What it's like to be homeless during a pandemic
Updated: Feb 3
While social distancing measures are put in place to protect us, do they actually do more damage to our homeless population than good?
This winter, not only are our homeless particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus, but as a result of social distancing and lockdowns, some support services have been forced to shut down entirely.
As well as this, since the beginning of the pandemic the UK Government’s advice to ‘stay home’ has been both impossible for many homeless and damaging to their livelihoods. Reduced footfall in cities being a key contributor, the knock-on effect is that those marginalised in our society have only further slipped through the cracks.
In March 2020, the BBC published the profile of a Big Issue vendor who had been homeless for ten years, now struggling to sell magazines due to people not being able to leave their homes. He describes his daily income as ‘gone from just about getting by to really struggling.’
In addition, lockdown measures along with requirements to social distance and self-isolate have led to closures of shelters and soup kitchens and organisations supporting the homeless unable to gather and distribute supplies.
Footage published by the BBC in December describes soup runs being stopped and community pages on Facebook unable to advertise their services, meaning those sleeping rough going hungry.
And it’s not only that these services have been unable to operate as efficiently as needed. Organisations and volunteers have been attempting to operate under a hyper awareness of the disastrous consequences of even one volunteer catching the virus and spreading it to communities of rough sleepers and those living in temporary accommodation.
Is social distancing possible?
‘Homeless’ doesn’t just mean rough sleeping. It also includes ‘hidden homelessness’, that is, those living in temporary accommodation or ‘sofa-surfing’.
The choice facing those vulnerable is often between rough sleeping (which means an ability to social distance but offers no protection from others, from the cold weather, and no access to sanitation facilities) or often overcrowded temporary accommodation (where social distancing from those with COVID symptoms is often impossible and many residents live in fear of using shared facilities, as well as those sleeping rough having to part ways with their beloved dogs).
Published in December 2020, Shelter’s Homeless and Forgotten Report reveals almost a quarter of a million people living in temporary accommodation during the pandemic, which is said to be the highest figure in 14 years. According to this report, use of emergency B&B rooms with shared facilities has increased by 371% over the last ten years, with 64% of households consisting of families with children.
17% of homeless households are estimated by Shelter to live in these shared accommodation facilities, where it is often impossible to self-isolate, overcrowded, and unsafe for families and individuals.
Within these types of accommodation, the BBC reports cases of over 100 people sharing one kitchen, while Shelter found families sharing kitchens and bathrooms with 30-50 others, making self-isolating impossible.
Not only this, but Shelter found damp, moldy and infested kitchens, absence of kitchen facilities like fridges and cookers, filthy bathrooms, inadequate facilities to wash clothing, families having to share beds, and residents feeling physically unsafe due to loud and threatening neighbours.
One resident interviewed by Shelter shared that residents displaying COVID symptoms often walked around the shared spaces without wearing masks, causing this individual either to wait until the middle of the night to use the kitchen facility, or to skip cooking hot meals altogether.
So, how can you help?
Now, more than ever, charities need your support to provide people safe, secure, and clean resources. This includes shelter, appropriate clothing, food, and so much more.
At Clothing Collective, we partner with charities to provide vouchers for clean, fitting, and appropriate clothing to those in need. This means that with your help, we can provide tangible support to individuals and communities, helping them navigate various difficulties imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a recent example, we are partnering with St Mungo’s, a charity helping find shelter for those sleeping rough. We are providing £500 worth of vouchers to help those in temporary accommodation at a hotel in Waterloo. Recipients of these vouchers can redeem them at local charity shops, exchanging them for much needed clothing that’s not only appropriate but fits well and suits their needs.
You too can support those in need by donating now.
Every penny raised goes towards supporting vulnerable people through what is not only a rough winter, but the most severe global health crisis of our lifetime.
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