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A view of Europaplatz, Berlin

As temperatures drop, Berlin revamps social services to help the homeless

As temperatures drop, Berlin revamps social services to help the homeless

The city launched a new volunteer service, buses roaming the streets and giving out sleeping bags and hot tea

Berlin is expanding its social services to provide emergency beds before the start of the winter. Today, the city announced it will double the existing beds for emergency overnight facilities. Furthermore, the city will launch so-called ‘Cold Buses’, that will roam the streets until late at night, giving out hot tea, sleeping bags or driving people to said emergency facilities.

Last winter was particularly difficult, as overnight facilities were subject to social distancing guidelines, while February had a harsh cold snap. The Berlin Red Cross received around 1700 calls in 150 nights. This year, with new measures in place, should be different.

The ‘Cold Buses’

There will be three ‘Cold Buses’ out, roaming the streets from today until the end of March. They are supposed to help the homeless with the bare necessities to get through the colder months. This includes tea, sleeping bags and sleeping mats. In addition, an ambulance will also make the rounds once a week to provide medical care for those in need.

At the same time, the staff in the Cold Buses cannot force anyone into a homeless shelter, but they will drive people to shelters if they request it. Furthermore, citizens can call a Cold Bus if they see someone in need. Local authorities, however, urge Berliners to talk to the person to see if they want help.

According to local authorities, in mid-autumn, demand for homeless services is already on the rise and as a press release by the city put it: “Otherwise the cold bus might come in vain - and be missing at another location in the city."

Emergency facilities

Since today, Berlin operates a total of 200 overnight facilities 24/7, offering a total of 1000 beds throughout the city and a package of different types of social care. These accommodations are financed through European development aid with the REACT-EU scheme and will cost 11.4 million euros until 2023.

Senator for Integration, Labour and Social Affairs Elke Breitenbach put it quite bluntly: “If you are looking for a bed, you will get one. The cold help is the lowest-threshold offer for homeless people.” She, however, explained that the goal is to overcome homelessness in the city in the next 10 years and cold buses are not going to cut it.  

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