Saturday, May 3, 2014

Germany and Homelessness

Homelessness is an odd topic to bring up in Germany.  Years ago (actually around 1979)....I was stationed at Rhein Main Air Base (outside of Frankfurt) and brought up the topic with the old German guy that I worked with.

Eric was a sixty-year old guy of the construction trade, who was seventeen at the end of WW II, and tended to put topics into a simple forty-word explanation.  Nothing fancy, just plain blunt wisdom and truth.

So on the topic of homeless folks that I brought up....having noticed them around downtown Frankfurt....Eric was a bit direct.  All you have to do is walk into a social office....note your unpleasant circumstance in life and ask for help.  They will use state funding to put you that night into a suitable place and within days.....help you to find permanent lodgings....an appointment with the social benefits folks....an appointment with the state work office....and if you have any alcohol or drug issues....provide a suitable treatment plan.  Raising his finger and with the word "BUT"....if you don't cooperate or accept their deal of treatment and getting your life in order....then none of the offerings really matter and it's better for you on the street. End of the story.

What Germans will admit is that they don't collect statistics on homelessness, nor do they care about the actual numbers.  They will proudly tell you of social office offerings, various programs, and how they effectively work.

The quantity then?  Well....the homeless advocates in Germany will tell you that it's around a million total.  Kinda shocking because there's only eighty million residents in Germany.  I'm not sure if I agree on the million number....a bit excessive.

So, you have to start filtering this in some ways to understand various issues.

First, there's the East European folks who came in droves....thinking of various work and job gimmicks, then found that while there is work and an income.....living in Germany cost a good bit and that fine income equals no real profit for such things as a house or car.  So, they tend to live off the street because they seriously miscalculated the circumstances of life in Germany.  You can guess at roughly 100,000 such folks.....in mostly urban areas (you won't find any in rural areas, trust me on that fact).

Second, the teenage fad of living under bridges.  I hate to suggest it....but there's likely around 20,000 teenagers who've walked away from their family and home.....taken up booze and drugs....and living the 'Robin Hood-style' lifestyle in urban areas.  They sleep under bridges or in tents just meters away from metropolitan areas.  Families will turn in missing reports....but the cops will find the kids, who tend to refuse to return home.  Forcing them?  Well....there's some public defense folks who work hard to prevent that.  So the kid's best chances?  Maybe some public half-way house and some rehab treatment.  Based on documentary and journalism coverage.....most refuse booze rehab....worrying little about their future.....and accept the free spirit of their life-style.
Third, the nutcase guys and gals.  I'd generally say that 200,000 of these homeless folks (especially those I've seen around Frankfurt) fall into this category.  Every major urban area has a fair population of these characters.  None want a permanent fenced-in hospital setting, and since they aren't usually violent.....the cops just let them go.  It'd be different if judges were built with power to just grab folks off the street and task them with logic and reasoning questions to determine mental state.....but then who would devise such a test and how would it be seen by public defense folks?  So it's better.....to let the nuts roam free, and let winters lessen their number as years pass.

Fourth, alcoholics.  This is the group of men and women.  Rarely do you find women on the homeless situation.  When you do....it's either the nutcase situation or big-time alcoholics.  I'd take a guess at roughly 100,000 across all of Germany.  In K-town....we had a park at one end of town where twenty-odd homeless folks mingled and mostly drunk cheap booze throughout the day.  Cops rarely wasted time on them.  Here in Wiesbaden.....it's the area around Luisenplatz where roughly thirty guys and gals will mingle around mid-day.....mostly drinking cheap booze and discussing politics (a fine mixture, if you ask me).

Fifth, the dopers.  It's not the meth or weed or prescription drug crowd.  It's mostly the heroin group.  These are the guys who started out ok in life....had jobs and careers.....and somewhere in the mixture....got introduced to heroin.  Over the course of a couple of years.....they stumble, and eventually reach a state where the boss fires them, and no one will hire them.  No family member will pick them up.  The state?  Unless the guy volunteers for treatment....there's no help to be offered.  So, this guy quietly convinces himself to live off the street...earn what he can on simple day jobs, and dose up on heroin to keep himself content. I'd take a guess at 50,000.....living mostly around the forty top metropolitan areas of Germany (my humble numbers and observations).

If you have an entire day to walk around.....Frankfurt is the best place to observe the trends of homelessness.  The security guys at the Bahnhof have really cleaned up the station area and you just won't find many homeless folks around there.  So, you venture outside, and within fifty meters of the station.....you will start to notice the guys and gals. Head up Kaiser Strasse to the city park?  Note another twenty on the walk up, and at least a hundred around the park area.  The shopping district just around the corner?  Figure at least two hundred minimum there.  The park along the river?  At least another two hundred there.  I'd take a guess of five thousand homeless folks in the inner city area of Frankfurt (where I shot the picture) and around the airport.

Cops don't do much unless some city council folks get hyper over the state of the city parks and the trashy look that the parks have taken on.  The social folks?  Well...the programs exist with full funding.  But none of these folks tend to be happy with getting help with strings attached and demands on cleaning up one's life.

So I look back at Eric's comments of 1979.  It's better on the street.....if all the help offered is unacceptable.  Eric didn't ever feel sorry for any of them....I doubt if any of the older Germans of the 1960s and 1970s ever felt that compassion for the homeless crowd.  Today?  The German news media...especially state-run TV.....will run a documentary piece about every six months and try to make everyone feel sorry and weepy over these poor folks living underneath the bridges.  Logically, you'd ask why they can't make a government program to save them.  No one says much at that point.....mostly because there's dozens of various programs out there....fully funded.

Life is unfair....if you desire to be so, and you work even harder to keep it unfair, for a lifetime.

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