Volunteering at the Johanniter Homeless and Cold Aid Service
Every year from November to April, the Johanniter Unfallhilfe opens its emergency shelters due to the beginning of the cold season. Here, volunteers provide meals to homeless people and people in need every evening. Guests also have the option of staying overnight. Outside of the cold season, the facility does not offer overnight stays, but meals are served every day. We were on site during a volunteer shift and were able to learn a lot about the work of Johanniter’s homeless service and to get an impression of the guests and the volunteers.
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What is the Johanniter Homeless and Cold Aid Service?
The Johanniter homeless and cold aid service is located in the heart of Berlin, on Ohlauer Straße in Kreuzberg. Since 2018, it has been offering homeless people food, shelter, and also some affectionate warmth. Between 2015 and 2018, the building has been used as a refugee shelter, which was then converted into a facility for the care of homeless people and people in need, due to increasing demand.
Since then, volunteers have been providing people with meals every day, medical care twice a week, and overnight accommodations during the winter months. The overnight accommodation is now offered exclusively for men, since mixed accommodation – as it was initially designed – involved too much risk for women. Instead, they are placed in facilities that are reserved solely for women.
What does the organization offer homeless people?
During the time of cold aid service, from November to April, guests do not only receive meals and medical advice, but can also spend the night. For this purpose, the shelter offers sleeping accommodations for up to 80 people.
Entrance starts at 7 pm every evening – the food counter also opens at this time – and guests must leave the facility by 7 am the next morning. For many, spending the night here means protection and safety. Unlike on the open streets, they do not have to fear being chased away by the police or attacked nor robbed by strangers. Instead, they can find privacy in a protected space.
Sleeping places are allocated new every evening. Anyone who needs a place to sleep must first check in at the reception desk and is given a numbered wristband and a box in which all personal belongings are kept safe overnight. The number assigned also allocates to a specific bed, so that the distribution of sleeping places is clear from the beginning. Guests are also offered to take a shower here.
In addition, dogs can be taken into two of the bedroom floors, which is a crucial point for some people on the streets. After all, their four-legged friends are often the closest companions. There has never been any trouble, according to Gzregorz, the volunteer coordinator on site. Instead, the dogs tend to amuse the guests, as seen recently with a small pug that joyfully ran up and down one of the aisles non-stop.
The meals are also very popular for people who do not stay here overnight. In peak times up to 150 people per evening come by only for food. The dining room and meals do not only serve the functional supply of food. Rather, they also provide a social space where groups often gather and talk, creating a sense of community and normalcy. In addition, they can also turn to the local volunteers with any of their problems.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, the Johanniter Homeless and Cold Aid Service also offers a doctor’s consultation. The schedule offers guests fixed points of contact whenever they have wounds or other health problems. The doctors also work here on a voluntary basis and are not paid.
Last but not least, the guests also have the opportunity to stock up on new clothes. For this purpose, the Cold Aid Service has set up an extra clothing pantry in the basement.
Our volunteer work at the Johanniter Homeless and Cold Aid Service
We were assigned to cook and serve food that evening. At 5 pm we got started in the kitchen by receiving an overview of the donated food. That night, the food was donated by a school caterer, which meant that the dishes were already pre-cooked. Thus, we were spared quite a bit of work, and all we had to do was reheat the dishes. There was potato gratin, rice, peas, corn, vegetable sauce and slices of meat, plus fresh apples as well as curd and some pastries for dessert.
The food was set up at the serving counter shortly before 7 pm, dishes and tableware were laid out and a beverage dispenser with tea, coffee and water was set up in the dining room. From 7 pm the guests started to arrive and about 50-60 people were estimated to be there that night.
When we started serving the food, we also got into conversation with some of the guests – with some in German, with some in English and with a few people one of the volunteers had to help us with his knowledge of French. Some people seemed to know their way around and sat together in small groups during the evening. You could tell that this is an important place for them to go. Others were here alone. One man told us how he likes to stop by for dinner, but never spends the night, as his privacy is too important to him and he sleeps in his converted cady instead. This option is also reserved for guests.
That evening there was not much going on yet, as the temperatures were still relatively mild. So we could already start cleaning up around 9:30 pm. This included cleaning the dining hall, clearing the serving area, putting away the remaining food and cleaning the dishes, as well as cooking utensils that had been used. It was also important that we kept track of the hygienic handling of the food while documenting it.
Over the course of the evening, we also got to know the other volunteers a bit. Some have been involved almost from the beginning and are here every week. Another person was there for the first time and said that she would like to come again. And we, we will definitely be there again soon!
This is how you can support the Johanniter homeless and cold aid yourself
Get involved in the cold aid service or with the daily meal distribution
Since the cold aid service opens every day for its guests, helping hands are always needed: preparing meals in the kitchen, serving them, checking in at the entrance or receiving and serving belongings in the storage of boxes. The shifts always start at 5 pm and last until about 10 pm.
Those who prefer things quiet can also take on one of the night shifts. These last from 10 pm to 7 am. There are always two security guards on site every night.
Support with a donation
Of course, you also have the opportunity to support the work of the Johanniter Homeless and Cold Aid Service with a donation and thus ensure this special offer for people on the streets.
We hope you enjoy your involvement in the Homeless Aid!
Your vostel.de Team.