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A Berlin refrigerated bus driver loads a car with sleeping bags in 2021

Photo: Britta Pedersen / picture alliance / dpa

There is a lack of space in the emergency shelters of the Berlin Cold Aid for the homeless. "For a few days now, the facilities have been really full," said Ursula Schoen of the League of Umbrella Associations of Independent Welfare Services. On Wednesday, the average occupancy rate had risen to 97 percent. The week before, the occupancy rate of the approximately 1080 seats was still about 93 percent on average.

Due to the lack of space, accommodations have to be overcrowded again and again – some up to 20 percent. In the emergency overnight stay Lehrter Straße of the Berlin City Mission, for example, up to 170 people sleep, although there are actually only 125 sleeping places, as league spokesman Sebastian Peters announced. There is no more room for beds in the rooms. "So the homeless stay in the dining room after dinner and make themselves as comfortable as possible on the floor and benches," Peters said. Blankets are usually available, sleeping bags are in short supply. All cold relief facilities are therefore in urgent need of donations.

According to Ursula Schoen, a total of 400 places are missing. "We can only hope that more places can be created for the longer periods of frost in January."

Since November, one or two cold buses of the diaconal city mission and heat buses of the German Red Cross have been on the road. In the first three weeks of November, around 600 calls were received by the buses of the Berlin City Mission. In the meantime, there are 100 calls per night. From midnight onwards, it becomes particularly difficult to accommodate people in need. "Hardly any accommodation is found, especially for people with limited mobility," says Schoen. They often have to be provided with tea and sleeping bags on the street.

All Berliners are asked to pay attention to homeless people. "See if the people are approachable, if they need anything. Call the cold or heat buses and, in case of emergency, the fire brigade."

Due to the persistent cold, the social city councillor of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Oliver Nöll, had called on the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG) on Friday to keep selected subway stations open. The BVG announced that there would be no so-called refrigeration stations. Due to train traffic and high-voltage currents in the track area, the necessary safety could not be provided. In addition, there are no sanitary facilities.