Statistics on the homeless: germany seeks the homeless

In 2022, a count is to be made of how many homeless people live in Germany. The Bundestag is now debating this.

Homeless people in Berlin’s Lichtenberg subway station Photo: Karsten Thielker

How do you count homeless people? What sounds like a simple question is methodologically complicated in practice. The state of Berlin has opted for a comprehensive count. Some 1,600 volunteers will fan out there on January 29 to count people without homes in public spaces. The Senate Department for Social Affairs hopes this will provide data so that help can be managed more precisely in the future. So far, estimates range from 2,000 to 20,000 homeless people in the capital.

The counting method is not without problems: double counting, for example when a homeless person moves from one place to another during the count, is to be avoided. But since the people concerned are not asked their names, they cannot be excluded. And dangerous places are excluded from the count. In Tiergarten, a homeless man had murdered a woman in 2017. A group of homeless people in the park had long been known to the district office as aggressive.

So far, only some states care about reliable data on homeless people, nationwide data is missing. That is to change a bill of the Federal Government, which is on Thursday in the Bundestag on the agenda. In an expert hearing on Monday, the relevant professional associations, from Caritas to the Paritatischer Wohlfahrtsverband, supported it in principle.

There was criticism of details: the data, which is to be collected for the first time on January 31, 2022, is limited to homeless people in shelters. This simplifies the count, but does not include the very group that is hardest hit by homelessness. The Federal Association for Assistance to the Homeless (BAG) argued that it was incomprehensible not to include the "classic core group" of homeless people, i.e. those who live on the street.

Birgit Fix (Caritas) spoke of an "entry into the statistics", which takes place with the law. She criticized the fact that people who are homeless but not homeless are not included in the survey – i.e., people who have had to move out of their homes but have found accommodation with friends or acquaintances. It would be possible to include them in the statistics, for example, by asking counseling centers.

The CDU/CSU and SPD responded to the experts’ criticism in the responsible social affairs committee with a supplementary motion: Thus, in the first report on homelessness in 2022, the expansion of data collection to homeless people living on the street or with friends is to be examined. The bill is "an important step that is not yet sufficient," Wolfgang Strengmann-Kuhn, poverty policy spokesman for the Green Party in the Bundestag, told the taz. His party, like the Left Party and the FDP, intends to vote in favor of the bill and its amendment.

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