Berlin launches ambitious bid to count homeless population

The size of Berlin’s homeless population is estimated at anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 people – finding out exactly how many there are is the goal of an unprecedented initiative that started in the capital on Wednesday.

Between 10 pm (2100 GMT) and 1 am on Thursday, some 2,600 volunteers, many of them students, hit the streets in a bid to systematically count the number of homeless people living in the German capital.

The census aimed to cover the whole city, with helpers checking under bridges, in tents and at other makeshift shelters, in order to firm up local authorities’ rough estimates.

The initiative is being organized by the Berlin Senate under the name “Night of Solidarity,” in an attempt to better allocate resources to support those without fixed housing.

“The first teams are heading out for our #NightofSolidarity,” the Senate tweeted late Wednesday. “[The teams are] well-schooled and prepared. Can’t wait to see the initial results! Solidarity counts!”

It is the first attempt to count the homeless population of a major German city.

While more than 3,700 people had registered to take part, only 2,600 volunteers took part in the end.

In some areas of the city, volunteers were accompanied by social workers.

The volunteers, among them many students, were asked to use a questionnaire to find out more about the homeless people they encountered. This included information like their age, gender, origin and the situation on the street.

“There were people who didn’t want to talk,” Stefan Strauss, spokesman for the Senate’s social administration, told dpa.

“But there were also homeless people who talked in great detail,” he said.

They were asked standardized questions about their situation, such as “Do you sleep rough?”

The outcome is to be announced on February 7.

It is not yet clear how reliable the figure will be.

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