In Germany, Leipzig Shelter for Homeless Women Has 30th Anniversary

Caregiver who has been there from the beginning shares her experience.

Adventistische Pressedienst, and Adventist Review
In Germany, Leipzig Shelter for Homeless Women Has 30th Anniversary
Employees of the Leipzig shelter for women (from left), D. Gregor, R. Müller, A. Hinze, St. Nemczak, S. Krause, H. Stierig, Cl. Pape, J. Flehmig, and R. Deiries. [Photo: D. Gregor]

On the 30th anniversary of the shelter for homeless women in Leipzig, Germany, an institution run by the Advent Welfare Organization (AWW), Sylvia Bräunlich, who has been there from the beginning, provided a personal review. Her report appeared in the June 2024 issue of the magazine Adventisten Heute.

Before 1994, according to Bräunlich, the shelter was provisionally run by the city’s social welfare office before it was given over to the independent management of AWW. In 1992, an AWW helper group was set up in Leipzig. This later gave rise to the clothing thrift store on Karl-Heine-Strasse. There were considerations of setting up an overnight accommodation as an emergency shelter exclusively for women in Leipzig. During this time, the city of Leipzig put the shelter out to tender for takeover by independent management. Among several competitors, AWW was awarded the contract.

“We started with five employees in May 1994,” Bräunlich said. “Today, we have 10 employees. In the first few nights, we only accommodated four women. Word about the option gradually got around in Leipzig. We ‘newbies’ had the opportunity to slowly get used to the new tasks and gain experience in dealing with the various problems and obstacles that the women brought with them.”

Challenging Interactions

Bräunlich has met countless women in the 30 years of her service. Some only stayed briefly, perhaps just one night, but most stayed longer.

The women talked about their difficult childhood or relationships, about abuse they had suffered, about experiences of violence, incarceration, stays at a psychiatric hospital, problems with alcohol and drug abuse. Some women lived on the streets for a long time or with casual acquaintances. In any case, they no longer had their own home. Contact with family and friends was often broke off. But they also spoke of their own children, who were often taken into care by the youth welfare office or even adopted out. Many tears were shed during those conversations.

Other women were so mentally ill or addicted that they refused any treatment, “and we, as professional helpers, could only prevent the worst,” Bräunlich said. Not every woman accepted the offer of support.

There were also women who entered the house angry because, for example, they were evicted from their apartment or an acquaintance threw them out. “So, they would stand at our gate without any belongings,” she said.

Sometimes, women only came to the shelter after days and nights on the street and asked for a place to sleep. They were often ashamed of their situation, Bräunlich shared.

“Not every woman who found herself in such a predicament was free of guilt or responsibility. Nevertheless, we try to talk to them impartially,” she said. Crisis intervention, basic care, and applications for receiving standard benefits are usually the first intervention measures.

The Positive Outweighs the Negative

Bräunlich said she has experienced a lot of negative moments in her long service. “There were women who ‘freaked out because of their serious mental or addiction disorders, and became verbally and physically abusive,” she reported. “Women who screamed out their anger uncontrollably, refused to deescalate, threw objects around, and threatened us. Those were the extraordinarily challenging days. Sometimes, we needed the help of the police to prevent things from getting worse.”

And yet, Bräunlich said, “the positive outweighs the negative, even to this day.” She specifically mentioned those women who managed to make a new start in the long term, the pleasant teamwork, the relaxed interactions with one another, the laughter and collegial exchanges, the relieving conversations, the professionalism, and not knowing what the day would bring.

“That’s what makes my work complete,” Bräunlich said. “It is my faith in God that carries me through my work, day after day.”

The original version of this story was posted by Adventistische Pressedienst.

Adventistische Pressedienst, and Adventist Review