They call it physical distancing: elders, unhoused people and grassroots support in Leipzig, Germany

Research output: Online publication or Non-textual formOnline publication or WebsiteAcademic


SARS-CoV-2 continues to send shockwaves around the world. The pandemic holds us in its grip and causes pain, suffering and mounting insecurities about the future. Much has been said and written about containment measures and their impact on our world and our societies. Underneath the meta-conversations lies the immediacy of lived experience. How we respond to the pains and uncertainties, the isolation and loneliness unfolding around us. How we mourn the lives that have been lost and worry about those with symptoms. How solidarity and hope connect us. How we steer through each day and shoulder the events that mark it.

I am an anthropologist and I conduct collaborative, long-term fieldwork with unhoused people in Leipzig, Germany. I accompany unhoused research collaborators through their everyday on their terms, to shed light on some of the intricacies of their lived experiences and points of view. I have adjusted, but not stopped this work during the pandemic and therefore saw its effects on those without the security of permanent housing unfolding in real-time. Additionally, I am directly involved in the COVID-19 response for people without housing and other vulnerable groups and am thus witness to dynamics, practices and emotional labour between people who live on the streets, grassroots solidarity movements, aid agencies, city and politicians.

In this piece, I invite you to come along on a written walkthrough of the social world which I currently navigate. This piece connects poetry with description. It seeks to take you on a necessarily fragmented journey through some of the feelings, the words and silences, the presences and absences, the ambiguities and nuances which mark this moment. It reflects on the impact of physical distancing measures, on the hardship they cause and on the ingenuity with which some people seek to lessen their effects.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCollecting COVID-19
Media of outputOnline
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • corona
  • COVID-19
  • Germany
  • homelessness
  • isolation
  • social distancing


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