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Life on the banks of the Rhine: Beueler puzzle over whereabouts of several homeless people

Life on the banks of the Rhine : Beueler puzzle over whereabouts of several homeless people

Over the winter, several homeless people had set up tent quarters in Beuel. Now the tents have disappeared - and so have many of their inhabitants.

Hundreds of people live on the streets in Bonn. At train stations, on sidewalks, under bridges. They are constantly hoping for food, small change or empty deposit bottles.

Some try to escape the cold and lack of shelter and set up tents, recently increasingly in Beuel. For many citizens, however, the sight of these dwellings causes unease. The displacement of homeless people camping out has become routine for the public order office.

Jens Wanke has been homeless for three years. He served eight years in prison for serious fraud. "After I was released, I had nothing to start a new life with," the 53-year-old recalls of his first day of freedom. No family, no friends. Since then, he has lived in various emergency shelters. But the strict rules in the homeless shelters were always his undoing. "I was no longer free and realized I was on my own." First, the father of three daughters lived at a train station in Cologne, later he moved to Siegburg. Last fall, he experienced there how an acquaintance, who also lives on the street, was pelted with stones and insulted by young people. Since that incident, he decided to move away from there.

Today, Wanke lives in the south of Beuel. Until recently, he had a tent camp near the Ramersdorf bus station. A few weeks ago, however, the public order office vacated his dwelling. Therefore, he now has a new place to sleep, next to the covered entrance of a bank branch in Oberkassel. "Everything here is video-monitored," says Wanke. "So not much can happen to me at night." He spends the cold nights under several blankets on a sleeping pad and likes to listen to the radio. Wanke has a good relationship with local residents. They often bring him food or give him money. He stocks up on water and hygiene products at the local discount store "so I can wash and shave in the park every morning," he says. Wanke still misses his tent; it's a piece of privacy that is now missing.

That's how it feels for many homeless people in Beuel who have had to vacate their tents. Tent camps of homeless people were also removed from the banks of the Rhine in Beuel and under the Kennedy Bridge.

"For the most part, citizens feel disturbed by the camps and complain about 'garbage dumping'," Markus Schmitz from the city's public order office explains this procedure. According to Schmitz, this is based on an ordinance on the maintenance of public safety and order in the city area. Not all citizens agree with this regulation, he said. "A few are vehemently committed to homeless people, but a majority complain about it at least as vehemently," Schmitz said.

According to the Caritas association, there are currently nine homeless people in Beuel who are known by name, "If you consider an unreported number, there are four or five more people," says Mechthild Greten, spokeswoman for Caritas in Bonn. Many of them disappeared after their tents were evicted. So did the "Beuel Angel," as his fans call him. He had pitched his tent camp on the Rhine and always caught people's attention in a positive way. "He used to ride around on an old mail bike between the Kennedy and Nord bridges, collecting trash, setting up dog waste stations and emptying them every morning at 7 a.m.," reports a young man who often encountered the homeless man on the Rhine when he was out walking his dog. "I was totally shocked when I noticed a week ago that he was no longer there," says the man from Beuel. The man had always been a cheerful soul, he said, and enjoyed playing with dogs. In the meantime, his camp has been cleared and the "Beuel Angel" has disappeared without a trace.

The whereabouts of several homeless people with tents is currently puzzling. "In part, people want to live self-determined and free and do not want to be integrated into existing systems," says Markus Schmitz. Helping those affected is difficult, he says, especially because many homeless people are not open to the authorities. The situation is different when help comes from welfare organizations and private supporters. Street workers regularly visit homeless people in their neighborhoods and check up on them. "The offers of help are very much taken up. We have a full workload," says Caritas spokeswoman Greten.

Jens Wanke also makes regular use of nonprofit help services. "I have had very good experiences with VfG," reports the man from Oberkassel. He is reasonably satisfied with his current situation. In the long term, he would like to move abroad one day, and perhaps to a real apartment.

Original text: Abir Kassis

Translation: Mareike Graepel