I'm Werner, 79 years young, and I work as a volunteer at Selbstvertretung wohnungsloser Menschen e.V (Self-Representation of Homeless People). My commitment means a lot to me. We give people living in poverty a voice to articulate themselves and to point out grievances. We break down prejudices against homeless and poor people. I joined in 2016, but before that I was involved in political parties. I was once homeless myself for five months. In my case, it was because my marriage wasn't working anymore and I left the city where I lived and came to Berlin. When I came to Berlin, I had led a bourgeois life until then.
I came to Berlin unprepared and thus fell into homelessness. I didn't have enough money to go to a hostel or hotel, so I spent my nights in an emergency shelter. At that time I went out on the streets during the day as a street newspaper vendor and sold the Straßenfeger. I later switched to selling the Straßenfeger. At Ostbahnhof and at Bahnhof Zoo, there was a sales van of the Straßenfeger. There, people bought the Straßenfeger for small money and then resold it for a profit of 90 cents. I did that for a while.
People were always friendly to me on the street. I must add that I always dressed sensibly and showed reasonable manners with people. The only situation in which I have been insulted was by a young man in the park of the Sanssouci Palace, where I wanted to sell my product. That hurt me a lot, so I packed up my things and went back to Berlin. Another crass situation was when I fell victim to a robbery in the Ostbahnhof. Two people came and threatened me with a knife and demanded everything that could be demanded. That was the worst experience I have ever had in my life.
„I tried to reintegrate myself in order to lead a reasonable life, not to be marginalized and also to lead a life that fulfills me. I found that in the form of involvement with the Selbstvertretung wohnungsloser Menschen e.V. (Self-Representation of Homeless People).“
Selbstvertretung wohnungsloser Menschen e.V. is a nationally organized association. A few people have set out to support homeless people so that they can organize themselves and have a voice outside, in order to be noticed in society. In 2016, there was a homeless meeting in Freistatt, near Diepholz. And at that first meeting, 87 people came together for a week. There were workshops, free time and culture, to also give people the opportunity to develop and to counteract homelessness. I then had the idea to start a theater group. In many workshops we performed role plays and small charades, and our first performance was about three weeks ago in Hannover during a theater workshop. We had a theater teacher who taught us a little bit. We had our first performance in front of about 100 people and it was a great success.
In many cities there are charitable associations like Caritas, Diakonie, Arbeiterwohlfahrt and many other organizations that also have a budget to help and alleviate the greatest need of homeless people. To get out of homelessness, however, in my view also requires a bit of self-commitment and strength. Basically, once you are stampeded, it is very hard to get out of homelessness. I am an outgoing person and had social contacts as well. One day a person came to the street sweep who worked at a facility that works with homeless people. We exchanged ideas, I described my situation and said that I would like to live a normal life again. At that time, which was in 2006, there was the option of assisted living. Assisted living means that you get help with the authorities and other things that are necessary to get back on your feet. I had a Schufa entry and without positive Schufa it is incredibly difficult to get an apartment. The only way to do that is with help from other institutions. The AMOS organization then accepted me into their program and the costs were covered by the social welfare office. I have been living in this apartment since 2006.
„What homeless people need, besides housing, is participation in social life! Not only the usual things, but also cultural life, variety, friends, and simply also an environment where you can develop according to your own talents or abilities.“
Enabling participation - this requires a major rethink on the part of those in power, i.e. society must change in a positive way. There must be affordable housing for everyone so that they don't fall into homelessness in the first place. And society needs to move away from acting selfishly to thinking positively about the person you are sitting or standing across from. I paid a good 500 euros for 38 square meters. That is almost unaffordable for me, I have a small pension. At the end of the money, there's still one day left, I say jokingly. And that's how it is for many people. As it is also known, every 6th person in this country lives on the poverty line.