Why is Madison Wisconsin growing so fast

Worlds of Homelessness
Living without stopping

Nowadays everything and everyone is measured, statistically recorded and put into tables. Only one group doesn't seem to care: the homeless. Nobody knows how many of them there are, how many are new, how many have escaped homelessness, how long homelessness will last. But interest is slowly growing. You are getting closer to us. And we them.

From Jutta Allmendinger

This is due to the increased visibility of homeless people. Even if we don't know any numbers, more and more are felt. In addition, our stereotypes about the homeless are shaken. So far have we dismissed them as drug and alcohol addicts, as mentally ill or criminal, as "deserving homeless"In the language of poverty research, we have to recognize: We are wrong. Working, healthy, honest and hardworking people are also becoming homeless. Rents that rise rapidly, the stock of affordable housing is declining, and ever greater distances between living and working do theirs. Worries and fears have slipped from the fringes of society to the middle.

This panopticon shows: Housing must be a human right.

These concerns are understandable. More and more workers have to live on the streets. The accommodations for the homeless are overcrowded, the administration overwhelmed. Both existing and new contract rents have risen, especially in cities. Moving to cheaper apartments in the countryside is usually not a solution. Because commuting takes time. And, as sarcastic as it sounds, commuting costs money. Long commuting takes away time for a part-time job, especially for low-wage earners.

In Germany we don't yet know tent cities like those on the streets of Midtown Los Angeles. Not even parking garages that stay open at night so that homeless people can sleep in their cars, guarded and fed by supply trucks. Parking garages are considered a privilege. Many just sleep in cars. Most people in Germany are more than just a paycheck away from being homeless, as they say in California. Even in the upper middle class you can hear how close you are to homelessness: poor protection against dismissal, low reserves, highly stressed houses, lack of social security for illness or old age and no housing benefit. And evictions are much easier than in Germany.
During her time as a Thomas Mann Fellow, Jutta Allmendinger researched housing and homelessness in Los Angeles in 2018. We took them to the Skid Row Festival in downtown L.A. Skid Row is a 0.4 square mile district that has one of the highest homelessness rates in the United States. Together with her colleague Jürgen Robert von Mahs (New School, New York), Allmendinger took the opportunity to talk to the residents of Skid Row. Copyright: Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House e.V. 2018

This panopticon shows: Housing must be a human right. This includes affordable housing, adequate income, and good public administration. Further measures are necessary. Investors should be obliged to use part of the construction costs for affordable housing with social ties.
We need more and better accommodations for the homeless that are safe and also accessible to partners or animals. Offers of assistance must also be available to employed persons. “Housing First” approaches, which move homeless people to their own apartment quickly and without reservation, need to be expanded more decisively. The public transport network is particularly important for the homeless and needs to be expanded and maintained. And, yes, we need a lot more knowledge about the homeless themselves.

But our attitude is central. As close as homelessness has come to us, we cannot bear to be close to it. Germans are also “nimbys”: homeless people should live outside, not in my backyard. The architecture that is defensive and hostile towards the homeless speaks volumes. We must not get any closer to homelessness just to lose sight of it again.


Prof. Dr. h.c. Jutta Allmendinger, Ph.D. is President of the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) and Professor of Sociology in Education and Labor Market Research at Humboldt Universität Berlin since 2007. In addition, she has served as Honorary Professor of Sociology at Freie Universität Berlin since 2012. Jutta Allmendinger studied sociology and social psychology in Mannheim and Madison, Wisconsin earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University and her habilitation degree at Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich. From 1992 to 2007, she was a professor there. Her multiple honors and awards include the German Federal Cross of Merit First Class. Jutta Allmendinger serves on numerous advisory boards in Germany and abroad. She has been a member of the Goethe Institute since 2014. In 2018, she spent four months at Thomas-Mann-Haus in Los Angeles as one of the first Thomas-Mann-Fellows, appointed by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Jutta Allmendinger