The Runaway-house in Berlin
opened the Runaway-House "Weglaufhaus" on the first of January in 1996.
We that are the "Association for Protection against Psychiatric Violence"
founded seven years earlier by a small group of survivors and other antipsychiatric
activists. (In Germany we don't speak of survivors, but of "Psychiatrie-Betroffene".
A term, that can't be translated into English. It means people who are afflicted
by or confronted with psychiatry. It is a less radical and more neutral term than
survivor, but it is far away from the term user.)
What is the Runaway-house?
Runaway-House is an antipsychiatric crisis-centre for homeless survivors of Psychiatry,
for people who mostly spent a long time in psychiatric wards and who want to live
without psychiatry, without its diagnosis and without its drugs. This decision
for self-determination and for self-responsibility doesn't mean that it can be
achieved by decision. It is a first and a necessary step. But after years far
away from one's own wishes, possibilities, even from the own body, you need more
than a decision.
support by day and by night
people who listen, who are interested, who trust in one's words
and who believe in one's future
an intensive exchange with other residents about their experiences
a few rules: No violence (especially physical violence against
others), mutual respect, no alcohol or illegal drugs in the
- a place, where the everyday life
can be tried once again or for the first time.
After about ten years
of struggle the Runaway-House is the first German institution of this kind that
gets official funding. According to § 72 of the "Federal Social Welfare
Law", called "Help in special social difficulties", only homeless
people can get the day-rate of 200 Deutschmark (about 103 €) for up to six
months. But they don't get it easily. In Berlin we have 23 different Social Welfare
offices with 23 different ways of decision-making, and every resident has to visit
one of them and to fulfil all of itssometimes incrediblewishes. For
people with enormous problems, without a home, mostly without friends and with
a lot of drug-caused physical problems this situation is very distressing, even
if they are accompanied to the office.
What is antipsychiatric in the Runaway-house?
The residents are responsible for themselves. They are not
mentally ill, even if they partially live in other realities
or fall in deep crises.
No diagnosis, no drugs (except the psychiatric drugs people
take, who prefer a slow withdrawal step by step), no coercion
and no psychiatrists
All documents we have to write about them are open to the residents.
They can comment and even correct them
At least half of the team members are survivors of psychiatry.
(At the moment we are 12 workers7 women, 5 men7
The professional qualification of the workers is less significant
than human qualities (tolerance, sensitivity, a sense of humour),
experiences in dealing with conflicts and a clear antipsychiatric
The decision-making bodies all are survivor-controlled. Decisions
are made transparently. The house meeting of all residents and
two workers twice a week is the highest authority in the house.
The team meets once a week. If there are contradictory decisions
or basic questions, a "general assembly" of all residents
and the team takes place. The very final decision stays with
lives in the house?
The residents mostly come from Berlin, but some
come from other parts of Germany or from Switzerland. They all were inmates in
psychiatric institutions and are homeless or threatened to lose their accommodation.
One third of them comes directly out of a psychiatric institution, 20% are homeless
and living in the streets, 23% come from other social or social psychiatric institutions
or women's shelters, and the rest come from their families, friends orseldomout
of their own apartments, where they cannot stay anymore. In the first three years
132 persons lived in the house, 63 women and 69 men. The majority have long histories
of psychiatric treatment; most have been institutionalised various times, have
been forcibly treated and heavily drugged. And most have not only experienced
psychiatric violence, but also sexual, physical or psychic violence during their
childhood. Most do not have professional qualifications and live on Social Welfare
aid. Often the residents have guardians for specific tasks.
in the house?
The Runaway-House is no therapeutic institution. It deals
with the daily life and problems. And there are enough of them. Up to thirteen
residents share the old and not very huge villa and organize the household.
task of the workers is to make it function, to support and to clarify conflicts.
There is no timetable, no program, but there are a lot of individual, social,
legal and financial problems that have to be solved. The main task is planning
a future with each of the residents, a future work, living, relationships, a future
of life beyond psychiatry.
Especially in the evening and the night residents
often re-experience traumatic situations, they can't sleep and have a hard time,
they don't trust in their own future, even hurt themselves. We share the sleepiness
nights, propose a walk on the nearby fields, go together in the sports' room,
where one can cry, box or throw things against the wall. Or we listen and speak
about similar experiences.
As long as some form of communication and a rest
ot self-responsibility exist, crisis and madness are possible in the Runaway-House.
If contact or agreements become completely impossible for a longer time and the
atmosphere in the house is heavily disturbed, a resident may have to leave the
Are there any problems?
Of course there are a lot of problems. I give you some key words:
The time: 6 months are a very short time to solve fundamental
The enemies of the house: neighbours, who carefully observe
us; political enemies, who try to close the house; enemies in
the administration, who don't pay; and our best and oldest enemy,
The lack of other antipsychiatric institutions
Little tolerance among the residents (sometimes), a wish of
an antipsychiatric nursing
We are not enough workers, sometimes we get tired or (rarely)
it is not easy to live or to work in the house, very often it is loud and chaotic,
the fridge is empty, you don't find any spoon or coffee-pot, thick clouds of cigarette-smoke
hang in the air and nobody wants to do anything.
I like this place, but
I can't work there forever. And our residents have the best chances in life, when
they were able to spend a long time in this particular house.