Berlin on Wednesday will open its first ever hostel for homeless people as the city seeks to keep the deadly coronavirus from spreading to this vulnerable demographic.
The hostel in Berlin's central Tiergarten district will host up to 200 people and will cater to all nationalities, spokesman for Berlin's social services administration Stefan Strauß said Tuesday.
Each room will have a maximum occupancy of two. There will also be a separate floor with 20 beds reserved specifically for woman.
In recent weeks, associations supporting the homeless had called for hotels and hostels to open their doors to Germany's homeless.
Those affected were informed about the hostel on Tuesday.
If more beds are needed, 150 more spots will be made available in a former office building that is already in use by an association helping the homeless, Strauß said. At that location there is the possibility of using an entire floor as a quarantine station if necessary.
Thus far, there are no known cases of COVID-19 among Berlin's homeless population.
Avoiding a 'catastrophe'
Other initiatives to help the homeless during the outbreak have been recorded around Germany. In the city of Hanau in Hesse, a Christian organization has established a "donation fence": people can leave bags for homeless people filled with food, hygiene products, and clothing hanging on the fence of a church in the center of town.
The federal association Wohnungslosenhilfe, which helps homeless people in Germany, said that a coronavirus outbreak among the homeless population would be a "catastrophe."
"When the coronavirus infection reaches this community, there is the risk of a catastrophe that I don't even want to describe," said the organization's director Werena Rosenke.
Many homeless people are at higher risk of catching and having complications from the virus due to pre-existing medical conditions, she said.
Organizations needs more space and additional rooms to keep people spaced out at a safe distance, she added. Other resources are also need as well, including face masks, disinfectant gel, hand soap, and protective clothing.
"I hope we get these things before the situation escalates," she said.
Services for the homeless have also taken a hit as many of the volunteers that keep the programs running are older and are themselves at a higher risk of having complications should they become infected.
"Organizations helping the homeless need to be considered part of Germany's critical infrastructure," Rosenke said.
Recent federal figures estimate that there are around 678,000 homeless people living in Germany.