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My first volunteering in a homeless shelter | Cara from

At the beginning of the cold season, our colleague Cara made her first volunteering experience at the Johanniter homeless aid centre in Ohlauer Straße in Berlin. In this interview, she talks about her expectations, the people and tasks on site, and what surprised her in particular.

Hi Cara, thank you for sharing your experience with us. Was it the first time you came into contact with homeless people?

Honestly, no. I think most people who live in Berlin have been confronted with homelessness in one form or another. Be it in the underground, in front of shops or simply in everyday life on the street.

On the other hand, I had already dealt with the topic at university. We were on a city tour on the topic of homelessness as part of a report. There I learned that only a fraction of homeless people are visible in the cityscape or on the street. And not all people who are frequently on the street are also compulsorily homeless. This differentiated picture has been confirmed once again during my involvement in the homeless shelter.

What kind of expectations did you have?

I didn’t really have any expectations. I was more curious about how it will be. What does the place look like? What kind of food will be served? What is the procedure? And what will my task be? I imagined it a bit like serving food in a canteen.

And what was it actually like on site?

In fact, it was not as canteen-like as expected. The other volunteers gave us a super warm and open welcome. Then they showed everything in great detail and explained what was going to happen. I had the feeling that they were just very happy that we were there and helping.

Essensausgabe der Obdachlosenhilfe
Photo: Michael Rapaic

Was there anything that surprised you?

The diversity of people. And the relaxed atmosphere on site. When we – that is me and the other volunteers – arrived, most of the food had already been prepared. There were about 180 portions. You can imagine how much time the preparations alone took. And yet all the meals were prepared with attention to detail.

What I also found exciting was that great care was taken to ensure that all food donations were used in a sensible and sustainable way. And we were informed about the different tastes of the visitors, which were even considered during the preparations. Great importance was also attached to hygiene measures. All in all, it was very different from a “canteen meal”, as I had imagined.

Oh, and it was just super fun to do everything together as a team!

What impression did you have of the people on site?

As I said, people have very different backgrounds. Not every person is homeless. One of the staff members told us that people come to them who are simply hungry. They are not just people without a roof over their heads. There was everything from hipsters to old and young people to family men. Most of them were very friendly and just happy that there was something good to eat on site.

What has been the added value of your support?

I think we had the greatest added value for the volunteers who are regularly or even daily in the homeless aid or food distribution. They really do an incredible job every day and are happy when someone gives them a hand. And you can really see that in their warm-heartedness.

In conclusion: would you do it again?

Yes, absolutely. The team is great and the visitors were grateful and friendly. And the insight you get into this unknown reality of life is just super important and makes a lasting impression. In summary, I would say: it is a small contribution that was a lot of fun!

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