• Sofia Eugeniou

What happens to the homeless in an age of coronavirus?

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

The UK was put into lockdown on 23 March in an unprecedented step to attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Almost 70 days have passed since Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a set of lockdown measures designed to restrict our movements and keep the majority of us indoors.

For those without homes, many of those measures are almost impossible to abide by.

Making matters worse, the chronically ill homeless population have a unique vulnerability to COVID-19. If exposed to coronavirus, homeless individuals are likely to be more susceptible to a harsher illness or even death due to a prevalence of underlying physical and mental medical conditions and a lack of reliable (and in some instances affordable) health care.

It is no surprise that people living in close quarters are more likely to contract the virus, as are those who lack access to hand-sanitisation stations. The sharing of water, food, and utensils, which is common within homeless communities, is another factor putting the homeless into a high-risk group for contracting the virus.

Image credit: BBC News

There is a huge pressure on the government to take action to help isolate up to 35,000 individuals still at risk in homeless shelters across the UK.

With deaths of some homeless individuals linked to hostels in London, there are fears that a catastrophic outbreak of coronavirus is looming and ready to attack crowded facilities full of vulnerable people in poor health.

Although the majority of rough sleepers and people staying in emergency night shelters have been relocated into hostels by their local councils, thousands of people are still at risk of homelessness and catching the potentially fatal coronavirus.

A survey by the UCL Collaborative Centre for Inclusion Health has revealed the coronavirus death rate of homeless people living in London’s hostels is 25 times higher than the general adult population.

The survey also predicts that homeless people could account for 12,000 hospital admissions and 900 deaths in England over the next three to four months if the government fails to take action to remove infected residents from shared hostels and find more suitable locations for the homeless to isolate.

There are worries that the government is more concerned with the cost of operations of this magnitude than the very real risks to a vulnerable and often neglected population.

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