Straßensozialarbeit in Berlin

10 years Gangway


Gangway e.V. – 10 years street welfare work in Berlin

Street welfare work at Gangway e.V.: An Overview

“The Youths, with whom we have to do, are noticeable.
You may also say: „they are remarkable”
They don’t have force and want to show.
You may also say: „they are ready for violence“.
They have Problems. You may also say: „they cause problems.“
They are limited. You may also say: „they exclude themselves.”
Usually both are correct.
Elvira Berndt, Managing director

10 years of Gangway
Street welfare work in Berlin – A drop in the ocean?


To the situation in Berlin and problems of young persons
New problem, new requirements for youth work
Spring 1989: Youths unite in groups
1990: Gangway started with two teams
The trust of the youths is the whole capital
Offers to the youths – examples from the everyday work
Attendance in problems solving
Relationship to the police
Tendencies in youth work, which cause worry
Remarks about the topic school
What street workers can and can’t achieve

Street work in Berlin – a drop in the ocean?

In order to estimate the work of Gangway e.V and its teams in the 14 districts of Berlin, it is necessary to highlight the facts, under which this association developed and is taking place today. The situations of the youths in Berlin, motives, which led to the establishment of Gangway. Principles of work and trends in youth work, excerpts from a lecture of Managing Director Elvira Berndt:

Berlin is an exciting, multicolored and totally amazing city. My point of view as Managing Director of the association for street work GANGWAY is however more directed towards the immense problems, which our city has and produces.
Similar applies to the youths, whom we have to confront. Especially in the disadvantaged, often very difficult youths you’ll find a lot of energy and creativity, which aren’t easy to sort out. These facts, that are among others hidden behind a shell of aggressiveness und coolness. They are to be taken into consideration (although at times it’s not easy to do so).
The picture of this youth and their groups is produced by the mass medias the public and here youth is superficially associated with criminal gangs and violence. They don’t allow the other side of this youths to become conscious to the public. The youth welfare services have some how unfortunately contributed to these stigmatisation due to this focus over years to obtain the money to carry out the necessary tasks, meanwhile the youths consistently attended the respective current special program, which was offered. Depending upon the financial possibility the youths became suddenly drug-endangered, brutale, right-oriented or something similar.

To the situation in Berlin and problems of juveniles

Although there is a downhill trend trend in Berlin is falling, the number of inhabitants remained over the years relatively stable. Nevertheless this doesn’t say anything about the change in the population structure. In the east Berlin district Prenzlauer Berg, for example the absolute amount of inhabitants has changed in the last 8 years due to the higher stability. So far Berlin was divided in 23 districts, which have had between 100.000 and 350.000 inhabitants. In the context of the administrative reform the number of districts has been reduced to 12. Due to this reduction we have currently nearly 300,000 inhabitants per district in Berlin.
Berlin has of allcities in germnany the biggest number of foreign inhabitants, but not the highest foreigner proportion of the whole population. Presently there are living over 400000 foreigners from roughly 180 countries in the city. The turkish citisens with over 130000 people are hereby the largest group. The district Kreuzberg with 34,4% foreigners has the highest foreigner portion in Berlin.
In these statistics are not recorded people of other origin (foreigners) with a German passport, illegal foreigners in Berlin, the large amount of Russian-Germans, who are formally German as resettlers due to the lack of concrete figures about their amount. Precisely, these youths, who often didn’t want on their own to come to Germany, barely speak German and don’t feel like Germans, so they have enormous integration problems.
Up to the political reunification in 1989 Berlin consisted of two city halves, which were considered as the shop window of the respective political system. These halves were highly subsidized. In the meantime the subsidies have run out. The countryside of Berlin has developed itself to a so-called bacon belt with all pertinent functions. The politic mutates (changes) slowly from the administration of a protected province to the metropolitan city management.
The development has taken a rapid speed, a speed, within which in many sectors the inhabitants of the city weren’t carried along. Many of these effects are associated with an unconscious feeling, which substantially frequently lead to withdrawal and resignation, rather than intensified citizen commitment.
Presently concepts of accommodation management are developed in the senate of Berlin. These concepts try to support the self organisation potentials strongly of the citizens in the various quarters in Berlin as well as help tostabilise the quarters. Unfortunately this thought and/or approach comes rather late, namely: at a time where those who could afford to stabilise the quarters have already left. They moved out at a time where the desolation of public roads and places has already progressed immensely and at a time, at which in some cases the social structure has already toppled.
The effects of this development of the past years, to which among others the destruction of nearly half of the industrial workplaces belongs. It has of cause effects on children and youths.
– approx. each ninth child in Berlin lives on social welfare assistance, in certain quarters is it each third child;
– nearly 20% between 15 and 25-year old are being segregated from the training and occupation system;
– roughly one quarter of the youths are unemployed

New problems – new requirements to the youth work

Youth work in west Berlin in the 80’s was more marked than today’s propaganda on security and inventory keeping. Arising problems were solved by increasing the existing capacity, e.g. increasing personnel or better equipment rather solving through changes. The in some places most popular thought: “We offer everything, the youths can come, if they need us and if they don’t come, it implies they don’t need it us at all.”
The fact that the youths have in the meantime changed (their problems as well as their needs and their behaviour patterns). Furthermore, the fact that a remarkable amount of the youths have discovered and conquered other places as meeting point has made it difficult to get intouch with them through social work, since there is no personal contact between them and the social workers, wasn’t strongly taken serious.

Spring 1989: Youths unite in groups

This situation changed in 1989. The change wasn’t due to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. It took place early 1989. As a reaction to encroachments hostile of the right-oriented groups, especially the skinheads, arose in some quarters rapidly multi-ethnical groups of youths. These groups, which were regarded by the youths as an extraordinarily important shelter, had up to 150 members. They developed gang structures and gave themselves names from American movies such as black panthers, barbarians, fighters etc. These gangs and their members documented their affiliation through the warring of jackets appropriate labels. They’re remarkable in their behaviours due to their enormous energy and power as well as due to their behaviours in the public. The police crime statistic of summer 1989 shows in addition a clear increase of thefts and aggressions.
Suddenly arose a publicly noticed and annoying problem. The juvenile welfare service was demanded, but it had long lost the contact to these youths. In addition one can’t as well rally a gang with 130 members in a small youth facility, not to talk about them taking a ceramic course. The only adults, who took up contact to these youths rapidly, were policemen. The police was not prepared for this type of phenomenon and their acts at the beginning weren’t necessarily deescalating.

1990: Gangway started with two teams

In so doing a concept, which seems before inapplicable in Berlin was being digged out. Gangway began as an establishment of association of people, which assumed youth-political responsibilities. Gangway was hereby aware of the fact that this field of street work needs flexibility and the nearness to the youths. Nededs that were impossible to be developed under the roof of public services.
At first there were only two teams on board. In the course of time the association has been constantly growing. Currently there are 45 street workers. The workers are divided in 14 teams. They carry out tasks in the 9 districts of Berlin. In each team are allocated three, in ideal cases four street workers of both kinds of gender. In the districts, in which we are confronted with migrants youths, the teams are bi- or tri-national composed.
The first fundamental decision taken, focused on the location of work of the teams. Not the train stations and other numerous central places, at which the youths became remarkable, should become the location of work, but rather the districts, in which the youths live and spend most of their time. The reason: our teams are mobile, they can contact the youths everywhere in the city and accompany them in their leisure time. Concrete life assistance must be set, where the youths live and in most cases where they want to live, exactly in the quarter.
Presently, where the work with the gangs since long is a part of GANGWAY history. Today are we confronted mainly with many small and smallest groups of youths, became the significance of this decision to focus on the quarters apparently clear. A gang is with all difficulties in the phase of establishing contact in the long run substantially more easier to attain, than the many dispersed small groups. Now in our days the street workers in the quarters are well-known and trusted. Thus making the difficulty of accessibility to the youths reduce to a half in contrast to before.

The confidence of the youths is the whole asset

We say: the trust of the youths is our whole asset and it’s only this confidence that gives us the authorization of intervention in very severe conflicts. It’s not easy but nevertheless possible to obtain this trust from the youths: who are disappointed at adults, who are segregated or segregate themselves, who are at times not capable of building a relationship, who witness violence and who use violence as an economical, simple and permanent available instrument of communication and power.

Our colleagues meet the youths at their meeting places in the public area as simple citizens, who mean it seriously and voluntarily get in touch with them. In most of thecases the youth accept their offers. We signal to them again and again that we have a real interest in the person itself, who stands firm behind its aggressiveness and often barbarous looks. You can’t fullfill that role of a consultant only by your professionalism, but communication has to be also authentically. All unauthentic gestures are being immediately detected by the youths, concerning this, they have sufficient experiences. Furthermore, we are conscious that this once won confidence shouldn’t be messed up. In addition also because this confidence is the last narrow bridge to the adult world and thus to the so-called normal society.

Offers to the youths – examples from the everyday life work

Group activities: We know that the clique is significant to the youths (and this isn’t only our impression, but it has also been empirically proven), than school, family or other social facilities. Even if our customers often rather prefer, that our interventions will lead to the dissolution of these groups, it’s not our approach at all. We consider it meaningful not to eradicate the groups, but instead to bring but them in the truest sense of the word “in motion”. Thus we consider out of our experiences, that the youths in their group affiliation gather a lot of experiences, which are enormously important for their deveopment stage.
An important component of our work is to create a lobby for the youths. It’s not just sufficient to do this for the youths, but rather support them thereby to develop their own form of participation as well to achieve new gaols which don’t comply to their daily behaviours. Regular everyday life are e.g. representation of interests and the search after conflict solutions with housing agencies, public authorities, public facilities, residents etc.
The public area is a legitimate living place (also) for the youths. Our program doesn’t focus to barely keep the youths away from this area, but rather composes of tolerance process development and interest coordination under activecooperation with the youths.
This includes regaining the public areas that are meeting places for these Juveniles. This applies to abandonned areas as well as strongly business oriented and well managed areas where these youth are a disturbing factor and therefore are being a priori driven away.
Competent street workers have a meaningful seismographic funktion in these parts of the city which is due to a view of the real life style of the youth. We are often aware tendencies before they become public. Wise politians and administrators make use of this knowledge advantage and therefore work in tight cooperation with “their” street workers team.
Group work and quarter work are an important basis, in order to become acquainted with the problems of the youths as well as aid develop sustainable life perspectives in the process of single monitoring of the youths. Hence the spectrum covers all the problems, which the youths could encounter on the contrary way to adult life: thus from normal trouble (stress) with the parents and school up to submerging (disappearing), in order to escape juvenile arrest.
The latter doesn’t happen rarely because of pure helplessness. You could also say it’s lack of social competence. Some of these youths dump theirs letters e.g. the ones they receive from the court because they don’t even understand the “German of the public authority”. As a consequence of such an act, it could be one day a warrant of arrest that they unconsciously dump away. Such accumulated problems seem unsolvable to the youths any longer. Instead of facing the problem, they abscond from it.

Attendance by problems solving

Our pretence is always to strengthen the subject position of the youths. In other words: we advice to the youths in an adequate way referring to their needs and require, in order to help them to solve their problems. The success should always be reflected to their effort, not that of the street worker. It’s difficult to keep to this approach consistently, if we take the ongoing debates (not only in Germany) on the financial und quality items in the social services. Nevertheless we keep to this approach, because it’s a central quality criterion to our work. Not a pedagogical mentoring all araound that creates a new dependence, but the necessary measure of support, which help to keep one out of trouble, violence and penalty is our task and approach of our street work.
Many juveniles need a trusted confident, who assists them during good and painful times, in order to accept further help and keep the help process going on. Youths don’t appreciate being passed on as neutral width units problem. Where this happens, we have frequently the famous “turning door effect” – go through all instances and land back to at the starting point again. This turning door effect can be avoided through a closecooperation with the street workers. Furthermore through closecooperation, highly needed help assistance can also be rendered more effectively.
Therefore it is fatal, if in the political discourse of the annual fight for reduction of financial resources, these reductions are made on the financial budget of street work instead of other more uncritical fields.

Relationship to the police

Another area of conflict is also that the same youths, whom we have to assist, are seen and evaluated differently. It makes a great difference in the point of view, whether you know the living conditions of a youth and learn to understand him, or whether a policeman faces the same youth as possible offender.
It took a long time for the police to accept the fact that as basic principle of our work, we don’t give people or groups-related data to any third party including the police. In the last years however something happened, which we describe as a constructional dialogue. This contained the acceptance of the different tasks of police and street work – even if we have to do it with the same youths – as well as a clarifying the differences between police and socio- educational prevention, its respective objectives and possibilities.

Tendencies in the youth work, which cause worry

At present I notice two very opposite tendencies, which I see with large concern
Juvenile welfare service altogether and youth work in particular are being increasingly seen und promoted one-sided as criminality prevention. This propaganda has to do very much among other with: the way the medias report as well as the way the public debates on juvenile delinquencies. (This is served again and again – a spiral without end.)
As a result youth work and welfare is being pushed into a corner, which contradicts its legal order. Thus assigning youth work and welfare a social task, which can’t be solved. The tasks of the positive support and development of the abilities of children and youths as well as the social responsibility for the availability of favourable development conditions for the growing up generation come in this debate rather fast out of notice.
If the juvenile welfare service accepts the public pressure through these debates, it implies as a consequence, that they might forget the people who helped them withstand their various problems, which as well on the other hand help them on their way to the adult world without violence and convict. Thus giving up the responsibility for the youths, who react to things they can withstand aggressively inward, instead of outward – with various forms of self destruction, depressions about anorexia nervosa (diminished appetite) up to the excessive consumption of legal or illegal drugs.
2. Parallel to it, completely opposite and according to my opinion also problematic: In some domains of youth work, youth work itself it was successful to get rid of the disadvantaged, difficult and even unpleasant youths through expulsion. Besides the old famous house prohibition there are also completely subtle, inconspicuous methods to get rid of these youths. The simplest is: close the facility for a while, change your concept toward specialized group work and open the facility again with a clear age limitation and without open domains.
It happens to me quite frequently to find more understanding of problems, difficulties and the necessity of our work with the police, whereas the representators of youth work and welfare react rather with lack of understanding.
This “wrong world” can go that in some single cases so far, that the police draws the attention of the audience, by saying that they make unnecessary patrols at certain places. At places where actually only a leisure facility or a room as a meeting point for the youths is lacking. Meanwhile some youthworkers in the leisure time centres for young people in the neighbourhood are calling the police for sanctions against these bothering youths.
If we take our work seriously both tendencies are not to be accepted, and not be kept quiet. It lies in the nature of things, that we, bringing up this problem fall permanently between two stools.

Remarks about the topic school

1. Neither school nor youth work and welfare services have asked us about the increasing problem of school denial, excluding some engaged single fighters. According to our opinion, there is a huge need of urgent action about this problem.
Even elderly unemployed youths have the problem getting rid of habits such getting up early in the morning, structure their day on their own, do some reasonable for themselves. Furthermore 24 hours a day, which is in the sense of the word no more “free” time, can be managed halfway by the elderly youths only in very rare cases in other words using their own money and abilities. This reduces the enommously the threshold to a possible start in violence and delinquency. The more younger the youths are, the more this threshold to possible entrance reduces.
2. We have actually a good education system, which prepares young people for “normal biographical” life path as an educational goal, which was perhaps realistic fifteen years ago but which is no more reasonable to most of the youth living today.
The skills, which young people need for example in order to be able to arrange their life, in this world of uncertainty and permanent rotation from job to unemployment or from job to unemployment to re-education are rarely communicated appropriately. The parents are as well in general not able to communicate or help or give orientation to master such a difficult situation.
We are often helpless to re-encourage the youths not to fall in a desperation, after having send up to 80 applications for a job and only 12 were replied negatively. We don’t know, when the desperation changes into destruction. Not being able to prevent this knock over, is part of the failures of our work.
These examples make clearly that we should not wiggle with such questions, especially if we mean it serious with the goals of our work: to realise and understand the youths in their complex thinking and lifestyle and take them for serious. Since this concerns often domains, we’re actually not in charged, we encounter at times uncomfortable resistance. It doesn’t thereby implies developing omni-potential fantasies. We know exactly the limits of our work, our capabilities. But the point is, to sort out the problems, before they appear to be unsolvable and more frequently in the future before the strategies of action become overlapping. The last step is to find a new way to act together with them.

What street workers can and can’t achieve

A street worker is not universal genius, who has kept a solution for every single problem ready. Usually they also have more questions than answers. They can’t do miracles, especially what concerns the urgently needed apprentice and job positions. And they can’t solve socially caused problems representatively of the society.
But we can do a lot to ensure that youths obtain what they need in the authority offices or find what they need for their individual life situation on the free market. In addition, we can also ensure that the support of the society to the youths really reaches them.
Facing the vital problems, with which a constantly growing part of youths is concerned, our work on the streets of Berlin appears to us very often like a drop in the ocean.
But it is a drop, which actually reaches its addressees and which can in very difficult situations of life can be crucial for a single person.