Berlin Model Project: How “Housing First” conveys homeless apartments

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    Stefan Strauss

Kassandra has an apartment.

Kassandra has an apartment.


Alexander Klug

A real bed, that was the biggest wish the 29-year-old woman had. She calls herself Kassandra, her real name is different, but she does not want to call that. She was homeless for 15 years and lived in sheltered housing, cheap hotels and temporary shelters. Since mid-March, Kassandra has its own apartment. A room on the ninth floor of a residential building in Hellersdorf. With couch, fridge, washing machine and a real bed.

Housing First provides long-term housing for the homeless

The apartment costs 384 euros, the rent pays the Jobcenter. “I still can not believe that everything went so well,” says Kassandra. The search for accommodation took three months.

The once homeless woman sits at a table this Wednesday with Social Senator Elke Breitenbach (left) and with representatives of social institutions that have been carrying out a nationwide unique model project for about half a year: Obtain a homeless apartment in which they can live forever. You do not have to fulfill any conditions for this, as is usual. They do not have to prove that they cooperate with social workers or that they are self sufficient enough to look after themselves. First off the road, everything else comes later, is the premise.

The victims receive an apartment without any condition – without ifs and buts. “They finally have time and peace to come to their senses and to think about how things continue in their lives,” says Senator Breitenbach. However, the project can only benefit the homeless who are entitled to social benefits. This is how it determines the federal social code.

19 men and women found accommodation through Housing First

In October 2018, the Social Service of Catholic Women, the Berlin City Mission and the nonprofit New Chance carrier began their model project. For this purpose, the state of Berlin will make a total of 723,000 euros available by the end of 2019. Three years should take the test phase. 1.7 million euros are earmarked for this, and there are good reasons to continue the project. Because the first balance sheet on Wednesday is better than the stakeholders expected.

So far, 19 homeless men and women have found their own apartment in Berlin as part of Housing First. A success, but only a small considering the estimated number of 4,000 to 6,000 people living in Berlin on the street.

Berlin housing associations also cooperate with Housing First

According to Breitenbach, about 37,000 people are legally housed in shelters and supervised facilities. Because there is a lack of apartments, the rent is so low that the job center can take over. Accordingly, there were a lot of interested parties at the start of the project – but no vacant apartment. That changed as the project became better known. “Now, property management companies offer their apartments,” says Sebastian Bwe, the housing coordinator at Housing First. “We guarantee absolute reliability.” Rental deposit and rent are secured.

In the meantime, urban housing associations such as Gewobag and Gesobau are also cooperating with the homeless project. Even Deutsche Wohnen, which is criticized for its rent policy, is providing five apartments.

However, the social senator does not go far enough into the commitment of urban housing associations. They should fulfill their social responsibility even more, says Elke Breitenbach.

Housing First also supports homeless people with therapies

If the new residents want it, social workers and volunteers take care of the authorities, visits to the doctor, therapies and help in the home. But there are no guidelines on how people should live in their homes. They decide that alone.

Many homeless people are traumatized and unable to cope. Even small errands overwhelm them. “They have lost their faith in themselves,” says Stefanie Albig from the Social Service of Catholic Women. This institution mainly cares about women who hide their homelessness most of the time, living in “unhealthy relationships” with sexual violence and exploitation, says Albig.

Once a week she visits Kassandra in her apartment. Then the women talk about the next steps. It’s about debt. And a therapy. Kassandra says, “Without this apartment, that would not have been possible. The bad years are finally over. “