Associations and Projects Helping the Homeless in Germany

A selection of commented links mostly from the Berlin area

Mapping the entire "landscape" of help and support, organisations, projects and initiatives for rough sleepers, the homeless and the poor in Germany would be virtually impossible. Therefore the following selection merely aims to provide a snap-shot of the help on offer.

There are two reasons why most of the assistance described comes from Berlin. Firstly, Berlin is the capital of Germany, with over 7,000 people "registered" as homeless and another 3,000 estimated unreported cases at least, it is also the homeless capital of Germany. Secondly, it was important for the author, Stefan Schneider, to present projects and organisations that he was personally acquainted with.

The term "homeless" is used throughout this article in the sense of the definition of the German Association of Cities from 1987. According to this definition, someone is homeless when they do not have their own living quarters assured by a tenancy agreement. So "homeless" is a broader term than "rough sleepers", which refers only to people living right on the street. "Sleeping rough" is still a widespread term, but at the same time it must be emphasised that a many organisations providing assistance are being increasingly used by those without secure accommodation (the ‘hidden homeless’), the unemployed, the poor and other groups in some way socially excluded and disadvantaged.

The "Warme Otto" warming drop-in   deutsch

The "Warme Otto" is a "warming room", a warm place for homeless people to spend the day in Berlin’s central district Mitte. It was set up in 1984, initiated by a Protestant minister to help people on the street survive by giving them a warm place to stay, hot meals, clothes, blankets and general advice. The "Warme Otto" is financed primarily with public funds. There are facilities like this in many parts of Berlin and in almost every German city.

The Berlin Food Bank   deutsch

The concept behind the Berlin Food Bank was to use leftover groceries for homeless people instead of throwing them away. It includes groceries from supermarkets that are about to pass their sell-by date, bakery products from the previous day, fruit and vegetables from market stalls, but also the "remains" of large buffets and parties. Voluntary workers pick up the groceries and distribute them among welfare organisations, which then give them to those in need. In Germany this initiative was first launched by Sabine Werth who brought the idea back from New York. Now it is not just homeless facilities that are supplied by the Food Bank but all sorts of general public welfare organisations. Most recently, food distribution programmes have been set up where "people in need", in other words the city’s poor, can pick up a bag of groceries for the symbolic price of 1 euro. Today there are over 400 food banks all over Germany.

Bridging the Gap Between Poor and Wealthy - the "Tafeln"   deutschenglish

German weekly magazine stern called die "Tafeln" (tables) "the greatest social movement of the 1990s". For over ten years the Tafeln have brought food to those in desperate situations all over Germany, demonstrating that a simple idea can be highly effective.

Emergency shelter for women   deutsch

About a quarter of homeless people in Germany are women. Women often feel ill-at-ease in homeless centres because of the dominance of men. Moreover, domestic violence is frequently one of the causes of homelessness among women. Unfortunately, there are still not nearly enough organisations or forms of assistance in Germany geared exclusively to women. The first emergency overnight shelter for women did not open in Berlin until 2004.

Berlin "out of the cold" phone   deutsch

In Germany’s capital there are several emergency shelters on offer to homeless people. These facilities are mostly spread around the city. And in the winter (October – March) additional facilities are set up, often run by voluntary groups or Christian parishes. To make sure that no-one has to sleep on the street during this time and that anyone who wants a bed in an emergency shelter gets one, Bodo Feth coordinates the various facilities and lets them know where there are still free beds. The Internet site of the "out of the cold" phone provides a good overview of the help available to the homeless in Berlin.

The Caritas mobile clinic   deutsch

Homeless people often have major difficulties getting basic medical care because they no longer have health insurance. The mobile clinic gives these people basic and anonymous medical care. A simple clinic was constructed in a converted van. The van stops regularly at fixed locations and runs clinics for the homeless with a nurse, a social worker and the cooperation of resident doctors. All treatment is free.

Assisted Independent Living Facilities by the Freie Hilfe Berlin e.V.   deutsch

"Freie Hilfe" is a charity organisation in Berlin that mainly looks after offenders and people released from prison. It is often particularly difficult for former prison detainees to find a job and housing once they are released. This is where the "Assisted Individual Living Facilities" project by "Freie Hilfe" comes in. It is a typical example of the assistance provided in accordance with the German Social Code (Sozialgesetzbuch- SGB) XII to people with "special social difficulties" (§ 67ff, SGB XII). According to this principle every homeless citizen is entitled to this assistance. The homeless person is provided with their own flat coupled with individual support for a temporary period of time. The goal is to help the person deal with and overcome the difficulties in a certain amount of time and enable them to live independently in their own accommodation. In addition to assisted independent living, there are other forms of assistance available on the basis of this legislation.

Unter Druck – Kultur von der Straße (Under Pressure – Street Culture)   deutschenglish

Unter Druck was born out of a theatre project, but its work centres around a drop-in centre where homeless people can sojourn, have a meal, wash their clothes, shower and surf on the Internet. It also provides an emergency shelter one night a week for people who live on the street, regularly giving them the chance to "refuel" in a protected environment. What makes this day drop-in special is that is offers arts activities such as a theatre group, a printing workshop, and a writing group. Something else unusual about this facility is that it is currently managed by Jan Markowski, himself a homeless citizen.

The Malteser migrant medical service   deutsch

Homeless people in Germany are not just German citizens but also people who reside here without permission, in other words "illegally", and who have to live in fear of deportation. Little is known about their numbers and the situations they live in, but we do know for certain that many of them are homeless. The Christian relief service by the charity "Malteser" provides assistance – often bordering on the illegal – including basic medical care.

The Villa Stöckle Runaway-House   deutsch

One specific dimension of the homeless situation in Germany is those with mental health problems. If a homeless person has an addiction in addition to mental health problems (the so-called double diagnosis), many psychiatric facilities cannot cope and the ‘clients’ land on the street. Organisations for the homeless are also often ill-equipped to cope with mental health problems. Furthermore, there are many people who after having had one bad experience with psychiatric services never want to use them again. This Berlin runaway-house was mentioned as an example of an innovative project that tries to deal with this difficult area.

BUK – Counselling and emergency accommodation   deutsch

About a quarter of homeless people are youths or young adults. This is one example of a project aimed at so-called "street kids"in Berlin. The main pillars of the project are crisis counselling and emergency overnight accommodation, but it also offers accommodation facilities both for girls and boys, as well as schooling and training services and extra forms of support for families. What is special about this project is that it combines many different modules and elements of assistance for "street kids" under one roof enabling it to take a "holistic" approach and put together help and support concepts tailored to the individual’s need.

Der Arbeitskreis Wohnungsnot (Housing Shortage Steering Group)   deutsch

The Housing Shortage Steering Group is a Berlin consortia of organisations that provide assistance for the homeless and those at risk of homelessness on the basis of §67ff of the German Social Code (SGB) XII. The aim of the steering group is to coordinate the offers of assistance based on this legal claim more effectively, to speak with one voice vis-à-vis the authorities and to organise their lobbying activities.

motz & Co - the street paper for homeless   deutsch

Selling street magazines gives homeless people the chance to get active and earn their own money. Unlike many other countries, in Germany there is no one, central street newspaper. Instead there is a regional newspaper for almost every medium-sized town and some cities and regions even have several. In Berlin in addition to the motz there is the strassenfeger ( and the Stütze ( Most of these newspaper projects also encompass other social services for homeless people. motz, for example, also runs an emergency overnight shelter for 17 people and a removal and transportation service, which creates jobs. In 2000 the Federal Association of Street Magazines was founded, of which 22 German street magazines are members (

The Lehrter Straße Centre of the Berlin City Mission   deutsch

The Lehrter Straße centre in Berlin is a building complex owned by the Berlin City Mission, a large social welfare group under the auspices of the Protestant Church in Germany. The centre is located just a few hundred meters away from the Federal Chancellery and from the German Bundestag and is therefore right in the heart of German politics. In addition to a youth hostel, the complex offers a sick ward for homeless people with 20 places and an adjoining transitional house with 24 places for homeless patients who have been released from medical care. The ‘out of the cold bus’, which drives through the city in the winter from November to April bringing homeless people to an emergency shelter, is stationed here. For the many people who no longer have the strength to reach the emergency shelter, the bus is their lifeline and their escape from the uncertainty of a winter night. Some people find fault with the mass emergency accommodation, which, with more than 100 places, is the largest in Berlin. Smaller facilities spread out around the city would be better positioned to meet the needs of homeless people.

The Franziskushof in Zehdenick   deutsch

Homeless people tend to drift to the towns and cities. This is partly because there is little help and support available in rural areas, and partly because in cities people can go into hiding, remain anonymous and do not have to reveal their fortunes to anyone from their social sphere. On the other hand, not all homeless people feel comfortable in the city nor can cope with city structures. The Franziskushof, which is run by the Christian Franciscan Community, is a rural project. It produces and sells agricultural products largely independently of state funding. It also takes in homeless people and integrates them into life and work in the countryside.

The Wollankstraße soup kitchen in Berlin   deutsch

The Wollankstraße soup kitchen in Berlin is probably one of the largest soup kitchens in Germany. It hands out 300 meals a day, and up to 600 at peak times. Nowadays it is not just homeless people that come here but also unemployed and poor people from the neighbourhood. In the last few years an extension was built and the facilities were expanded to include additional assistance for homeless and poor people such as a clothes hand-out, washing facilities and social counselling.

United Against the Cold   deutschespañol

Thomas Beckmann is a well known German cellist who mostly plays the works of German composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Since 1993 he has been touring round Germany regularly, giving concerts and passing on the proceeds of his charity concerts to organisations and projects which help the homeless in Germany via the association he founded, "United Against the Cold".

Police for the Homeless   deutsch

This project is unusual because no one expects policemen and women to be helping the homeless. This small Berlin association was founded in 2000 by a police officer called Marion Beyer as a result of observations of day-to-day life around Bahnhof Zoo, one of the social hotspots in Berlin. Its activities centre on collecting and distributing clothes and items of every-day use. In the run-up to Christmas, an important festival in the Christian faith, and one that coincides with winter in Europe, the association also distributes groceries to the homeless.

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mob – obdachlose machen mobil e.V. "homeless people mobilize" / "strassenfeger" street paper   deutschenglish 

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