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The WD Interview – Andreas Düllick, Editor Strassenfeger & President Mob e.V.

May 15th, 2009 · No Comments · Berlin, General, The WD Interview

Andreas Düllick talks fast, clear and precisely. In the same time spent interviewing other people, he manages to say an average of 400 words more. Perhaps it’s the urgency of the situation that pushes him to provide as much information as he can possibly squeeze in.

Düllick is the editor of Strassenfeger, a bi-weekly magazine sold by homeless people in Berlin. With a circulation of 21,000 magazines per issue, Strassenfeger is the second biggest in Germany.

Run under the umbrella of the charitable organisation Mob e.V., it provides a variety of aid to the homeless of Berlin. Free emergency night shelter, a meeting point (Kaffee Bankrott), a flea market and the magazine Strassenfeger, all located in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Allee.

With nearly 3.5 mio inhabitants, homeless figures are scarce. “We are a low-threshold organisation and as such we don’t collect any data about our what I would call ‘sleeping guests’,” explains Düllick. “We know their names and where they come from. We have conversations with them, but we keep the hurdle of coming here and spending the night as limited as possible. The people have enough problems; alcohol, drugs, physical and mental problems, debts.”

The Senate of Berlin, the government of Germany’s capital, supports the homeless with housing and asks for statistics in the process (for example figures for number of overnight stays), but this approach puts off the homeless: “We don’t do that and neither do a great number of other non-profit organisations and therefore there is no data.”

Düllick adds that the figure that keeps being mentioned is 10,000-12,000 homeless people, but this is not confirmed. To complicate matters, Germany distinguishes between people who are homeless (wohnungslos= housed by the state in emergency housing or homes) and those who have no shelter (obdachlos=no home, i.e. living in the street).

Homelessness in an international problem. “Our sleeping guests are as colourful as Berlin itself,” explains Düllick. “At the moment we have English, Poles and Germans. It changes all the time. We are an emergency stop, not a permanent solution.”

The 17 places on offer are always fully booked: “Most people feel so much at home that they don’t want to leave which makes it difficult for us,” says Düllick.  “On the one hand we don’t want to kick anyone out, but on the other hand we have to restrict the time people can stay.”

The aim is to offer practical help. In initial interviews volunteers try to get to know the person better, their needs and problems are established and relevant help is offered.  “We offer help, but they don’t have to accept it,” says Düllick. “Most want support with visits to the authorities, for example the registration office to get a passport and ID which got lost or was thrown away. Also visits to social services, the job centre or transfer to other departments, or counselling services (drugs, psychological).”

Düllick admits that the help Mob e.V. provides is limited because of funds and manpower: “That’s why it would be nice to develop a scheme where we could actually help people strategically to move them back into their own homes.”

So do people really want to work on getting back their self-respect? “Lots of people don’t care. I am not a social romantic who believes that we somehow change the world or turn it into a better place. What we are doing is a drop in the ocean,” says Düllick.

The magazine is financed through advertising, the actual selling of the paper and donations, all of which is reinvested into the organisation. The adjacent second hand store receives contributions in form of furniture and technical products. Part of the money goes to Café Bankrott, which is a meeting point for the homeless. Here the sellers can meet up and sleep after they have sold the magazines.

Priced at €1,20 Strassenfeger is one of “the best priced, not the cheapest” magazines of its kind in Germany. Payment rates for journalists, who are all freelancers, are very low. “It’s laughable,” says Düllick. “It’s more like an acknowledgement than a payment. But lots of people just like to write, some need the money and others like the social aspect of writing for the magazine.”

The idea of selling a paper to make an income might appear an easy way to make a living to some. Düllick clarifies: “I have to praise the vendors; making a paper is easy, but selling it, organising it so it runs beyond two issues, is another story. I have observed the disinterest, the vilification the vendors receive from the public. It’s a hard job, they people are out for 10-12 hours per day.”

Since the vendors are free to spend the money they earn any way they want, the drawback is that they can also use it to fund their drug addictions. “Sure. But that’s not our responsibility to tell them “you have to be clean” – we can’t achieve that,” emphasises Düllick and adds. “That’s the responsibility of the state to solve the drugs problem. How can we achieve that? With the money that we make, we have to finance our own work.”

So, how do you become homeless? “It can happen quite quickly. This has happened to many people – they just lost their job,” explains Düllick. “They lost their social context and contacts. You don’t tell your friends that you have lost your job; you stay at home and start drinking. Then you get bills that you can’t pay; this goes on for a few months. That’s the classic career.” Other reasons can be a trauma such as death of a spouse or a child or the loss of a limb.

He adds that there are people from all walks of life, with more and more people from middle class backgrounds.

Is there any practical help that we can offer? “First of all, I am helping by buying a magazine, not by just giving them money, but actually reading the paper, wanting the paper. This helps with the vendor’s self-respect,” says Düllick.  “Don’t just buy something to make yourself feel better, but have a conversation with the people. There are a lot of very clever people who have a lot to say.”

Beyond that Düllick cites the basic citizen’s duty to be a responsible member of our society, voluntary work within Mob e.V. could make a difference.

What ‘s the biggest misconception that people can have regarding the homeless? “The reasons the lead to being homeless. One thinks that they are tramps anyway, they are responsible for their own fate – it wasn’t like this years ago and it’s certainly not like this today.” He feels there is a double standard when it comes to these problems: “Try and see every homeless person as a human being and not scum. Don’t think: we can’t help him, he smells, he drinks, he is on drugs… break down the distance. When (the German actor) Heiner Lauterbach drinks, he is not thrown out of his home; when Arnold Schwarzenegger takes drugs to pump up his body, he isn’t kicked out of the governor’s house.”

Although there are rare examples of people getting back onto their feet and off the street, Düllick says he is rather pessimistic: “There are many who don’t make it. We can only offer limited help. I don’t think there are going to be big changes in the next 10-15 years if the state doesn’t change and help more.”

He hopes that Strassenfeger will raise awareness and continue to be a quality magazine. “No one needs to be homeless in Germany. That’s true to a degree. It’s about looking after these people. And making people think: this could be me…”


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