“But Baby, It’s Cold Outside…”
Some years back, when I moved to Berlin, it snowed loads in winter. It was real traffic chaos causing snow. And the cold, so cold that your hands were numb all the time when you were outside, no matter how thick the gloves you wore. Actually, we haven‘t had a winter like this in ages. Pity. I really like snow.
But of course it is still cold in a mild winter like this one. Everyone who‘s had to wait at a bus stop, who‘s stood on a street corner chatting with a friend, who is working at an outdoors Christmas market will agree.
So therefore: it is not warm to spend all day outside, however mild a winter may be. It is not warm to live on the street. It is not warm to spend the night in a tube station. But that‘s what many people have to do.
Between 5,000 and 10,000 unsheltered people live on the streets of Berlin. In Hamburg there are 2,000, in Munich nearly 8,000 and nearly 3,000 in Cologne – according to estimates. A quarter of them are women. All over Germany there are more than 500,000 homeless people without accomodatons of their own, and on top of this roughly the same number of refugees in collective living quarters (according to the organization BAG Wohnungslosenhilfe). The German language distinguishes between obdachlos / homeless and wohnungslos / roofless.
For London I found the alarming figure of 170,000 homeless people in 2016 (according to The Guardian), but mostly mentions of lower numbers of people „sleeping rough“, i.e. in the streets, excluding the ones in emergency shelters for a night who are still homeless of course. I also read “figures have risen by 20 %“ but no numbers (Latest statistics show worrying rise in rough sleeping).
So therefore #bekind:
Please help! Put your small change in the pockets of your jacket or coat for easy access and not in your wallet. Collect it in your home, and every time you go out, put a handful in your pocket, so you don‘t have to look for it in your rucksack or handbag.
Give it to homeless people you meet. Those who sell homeless‘ papers, those who stagger through the tube begging for money, those who sit in the street, on the ground. How about doing this all through the winter. We can all spare some change every day. Don‘t think “They get so much already“, because that does not stop you from spending money on overprized branded products (“The company has so much already“?). Why not grant the poorest, the homeless a possible surplus? Maybe it will help them rent a bed for the next three nights. „They will only spend it on alcohol.“ Do you know this? And even if they do, well, what if that is what they want to do? Is anyone telling you what you must not spend the money on you earn or get as a present?
But if this is something you are not happy with, then don‘t give money, give things. Or do both.
If you get a new rucksack for christmas, take your old one, which is probably still usable, and offer it to a person without shelter. Or bring it to the railway mission.
If you get new gloves for christmas, a warm scarf or thick socks, have a look if there are good old scarfs, gloves or socks that you can offer to someone homeless. Or bring them to an emergency shelter.
If you get a new sleeping bag and sleeping pad for Christmas, take the old ones, that are probably still usable and offer them to those in need, who sleep rough. Or bring it to the city mission.
Call your town‘s homeless initiative and as what they could use.
Give a christmas present to ‘your homeless‘ (I can imagine that most of us encounter some regularly). Buy a packet of biscuits or gingerbread, a few chocolate santas, nice chocolate or nuts & raisins, and give it to the homeless you meet on your christmas walk or last-minute-christmas-shopping.
And above all, don‘t look away. Even if you don‘t give any money, at least give a smile and a couple of words. Seeing how people who beg in the tube are treated like they don‘t exist is something I always find extremely unpleasant.
Call for help…
… if you see people sleeping on the street and you are not sure how they are doing. In Germany there are so called Kältebusse (coldness busses) that you can call when you see somebody lying / sleeping in the street. The busses carry hot drinks and food and warm clothes and blankets, and in some towns they take people to the next shelter (I listed the websites and telephone numbers for some German cties in the German version above).
For London I found the London Street Rescue:
Thames Reach’s London Street Rescue service operates every night of the year across 14 London boroughs and helps both those rough sleepers who are new to the streets and those that that have been sleeping out long-term.
Outreach workers pair up with a volunteer and together they provide practical assistance to the individuals they find across the capital. The aim is to help people into emergency accommodation such as the No Second Night Out assessment centers and hostels.
If you see someone sleeping rough in London, you can make a referral via the StreetLink website, and services such as London Street Rescue will go out to help the individual.
This is a bit strange. For one, you have to go online and register on the website to „call for help“. Then it is no immediate help (“The service aims to respond within 24-hours“). And also, calling and actually speaking with someone on the other end seems more effective to me. They can ask you back about the person in need and ask you to speak with them to find out if they actually want to be taken to a shelter and so on. I did find a telephone number as well: 0300 – 500 0914 (also with the 24-hour-reaction).
If a person needs urgent (medical) attention or you believe they are under 18 years of age please call 999.
The day before yesterday I bought a warm wooly cap. It was very nice but unfortunately it did not fit 100 %, it turned my head into egg-shape and also it was a bit too long, nearly touching my eyes. But it was really very pretty, knitted from dark-grey wool, with a cool snowflake pattern, and a soft inner lining so the wool doesn‘t itch. And it was warm. Returning from a meal with friends I looked at my reflection in the shop windows I passed. Still eggheady. At my tube station I met a woman I regularly see, she lives on the street and sometimes sells the homeless‘ paper. She is very thin, was dressed sort of warmly but not wearing anything on her head (isn‘t that where the body loses most of its warmth?). So I offered her my wooly cap, saying that she was practically new but it didn‘t fit me but maybe for her it was alright. She jokingly asked if her looks didn‘t matter that much and then we compared the shapes of our heads and she tried it on – no egghead! It fit perfectly. Then she told me that some years ago she was given a wooly cap at a shelter, used but washed, but then she contracted lice from it. Of course I was feeling ba, because we haven‘t had warm water in our house these past two weeks, and then of course you don‘t wash your hair that often or that well. Anyway, after inspecting the cap she took it, it warms her ears and she looks really nice in it, much nicer than I did. Cool!
Merry Christmas – and let‘s make it through the winter alright, all of us!
Here‘s a new christmas song, CHRISTMAS IN BERLIN, just released by an Australian in Berlin, Justine Electra: