In just a few days there were three attempted murders of homeless people in Dortmund. What does society's indifference have to do with this?

The belongings of a homeless person in a tunnel.

It is this invisibility that endangers the lives of homeless people, along with drug abuse and disease. Photo: D. Kerlekin/imago

When I take the subway to work, I have to walk over people on the way. Almost every day, homeless people sit or lie in the lobby or on the landing of the subway station. Sometimes they are covered with sleeping bags or aluminum foil, so that at first glance you cannot tell whether it is a pile of material or a person. When I have to walk past them in the morning, I don't look to see if anyone is breathing under the pile, I just walk over their bodies.

Some days these people are not there and the subway station seems empty. Only remnants of aluminum foil and cigarette butts remind us that someone has been here recently. I don't know where the people disappeared. Were they chased away by the police, security or cleaning staff? Did they go to another subway station or even get kicked out of the city center?

I don't care about the lives of homeless and homeless people. On the contrary: I have worked as a journalist and have also repeatedly volunteered to help the homeless. But in everyday life people become invisible to me, blending into a mass that normally does not affect me and sometimes bothers me. Some days it's so bad that I prefer to take the elevator to the platform so I don't have to meet people on the stairs. Then I feel ashamed, but not enough to change my behavior. And I'm not alone, a large part of society does the same.

But we cannot allow ourselves this indifference, this ignorance. Because it is this invisibility that endangers the lives of homeless people, along with drug abuse, disease, heat and cold. Homeless and homeless people are spat on, insulted and objects thrown at them in public, have their tents and sleeping places set on fire, robbed, threatened with knives or thrown kicked to the ground. And in the worst cases, they are killed: in homeless shelters, during police operations or on the streets.

Murder attempts in Dortmund

This violence is part of everyday life for them, their lives are not safe. In Dortmund alone there have been three attempted murders of homeless people, two of which were fatal. A little over a week ago, a police officer shot and killed a 52-year-old man during an operation. A day later, a 13-year-old boy stabbed a 31-year-old man to death in the port of Dortmund. And now it has emerged that a women's shelter caught fire on Easter weekend. The 72-year-old woman managed to escape injured from her burning bed. The prosecution classifies the crime as attempted murder due to treachery. Police do not believe there are connections between the individual crimes.

Violence against homeless and homeless people is always linked by hatred based on prejudice. That is to say, people do not contribute anything to society and, therefore, are inferior. That's why sheltered people want to know where unsheltered people can stay, ideally out of their field of vision. They are seen as second-class citizens, as simple victims with whom one can do whatever they want.

The fact that this hatred towards people can lead to violence is also due to the indifference of society. To bring people out of invisibility, everyone must pay attention. Also so that politicians are forced to assume responsibilities.

The real estate crisis worsens

Under the coalition agreement, the federal government wants to overcome homelessness and homelessness by 2030. There is little evidence that this project will succeed. Affordable housing is lacking throughout Germany and the housing crisis will worsen again in the coming years due to poor political decisions.

This is especially dangerous for all unsheltered people. Because even if we, as a society, begin to look and intervene collectively, the best protection against violence for those affected remains their own home.