increased migration has caught policymakers off guard over the years, as has the rush of property investors. That, coupled with insufficient housing regulations and a lack of enforcement, has all contributed to the homeless problem.

Goals, plans, strategies — but few details

Germany’s next government, led by the Social Democrats (SPD) and set to be sworn in next week, wants to dramatically expand new housing construction with a focus on affordability and to end homelessness by 2030. The governing coalition agreement mentions “putting forward a national action plan” but lacks specifics on how to go about it.

“The goal to overcome homelessness in this decade can succeed only with the cooperation of all federal levels,” Ingrid Herden, an SPD spokesperson, told DW in a statement. “That’s why there will be a working group between the federal government and the states, which will take on the preparatory work of presenting a national action plan.”

Germany has four-year legislative periods, which means the next government could take until 2025 to come up with such a plan. That would leave five years to implement it.

“It’s basically true that the new government still needs to figure out what the national action plan entails and how the goals of the coalition agreement will come to life,” Krister-Benjamin Schramm, a spokesperson for the Green Party, told DW in a statement.

A Greens proposal from 2019 to combat homelessness remains on the table, Schramm said.

COVID-19: Germany immunizes its homeles

The SPD and Greens are also in Berlin’s state government, which in its own coalition agreement has put forward slightly more concrete steps at the city-state level. They include using more of its own and EU funds to combat homelessness, keeping a closer legal eye on evictions and lowering the bar to get people into housing.

Both the Berlin and federal governments talk about “housing first,” a concept developed in the United States and experimented with in Germany that aims to get people into their own homes with no strings attached. That flips the script on other programs, which require homeless people to first meet certain requirements, such as dealing with addiction, before they receive a place to live.

Fixing a problem you can’t see

Social welfare organizations have welcomed the new political will to tackle homelessness but are waiting to see the proof in the pudding. The Federal Association for Homeless Help (BAG W), for example, is calling for stronger constitutional housing guarantees, more eviction protection, better rent control and easier ways for those without a fixed address to get on the books so they can receive adequate health care.

Taking action — and knowing what it might cost — can’t happen without a firmer sense of the extent of the problem. A law mandating regular and comprehensive data collection on homelessness came into effect only in 2020, and the first statistics are not expected until next year.

Until then, advocates and policymakers can only go on best estimates. Nationwide, there were 678,000 people without a home in 2018, according to BAG W. That includes 441,000 refugees and 19,000 children. Nearly 12% had jobs, and almost the same share were pensioners. Housing debt was the leading cause of losing a home.

The estimate has more than tripled since 2018, driven largely by refugees who — despite their protected social status and often employable skills — can more easily fall through the cracks and struggle to find solid work.

The true number at risk, Parlow said, could be much higher. The estimates don’t catch, for example, young people who can’t leave their parents’ homes, or those stuck in bad relationships because they have no place else to go. In Berlin alone, Parlow thinks there could be 200,000 people in precarious housing situations.

Waiting on the state’s plans, shelters like the one Parlow oversees in Berlin will remain on the front lines in the battle against homelessness — largely outgunned by the social and economic forces they face.

“You can solve this issue — if you really want it as a society or a government,” Parlow said.

Edited by Rina Goldenberg.

While you’re here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing, to stay on top of developments as Germany enters the post-Merkel era.

Europe

Ursula von der Leyen offers speedy response to Ukraine’s bid to join EU

Published

on

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha showed the “cruel face” of Russia’s army and pledged to try to speed Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the European Union.

During a visit to Bucha on Friday, where forensic investigators started to exhume bodies from a mass grave, Von der Leyen looked visibly moved by what she saw in the town northwest of Kyiv where Ukrainian officials say hundreds of civilians were killed by Russian forces.

Russia denies targeting civilians and has called the allegations that Russian forces executed civilians in Bucha while they occupied the town a “monstrous forgery”.

As EU officials were about to arrive in Kyiv, at least 50 people were killed and many more wounded in a missile strike at a railway station packed with civilians fleeing the threat of a major Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.

At a news conference, Von der Leyen condemned what she called “the cynical behaviour” of those who wrote “for our children” on the weapons found near the scene.

Saying the EU could never match the sacrifice of Ukraine, Von der Leyen offered it a speedier start to its bid for bloc membership.

Handing the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a questionnaire which will form a starting point for a decision on membership, she said: “It will not as usual be a matter of years to form this opinion but I think a matter of weeks.”

Zelenskiy told the same news conference he would come back with answers in a week.

“Russia will descend into economic, financial and technological decay, while Ukraine is marching towards the European future, this is what I see,” Von der Leyen said.

Earlier in Bucha, she told reporters: “The unthinkable has happened here. We have seen the cruel face of Putin’s army. We have seen the recklessness and the cold-heartedness with which they have been occupying the city.”

Von der Leyen’s trip to Kyiv was aimed at offering Zelenskiy moral and some financial support.

She pledged her support for Ukraine to “emerge from the war as a democratic country”, something, she said, the European Union and other donors would help with.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, said he hoped the EU could allocate a further €500m (£420m) to Ukraine for arms purchases in a couple of days.

Zelenskiy has urged Brussels to do more to punish Russia, including banning purchases of Russian oil and gas, and has called on the EU to accept Ukraine as a full member.

Earlier, Borrell said oil sanctions were “a big elephant in the room“, with some concerns that a move to cut out Russian crude could cause a spike in prices that would be painful to European economies. He said a decision on exports would be raised on Monday in Brussels.

source

Continue Reading

Europe

Dutch officials drop case against Rijksmuseum over ‘racist’ word

Published

on

The director of the Rijksmuseum said he was “happy” as Dutch prosecutors announced they would not proceed with an investigation into complaints over a newly opened exhibition on Indonesian independence, the first of its kind in Europe.

The exhibition, Revolusi! Indonesia Independent, at the Netherlands’ national museum, has been a source a controversy since one of its curators, Bonnie Triyana, said the term “bersiap”, or stand by, would not be used in reference to the violent upheaval that followed a declaration of independence from the Dutch state.

Triyana claimed that use of the word, a battle cry for young Indonesians seeking independence, “takes on a strongly racist connotation” in the Netherlands today that “always portrays primitive, uncivilised Indonesians as perpetrators of the violence”. He said: “The team of curators has decided not to use the word bersiap as a common term referring to the violent period in Indonesia.”

In a sign of the ongoing sensitivity in Dutch society over the country’s colonial history, the comments drew a furious response in some quarters, with the head of the Federation of Dutch Indonesians, Hans Moll, accusing the Rijksmuseum of genocide denial by ignoring that “thousands of Dutch people were brutally tortured, raped and murdered by Indonesians because of their Dutch or European ethnicity”.

Complaints were made to the general prosecutor last month but Taco Dibbits, the Rijksmuseum’s director, said he had learned on the eve of the exhibition’s opening on Thursday that the justice ministry would not be proceeding with the case.

“I’m happy and had expected the decision that the case is not viable,” he said. “But I think it is very good that there is discussion about these concepts. It is our duty to broaden our view of history.”

Dibbits said the exhibition did make reference to the term bersiap but put it in the context of violence endured by a large range of people, and that the show explored the entire period from 1945 to 27 December 1949 when the Dutch withdrew.

He said: “The term ‘bersiap’ is used in the Netherlands by different communities that had to flee Indonesia and were repatriated during the revolution. It marks a very specific moment in time in the four and a half years of the revolution, the moment of the fall of 1945, when Indonesia has just declared itself independent and groups of insurgents executed extreme violence against several groups: Indo-Europeans, Moluccans on the Dutch side, and Chinese and others they thought were on the Dutch side. It takes place in the chaos just after the declaration of independence.

“We explain the source of the word, which started to be used in the Netherlands in the 1980s, and give it a historical context, but also speak about the violence against other groups during the revolution. We speak about violence in a much broader sense.”

Dibbits said he felt it was a “pity” that complaints had been made to the prosectors before the exhibition had opened. A second complaint, which is also not being pursued, was filed with prosecutors after Dibbits clarified before the opening that the bersiap concept would be referenced.

Dibbits said: “One claimed that not using the term was against history and the second complaint said the using of the term was against history.”

Indonesia became a member of the United Nations in 1950 and today the country counts about 270 million inhabitants across more than 17,000 islands.

The exhibition explores the personal stories of independence fighters, artists, diplomats, politicians, journalists and those seeking to maintain Dutch hold over the territory by displaying more than 200 objects, including privately owned keepsakes and paintings.

Dibbits said among the most powerful artefacts was a bundle of baby clothes made out of book covers, belonging to a young woman called Julia Nelisse. She had given birth to a daughter, Merani, in a leper colony in Pelantungan, modern-day Java, on 6 September 1947.

Corpses of fighters and civilians were regularly washing up on the river shore, which Nelisse laid out on cloth shrouds. Due to the lack of remaining cloth, she had to take the covers from books in the abandoned colony library to make into clothes. On show is a vest, a pillow and a nappy. “It is very emotional to see and brings it very close,” Dibbits said.

SOURCE

Continue Reading

Europe

Heidelberg shooting: One dead in gun attack on German students

Published

on

A lone gunman has killed one person and seriously injured three others inside a lecture hall at Heidelberg University in the south-west of Germany, before shooting himself dead.

He was an 18-year-old German student.

German police said the shooter, who was armed with two guns, had used a “long gun”, and fired shots around the amphitheatre “wildly”.

The bloodshed triggered a large operation at the university’s campus in the Neuenheimer Feld area.

Police asked people to avoid the area so rescue workers and emergency services could move around freely.

German media reported that the gunman appeared to have no religious or political motive.

Police have searched his flat in the city of Mannheim, and found a WhatsApp message he had sent shortly beforehand, in which he spoke of punishing people.

Heidelberg is a university town with about 160,000 inhabitants.

The country has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, and school shootings are rare. Anyone under 25 is required to pass a psychological evaluation before getting a gun licence.

Police initially said four victims had been wounded, with a later update confirming one had died in hospital.

SOURCE

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2020 , madridjournals.com