Caritas distributes 80 donation-funded shelter suits in Berlin. In them, people on the street can live warm and dry.
Multifunctional and water-repellent: The Sheltersuit is designed to help the homeless through the cold winter Photo: Tony DoCekal
The charity Caritas is distributing sleeping bags that are also coats – to Berlin’s homeless, who sleep outside even in February. The so-called shelter suits consist of a scarf, sleeping bag and tent: tents are sewn onto sleeping bags to prevent them from becoming waterlogged. Because one part is detachable, they can be worn as a coat during the day. At night, they can be used as a sleeping bag.
The Sheltersuit was invented by Dutch designer Bas Timmer, whose invention has already been distributed 12,500 times in the Netherlands – as well as in South Africa and in the Moria refugee camp.
In Berlin, they are distributed by the Caritas doctor’s mobile, which assists the homeless with basic medical care. "The people there are full professionals who come from the homeless aid sector. They have been helping for over 25 years and know who is in a difficult situation," Caritas spokesman Thomas Gleibner tells the taz.
For now, 80 shelter suits are being distributed. One costs 300 euros. With material, production and wage compensation, the costs amount to 24,000 euros, Caritas is still looking for donors. "Our first goal is always to get people into housing. With this action, we are addressing the situation that some do not want to go to emergency shelters at the moment and prefer to sleep on the street," says the Caritas spokesman to the taz.
Homeless increasingly evicted
Bahar Sanli from the action alliance Solidarisches Kreuzberg on homelessness, thinks that "it is a concrete, useful form of support". But this does not change the fact that people still have to live on the streets.
In addition, one must consider that homeless people are increasingly being evicted. In the process, police may take away sleeping bags – or shelter suits – he said. "Every district handles this differently." While Neukolln and Charlottenburg do not evict homeless people who sleep in public, the situation is different in Mitte, he said.
"Therefore, when the sheltersuits are distributed, it has to be ensured that people can keep them and won’t be evicted. And they need safe places to stay," Sanli says. In the second step, it would be up to the Senate administration to instruct the police and the districts not to carry out forced evictions.
Sanli points out that many homeless people do not want to sleep in emergency shelters because of the risk of infection with Corona. But there are alternatives: "The question is: Why do people have to spend the night outside at all? Hotels are empty, vacation rentals, business apartments are empty, everything is empty. And we’re handing out shelter suits and sleeping bags."
As of January 2020, there were 2,000 homeless people. Social service organizations estimate the number is higher. There are currently 1,092 emergency overnight shelters available, and the Evangelical Press Service reported Monday that 100 more are planned.