Homeless people are more likely to have health problems than the rest of the population. They are now at increased risk of dying in the midst of the pandemic. What is being done to protect them and avoid a wave of disproportionate death?
The rules that the coronavirus pandemic has left us seem easy so far: stay home, constantly wash your hands, don’t run out of stores and follow the advice of health experts. But for millions of people in the world this new routine of life is not an option. It wasn’t even before the crisis. And that is a problem for everyone.
According to a report by the United States government cited by the Yale University, it is estimated that at least 150 million people, that is, 2% of the world population, are homeless. This without counting the nearly 1.6 billion, 20% of the world, who do not have adequate homes. Today they, the so-called “homeless”, are a group in a situation of extreme vulnerability to the pandemic. Some assimilated the problem when they saw that loitering for food and money no longer made sense, since the cafes, squares and parks lie solitary. Others until now are beginning to realize what the world is going through right now.
“I thought I had seen it all in my 12 years sleeping on the street, but no. This silence all day scares me … more than the virus itself, ”says Riccardo, 32, to Emilio Morenatti, photographer for the Associated Press in Barcelona, Spain.
In Spain, the second country with the most deaths from the new coronavirus outbreak in the world with more than 4,000 deaths, silence reigns in the streets. “It is as if there has been a nuclear explosion and (people) are taking refuge in the bunker. Only we, the destitute, are left out, ”Gana, 36, tells Morenatti.
This is the summary of several days working with homeless people in Barcelona. They, too, are that vulnerable part of society to be reckoned with these days.https://t.co/kmId444r5E
– Emilio Morenatti (@EmilioMorenatti) March 25, 2020
Several governments around the world, aware of the situation, have begun to carry out actions focused on this particular group. The problem, however, is a delicate one, since people cannot be put in a group shelter simply overnight, since there is a risk that the virus infection will spread more easily.
The Spanish authorities, for example, have enabled some makeshift shelters to assist the so-called “homeless” with all the precautions of the case. In Madrid, the Madrid Fair Institute was converted into a 150-bed shelter, while in Barcelona an old school with 56 people was adapted. But Spain, despite being one of the epicenters of the pandemic, is not the only one with this problem on its hands.
The government of UK has launched a national action plan led by homeless expert Louise Casey, one of Tony Blair’s top aides in the past. The strategy aims for hotels and offices to become urgently independent safe emergency spaces to serve more than 45,000 people. The government can lease empty hotels using allocated funds to deal with the pandemic crisis. Some hotel owners, such as former Manchester United players Gary Neville and Ryan Gigsg, made the services available for free. However, the response has not been as swift as needed, and others have not collaborated, such as the Travelodge chain, known for providing emergency accommodation to homeless families, which urged its guests to leave the facility as soon as possible.
Paris also opened self-isolation centers with hundreds of beds for homeless people who test positive for COVID-19, but who do not need hospitalization. In Cannes, located on the French Riviera, The Palace of Festivals, where one of the world’s premier festivals is usually held, opened its doors to homeless people to take refuge from the effects of the pandemic. The initiative came from the mayor of the city, David Lisnard, supported by the decision of the organizers of the event to postpone the celebration of the festival until the end of June.
In While, in Rome, different charities try to offer dinners in areas where homeless people are generally concentrated. Italy is the country most hit by the pandemic so far.
The United States, where experts say the pandemic’s new epicenter will soon be located, has begun to grapple with the effects of the coronavirus for the homeless, as they are not only vulnerable, but unfortunately, may be a transmitter of the infection. more easily. In Seattle, the first outbreak of the virus in the United States, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that she would provide accommodation in small villages.
In San Francisco, which has a homeless population of at least 8,000 people, city leaders have been quick to locate 2,000 of these people in shelters spread out throughout the city so as not to crowd them. Trailers and hotel rooms have also been leased to put those showing signs of the infection in quarantine.
According to California Governor Gavin Newsom, the state could face infection from more than half of its homeless population, which amounts to approximately 108,000 people. This, without a doubt, would represent a collapse in the activities of the hospitals, which, from now on, without facing the peak of cases, are beginning to be overcome by the magnitude of the crisis. For this reason, prevention tasks have been promoted throughout the territory, since they are essential to avoid a possible collapse in the system.
“The general idea with the hotel / motel conversions, at $ 50 million, is to bring people inside with a door, a key and a lock, with as many support services as we can offer,” Newsom added in mid-March.
The Los Angeles mayor announced that he has put all the efforts of the city in moving thousands of people to 42 recreation centers adapted as temporary shelters. “In simple terms, they are the ones who could die disproportionately as a result of this crisis,” he said. And is that Los Angeles has a gigantic population of homeless people with more than 36,000 people living on the streets. However, it is New York that faces the problem on a much larger scale with approximately 80,000 homeless people.
“Shelters (in New York) have had to switch to emergency mode,” explains Christine Quinn, president and director of Women in Need, an entity that operates 11 shelters in the city.
Throughout the United States, the crisis of street dwellers is a problem that has been around for more than a decade. The exorbitant rental prices have made housing an inaccessible dream for millions of people, forcing thousands to live in tents in alleys around the country.
Of course, activists have welcomed local government proposals to help this at-risk community, but at the same time criticize the fact that assistance only came when the world faced a pandemic.
“Housing must be a human right at all times. But we only have these conversations about how to get people to access housing quickly when there is some kind of crisis, ”Elizabeth Bowen, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo, told the Bloomberg agency.
For Tomiquia Moss, founder of the All Home group, there is a concern for the future, and it is the effect that the virus has on the economy, because with more unemployment and low income, those who were at the financial limit could end up on the street. Although some cities are enacting an eviction ban during the crisis, this is not a measure that will last forever.