As the lockdown began in Germany from the end of March, everyone was urged to stay at home. But one population group was hit particularly hard: the people who live on the streets.

How should they protect themselves from the coronavirus? Where could they seek refuge?

Around 2,000 people are officially homeless in Hamburg, while the total number of unreported persons living on the streets is unknown. Due to the Corona crisis they were suddenly more vulnerable than they already were. Many auxiliary facilities had to reduce their supply. The beds in the emergency shelters were too close together and the risk of infection was too high. Even food boards had to change their supply and sanitary facilities, where homeless people could otherwise wash themselves, remained partially closed. All this was disastrous, also because homeless people belong primarily to the risk groups:

Life on the street weakens the immune system, many are pre-diseased. And suddenly they did not know where to go at all.

In the traditional Hamburg company Reemtsma, they became aware of this problem at an early stage. "How can we help?", asked the Reemtsma board of directors right at the beginning of the crisis. For many years Reemtsma has had a partnership with the homeless aid project Hinz&Kunzt and with Alimaus,
a day care centre for homeless and needy people.

"The fate of the homeless in the Corona crisis touched me very much", says Michael Kaib, Spokesman of the Management Board of Reemtsma. He consulted with his chief financial officer. Together they decided already at the beginning of April to make a donation in the amount 300,000 euros for providing safe, hygienic and humane accommodation for homeless people.

Safe housing for the homeless

"Charity is something we can always afford" – this thought drove the company's management. Reemtsma gave the money in equal shares to its cooperation partners Hinz&Kunzt and Alimaus. Both institutions worked with Diakonie Hamburg and together they found accommodations. "Thanks to the large donation we finally have the money to be able to do what we want: People could be accommodated in single rooms in hotels.

"The homeless urgently needed an accommodation where they could keep their distance," says Stephan Karrenbauer, social worker at Hinz&Kunzt.

Regular meals and clean clothes

More than 170 homeless people were able to stay in these single rooms across ten Hamburg hotels, which took part in the initiative. They got the chance to enjoy
regular meals, clean clothes and always had the possibility to talk to social workers. Many of the homeless were glad to finally find a place to rest.

Reemtsma employee donations for the homeless

And the initiative also touched the employees of Reemtsma. They called for an internal fundraising campaign. They collected 25,000 euros from the employees alone. And the company added another 25,000 euros to the initiative to be extended until the end of June. "Our employees have a shown a big heart," says CEO Kaib proudly.

"This makes clear how important social commitment is at Reemtsma and how close we as a company are with Hamburg and all the people who live here are connected."
Employees of the street magazine Hinz&Kunzt in conversation with one of the hotel residents
Employees of the street magazine Hinz&Kunzt in conversation with one of the hotel residents

Kai Greve from Alimaus says, "We are overwhelmed that employees of the company Reemtsma could provide extension of the accommodation for the homeless with their personal donations."

And Dirk Ahrens, state pastor and head of the Diakonischen Werk Hamburg, says: "The numerous donations and the good interaction between social workers and the committed hoteliers made sure that the decentralized accommodation service became a success model".

Positive outcomes from the initiative

The initiative also had a very nice side effect. Many of the homeless people were able to live a safe and secure life, very different from the life on the road. Some developed new confidence: They took care of the green spaces in hostels in which they were accommodated, or took part in household chores. Five of them have over the course of the initiative gained employment while six others have their own living space after a long time. Others were supported to apply for jobs or own living space, or to reach out to the authorities for support.

One of them says: "I am a trained bricklayer. But after six months on the street, it is hard to pull yourself out of it. You need luck, and I had that with this initiative."
One of the residents beautifying the nature.
One of the residents beautifying the nature.

And CEO Michael Kaib emphasizes: "I am very pleased, that we were even able to help the people on this way, to find new hope and after a long time to move forward to be able to look beyond the pandemic."

And something else nice has happened in Hamburg: The Senate concluded with its new coalition agreement in June 2020, launch a Housing First model project for the homeless. Those affected can start their own unlimited rental agreement to move into the living space and become professionally employed. And a part of the credit for this goes to Reemtsma.

How can everyone help?

  • Go through the world with open eyes and have an eye out for those who are in need of help. See how you can help.
  • Make donations to appropriate institutions - be it in the form of money or goods such as clothes, blankets
  • And of course: voluntary commitment. For example here:

Photos: © Mauricio Bustamante