For many of us this is a worrying moment to live through, none more so than those without a roof over their heads. The NHS recommends self-isolating if you experience the symptoms of coronavirus. But how is this possible for rough sleepers?
Martin Stone is the leader of Muswell Hill Baptist Church soup kitchen, which offers him an important insight into how homeless people in Haringey are dealing with the pandemic.
“For homeless people the term self-isolate just doesn’t make sense,” says Martin. “Logically it doesn’t add up; you can’t be on the street and self-isolate.”
“They are confused,” he continues. “Some people rely on tents and food kitchens so they are very confused about those being taken away. I walked down to a soup kitchen called the Cabin and it’s just been closed. Many other places manned by volunteers are closing.”
Fortunately day centres will remain open to homeless people though. One such shelter is in Highway of Holiness Church on Fountayne Road, run by Pastor Alex Qyasi.
Like Martin, Alex has noticed how anxious homeless people are about the virus. As highly vulnerable people, many of whom already have other illnesses, they are at a higher risk if they catch it. They also lack access to information about how to protect themselves from the virus so shelter workers have an important role to play, informing them about the disease.
Alex lists the precautions the shelter staff are taking against the virus: “Sanitising your hands is very important. We are making sure people have a change of clothes and are sticking to the rules as much as possible, the food is given as takeaways because people can’t congregate any more, and people are sleeping two metres from one another. ”
Positioning the beds further apart means that space is in short supply. “At this point what we need is more buildings equipped with people where they can self-isolate, especially for those most vulnerable in terms of age or health issues,” says Martin.
“However, there is an ongoing discussion between homeless people and organisations about the possibility of the government securing hotels for the use of homeless people.”
There is a range of guidance available for rough sleepers and those in temporary accommodation, as to how they can protect themselves from the virus. This includes advice from the charity Groundswell, about what steps to take when you are unable to self-isolate. For rough sleepers who believe they might have caught the virus they recommend staying away from others but keeping in contact with friends and relatives, and considering how you might maintain access to food and drink.
For those wishing to help homeless people there are a variety of options. Streetsupport.net allows you to find your nearest support services and suggests ways you can lend a hand. The Homeless and Community Support App for mobile devices pinpoints a range of different resources available for homeless people in your local area. The Haringey council website also offers a wealth of information.