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Homelessness Swiss citizens pitch in during cold and storms

A shelter installed by an association helping the homeless in Lausanne this past week.


With snowstorms sweeping across Switzerland and Europe, some people have been taking it upon themselves to help those less fortunate who have no fixed place to call home.

In Geneva, authorities have turned a nuclear bunker into a 200-bed shelter for the homeless. But many citizens have taken things a step further. Students have handed out blankets while others have distributed soup and hot wine. A café at the train station offered food and clothes to addicts and ex-addicts.

Elsewhere along Lake Geneva, police and social workers have given out sleeping bags. “We can only welcome it,” Lausanne city official Oscar Tosato said.

Public and private charity

Some citizens have told the Swiss media they want to compensate for what is perceived as sometimes official insensitivity towards the homeless and Roma. Whatever the motivation, all agree such efforts fall short especially when wintry conditions hit.

The cold front and storm bringing snow and wind have prompted some cities such as Lausanne to increase the capacity of shelters for the homeless.

In German-speaking Switzerland, cities such as Bern and Zurich have some patrols in the streets to find the homeless and invite them to reception centres.

Officials in these two cities and Basel say their emergency rooms and private facilities currently have enough room and do not need to be expanded, since cold temperatures do not always translate into more emergencies.

Their emergency shelters sometimes are even less heavily occupied than in the summer, say officials in the three cities, which try throughout the year to reduce the number of homeless through programmes focused on “security, intervention and prevention”.

State of mind

There are few official statistics on the number of homeless in Switzerland. A study 12 years ago of homelessness among people with severe mental illness in Switzerland found that 1.6% of all admitted psychiatric patients were homeless. Their mean age was 34 years old; 70% were men.

“Social factors and psychopathology are independently contributing to the risk of homelessness,” it concluded.


Even many people who are not homeless are struggling to make ends meet in a country with one of the highest living standards in the world.

The last figures about poverty in Switzerland date to 2014, when the poverty rate was 6.6% affecting 530,000 people. The poverty line in Switzerland signifies single people who earn less than CHF2,200 a month or a household of two adults and two children with an income of less than CHF4,050.


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