Aufgabe #6 im Journalisten-Austausch: Ein New Yorker in der Gruft

Blog17. Oktober 2014, 14:29
18 Postings

In der vergangenen Ausgabe wurde die Obdachlosen-Szene in New York beleuchtet. Nun gibt es das Rückspiel mit Seth Berkman in Wien

Across the street from Gruft on Barnabitengasse, a salon offers haircuts for 21 Euros. For the men standing outside Gruft’s entrance, chatting as they roll cigarettes or engage in play fighting, the chic hairstyles are of no concern. At Gruft, they can get a free haircut, in addition to clothing, warm food, showers, beds and perhaps most importantly, the resources to help them settle back into society.

What began in 1986, as a group of schoolchildren offering tea and bread to local homeless, has morphed into a lively wooden-paneled building with a full kitchen, 60 beds, medical offices and 40 staff dedicated to aiding Vienna’s population that struggles to maintain on the outskirts of society, away from the city’s cafes and museums.

Der Unterschied Wien - USA

My visit to Gruft provided personal insight into homelessness in Vienna, but also a defined contrast in how American authorities handle impoverished persons.

Ingrid, a Gruft volunteer for the last 10 years, often accompanies individuals to the proper offices as they try to obtain the paperwork to gain benefits. This is a vital first step.

"This is a work with a sense of importance," said Ingrid, who like other volunteers, also guides trips to museums or the mountains or cheers on Gruft members in football matches. Here, volunteering means more than sorting through clothes or serving soup.

In New York City, when a homeless individual enters a government office, there is usually layers of what we call "red tape"—they are often sent in circles or simply become another sheet of paper in a stack that infinitely grows. In Vienna, it appears, the local authorities make a concerted effort to help the homeless regain mobility.

Andere Mentalität

As Susanne, one of Gruft’s staff members told me, once a homeless individual receives their paperwork, they can get funding from the government. That leads to housing, which enables them to become viable to employers. Having the right papers in order also leads to access to healthcare.

There’s also a difference in the mentality of volunteers and donors. In America, it’s common for big corporations to write a check and be done. At Gruft, workers from companies throughout the city take the time to not only donate money, but cook meals at the center.

"More people would rather directly help" said Susanne, who was one of the first Gruft volunteers in 1986.

Die Gruft ist nicht für alle etwas

Gruft is not for everyone. There are some homeless who prefer to stay on the streets. While it is not uncommon for New Yorkers to ignore or even loathe the man sleeping in the park or on the church steps, Gruft provides jackets and sleeping bags to those who choose to remain outside, as well as a hotline for citizens to call if they know of someone in need of services.

In New York, we have a service called 311. You call and after waiting 20 minutes (if you are lucky), a city employee registers your complaint or inquiry. Rarely, do they ever respond with an answer.

That is not to say there aren’t organizations that help in New York. A key issue in recent local elections has been to curb homelessness in the city of more than 8 million, although progress has been slow. When comparing homelessness in Vienna and New York City, one cannot overlook the difference in population size. Many shelters in New York are short on money. Volunteers at churches or synagogues can only devote so many resources to the thousands living on the streets. A recent Wall Street Journal article said there were 53,000 people sleeping in city shelters each night, 23,000 of whom are children. Here, I’ve noticed, the sight of youths living on the street is very rare.

In welchen Punkten sich die Städte gleichen

What is similar in both cities is the rising fear of income inequality leading to a rise in poverty. The "one percent" is not a myth. Just take a look at housing in New York City. For a tiny studio the size of some closets, you would be hard-pressed to find such an apartment for less than $1,600 in a "nice" neighborhood. Many families, who want to send their children to the best schools and away from high-crime areas, struggle to pay thousands of dollars in rent each month and sometimes end up in shelters or on the street. It’s just as common to hear a mother carrying a crying child on the subway, asking for change, as it is to hear musicians playing drums or the guitar.

Gruft is not the only organization in Vienna that helps. I’ve not been ignorant in thinking homelessness is a minor problem here. I’ve walked through Stadtpark and seen groups laying on benches with their few belongings nearby. Even outside of my apartment, it is not uncommon to see a homeless man or woman sitting on the ground, asking for change. But I do feel a different mentality exists.

One of my true joys of living in Vienna this past month, has been the slower pace of life. I’ve lived in New York for 7 years now, and often feel as if I’ve become a worse person during that time. No longer do I dig through my pockets looking for spare change when a panhandler comes on the train. I turn the volume up on my iPod and ignore their pleas, like the majority of my fellow "straphangers." If you’re ever waiting on a crowded subway platform in New York, and a train pulls in with an empty car, there is a chance there is a homeless person sleeping on one of the benches and people have avoided sitting in that entire car just to avoid them.

To many New Yorkers, the homeless are seen as a nuisance. The rising poverty rate is a problem that has lasted too long in the city. In Vienna, while still very much existent, I at least get the impression that the collective citizenship is making a concerted effort to help. (Seth Berkman,, 17.10.2014)

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    Der Eingangsbereich zum Tageszentrum der Gruft in Wien.

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