Berlin - Corona has hit the city's neediest particularly hard. Many have given up hope but some are finding new ways to cope with the unfamiliar situation. Kai has lived in a homeless shelter in Grünau, in southwestst Berlin, for five years and sells the street magazine published by social welfare non-profit Karuna e.V. in the city centre. He's found a solution to help him get through the pandemic. For donations and newspaper sales, Kai is going digital: you can support him using a QR code and PayPal.

"Simply photograph the code on my mobile phone screen with your own phone, follow the link, enter the donation amount and send it off. That's it," explains the 38-year-old, who has lived in Berlin since 2007 and, after many years of hard drug use, finally wants to regain his footing in society.

Long commute and a mountain of debt

On the way there, however, he first has to pay off a huge mountain of debt. "Fines for fare evasion and other offences added up during my time on drugs," he explains. His defence lawyer negotited a deal with the judge and the public prosecutor: "For seven years, I have to pay a lot of money every month to pay off the debts," says Kai, who dreams of having his own flat and a job as a blacksmith. Every day he rides his bike 20km to his "assigned area" to sell papers in Mitte.

"Since the beginning of the corona pandemic, I've sold far fewer newspapers. In winter, I was left with just a tenth of the usual money. That was no longer enough to live on," he says. "Even now, on slightly warmer spring days, you encounter far fewer people and, crucially, hardly any tourists." The normally crowded café and restaurant terraces on Oranienburger Straße and Hackescher Markt are all closed.

"That's where my newspaper customers used to sit. I'm allowed to keep €1.50 per copy sold. But there's nothing going on there at the moment," he says. He still meets locals from the neighbourhood or Berliners from other parts of the city in parks and on the streets and many are still happy to support him. "Even before corona, I regularly had good, friendly contact with the people here on my sales rounds. A little talk at the park bench, a greeting on the pavement or a 'hello' at the snack bar were always possible," says Kai, who has been "off of heroin and alcohol" for about five years.

Homeless life is exhausting

To be able to keep the necessary distance from others, Kai has started using Paypal and the QR code. "More and more people are donating money to me this way," he explains and shows the short list in his payment history on his phone. "Some are people I haven't even seen yet today. But they've saved my e-mail address. They think of me and transfer a small sum. That helps me," says Kai, who walks up to 30km on his daily rounds through the Spandauer Vorstadt in Mitte.

"Then I cycle the 20km back to Grünau in the evening. Believe me, if you do that every day, you have to pace yourself," says Kai, referring to his long treks through the Berlin, which will one day hopefully make it possible for him to get his own flat and a good job.

This article first appeared in Berliner Abendblatt.

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