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'Many will not survive the spring': how big cities try to help the homeless during a pandemic

Hundreds of thousands of homeless people around the world are most vulnerable to coronavirus. They live, get food and money in crowded places. They have no funds for treatment, they are potentially dangerous distributors of the virus. Air force tells how this problem is solved in different cities and countries.

Photo: Shutterstock

Los Angeles. Five free toilets

California Governor Gavin Newsome reported the first officially confirmed death of a homeless man from a coronavirus in the US back in mid-March.

The name of the deceased was not named, but, as the state authorities specified, the deceased lived in Silicon Valley.

The place where the headquarters of the largest and richest IT companies in the world are located has in recent years become the most popular place for the homeless to concentrate in the USA.

According to official statistics of Santa Clara County, where the valley is located, from 2017 to 2019, the number of people living on the street increased from 7394 to 9706. The growth of the homeless population in this district alone was more than 30%.

This is due to the even and warm climate - in the San Francisco area, the average annual temperature is 23-25 ​​degrees, so it is easier to live outside than in New York, where there are cold winters.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a total of 552 people have no housing in the country. One third of them are families with children.

In mid-March, the United States began to introduce prohibitive measures because of the coronavirus epidemic, and authorities in different cities began to disperse the towns of the homeless.

In the United States, they often live in campsites, the number of tents in which can range from two to three to several hundred.

On March 20, California Governor Newsom announced the imposition of a strict quarantine in the state with a ban on leaving the house, but, as it turned out on the same day, this order did not affect the homeless - they simply had nowhere to isolate themselves.

On March 21, the state announced new rules - the homeless had to remove their tents from the streets during the day, from 8 am to 10 pm, putting them out only at night.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the governor's order was not feasible for the homeless - they simply had no room left to somehow clean up themselves.

All the shelters existing in the state are full, and in order to get there, you need to wait from three to five weeks. The coronavirus epidemic also closed public free spaces, such as public libraries, where homeless people could warm up and spend time.

The homeless have five free dry closets throughout Los Angeles, although authorities promised to give them showers and hand washing facilities. San Jose has 25 such hygiene points for the homeless.

“With a national quarantine and a ban on leaving home, we will not be able to provide an adequate level of security if we do not take care of the people who live on the street,” Diane Intel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told Vox.

Homeless people have a higher risk of respiratory infections. According to one study, only in Washington, 32% of those hospitalized with such diagnoses were homeless. Among ordinary people living at home, only 6,5% are.

The head of the HomeFirst charity, Andrei Urton, says that all the shelters for the homeless that she manages are already crowded and she has no way to create new places for people living on the street.

On the subject: California homeless people populate empty houses due to outbreak of coronavirus

New York. Homeless will be accommodated in hotels

New York will place about 2000 homeless residents in hotel rooms. This should prevent the spread of coronavirus. This publication writes Curbed.

About 2000 homeless New Yorkers sleeping on the streets and in city shelters will soon be accommodated in hotel rooms. This should prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

At a press conference on April 11, the mayor announced that 6000 homeless people would be transferred to empty hotel rooms. Of these, 3500 have already been transferred to hotels that were used as shelters before the pandemic, and 500 were isolated. The total number of people who will be transferred from overcrowded shelters to hotels may be about 2000.

The authorities decided to take such measures in response to the call of several non-profit groups advocating for people without a fixed residence. Last week, several such groups - VOCAL-NY,, Safety Net, and Picture the Homeless - called on the mayor to take concrete measures to protect the homeless during a pandemic. In particular, they called for homeless people to be accommodated in 30 of the 100 vacant rooms in New York hotels.

Bill de Blasio said that by April 20, residents of the shelters will be relocated to hotels. He also stressed that first of all the hotels will accommodate the elderly and those who have confirmed COVID-19, or have detected symptoms of the virus.

At the same time, the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) said the city decided to avoid the massive relocation of people from shelters to hotels, focusing on specific vulnerable miles of the population. “Some shelters have a lot of space, some do not,” Bill de Blasio reacted to this statement. “Where the Department of Welfare (DSS) and the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) make it clear that social distance cannot be ensured properly, some of these people will be transferred to hotels.”

In addition, the mayor promised to provide 230 New Yorkers sleeping on the streets and in the subway with temporary housing. “We will work hard so that more and more people from the streets can settle in shelters, especially those who are older. This will be the focus of our attention in the coming weeks, ”he said.

Representatives of homeless advocacy groups say that while this step has been taken in the right direction, much remains to be done to prevent the spread of the virus.

It is noted that today more than 60 thousand homeless New Yorkers spend every night in shelters, and on the street - more than 3000 people.

Peter Mulvan, a lawyer and homeless New Yorker, believes that the untimely reaction of the authorities to the problems of the homeless in an epidemic "will not stop the spread of COVID-19." “The sooner the mayor can offer 30 thousand single hotel rooms with private bathrooms to all homeless people in shelters and on the street, the better it will be for all New Yorkers,” he added.

In addition, last week, more than 150 New York doctors sent an open letter outlining public health problems in homeless shelters. “Homeless New Yorkers are more vulnerable to disease, especially those in crowded shelters or on the streets, and those who fall ill are more likely to undergo a more difficult treatment, which will require more hospital resources and, ultimately, lead to to more deaths, the letter says. “Given the need to“ smooth the curve ”and preserve the already strained hospital resources, we must intervene.”

On the subject: Research: how many homeless people are in New York and where they live

Moscow. There has not yet been a response from the authorities

The most pressing problem of the homeless under quarantine in Moscow is hunger.

“Feeding points are partially closed in connection with the announcement of quarantine. Cafes have closed, restaurants have closed, that is, in garbage dumps, where before people could find something for themselves, or, perhaps, these cafes and restaurants helped them, gave something, now you can't get anything. There are no people on the streets, there is no one to ask for money or food, ”explains Aleksandra Shibalina, press secretary of the“ Mercy ”aid service.

Previously, 100-150 people came to the "Salvation Hangar" (this is the day-care center of "Mercy"). Now 200 come and everyone is very hungry, says Shibalina.

The point began to open an hour earlier, and food is now put there not only at lunchtime, but throughout the day.

The Nochlezhka charitable organization carried out an action “You are not alone”, leaving 60 packages of food each at railway stations and on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Inside - tea, sweets, instant noodles, canned food and an antiseptic.

“We had big bottles, we bought small bottles and filled these bottles with antiseptic,” said Katerina Cheremisina, head of the fund's PR department.

"Nochlezhka" encourages people who, under quarantine conditions, have to leave their homes for shops, pharmacies and work, as far as possible, collect similar grocery sets and leave them for the homeless at stops and benches.

Dr. Lisa's Fair Aid Foundation continues to travel once a week to distribute food. The most difficult thing, according to the president of the foundation Olga Demicheva, is to line up a queue of one hundred or two hundred people so that people keep a distance of one and a half meters.

“We must pay tribute to the law enforcement officers, they do not interfere with us, they even help sometimes,” Demicheva says about the police. The fact that the Moscow police still treats homeless people correctly is also written in social networks by city residents.

Muscovite Ilya Klishin, who lives in the vicinity of Tverskoy Boulevard, told the BBC that several times along the way he watched groceries for companies homeless, having lunch or playing cards on a quarantined boulevard or square.

“Utility services and even the police were passing by, they clearly saw the homeless and did not react to them in any way,” he says.

How many homeless people live in Moscow and the region is not exactly known. Olga Demicheva calls the figure of 20 thousand people.

Daria Baibakova, director of the Moscow branch of Nochlezhka, says that, according to various estimates, there are between 14 and 80 homeless people, with an estimate closer to 80 that seems realistic.

All these people are extremely vulnerable to coronavirus, Baibakova explains. Homeless people do not have the opportunity to isolate themselves or to observe good hygiene.

“Public spaces where homeless people could stay - sit out the night at a train station, wash their hands in a shopping center toilet - are either closed or try to prevent crowds of people,” the expert says.

“We wrote official appeals from Nochlezhka to the governor of St. Petersburg, to the Department of Labor and Social Protection of Moscow, to the Moscow state shelters, and to the St. Petersburg Committee on Social Policy,” Baibakova continues.

“In our letters, we ask officials for two things: to deploy additional places so that people can isolate for a while, and at least for the duration of a pandemic, to make it easier for people to access state shelters. For example, to state shelters in Moscow, where you can stay around the clock. Only people with documents and the latest registration in Moscow are taken there, and there are very few such people, ”she says.

There has not yet been a response from the authorities, so the funds have to cope on their own. In the "Hangar of Salvation" the tent was divided in two, says Alexandra Shibalina. Now one of the parts is intended for the elderly and infirm who can stay there as long as they want.

The shelters, the heating station and the Nochlezhka night bus continue to receive people, while the premises are equipped with devices that are used to disinfect operating rooms.

As Olga Demicheva from Doctor Lisa's Fair Help told the BBC, the fund has agreed with a hotel chain in Moscow that after sanitizing and providing a negative test for coronavirus, the hotels will accept several homeless people.

The name of Demicheva's network asks not to be published: “I am afraid to frame them, because suddenly it will cause disgust towards them later. We have agreed this way: they will now accept a trial batch of people, a very small one - six people, and in a week, if they see that the property of the hotel does not suffer, they will already open the doors wide for us ”.

In general, Daria Baibakova explains, the amount of aid in a pandemic needs to be increased several times - and it is possible that not only during quarantine, but also for future use: people may have less money due to the crisis.

Someone may no longer be able to rent an apartment, someone will travel from the regions to look for part-time jobs in large cities and may also be on the street.

Homeless people after the coronavirus pandemic in Russia may become larger.

On the subject: Money spoils: how a programmer from Russia became homeless in the USA

London. Self-isolation in hotels

According to the Shelter charity, there are about 300 homeless people in the UK, 9 (and about half of them in London) sleep on the streets.

Homeless people spend the night in the subway, underpasses, shopping centers. In the warm season, they sleep on the street.

These are people who have been released from prison or have lost everything due to family conflicts, alcohol and hard drugs, some are migrants who have not been able to find work and home in the UK.

Charitable organizations work with the homeless: they provide them with clothes and food, on ordinary days this is an established process.

Many people living on the streets of London are outfitted no worse than tourists on a camping trip. But the coronavirus pandemic began, and these people became one of the most vulnerable risk groups.

With the outbreak of the pandemic, authorities have not forgotten about the homeless. The government invited them to leave for self-isolation in now empty hotels.

The City Hall of London rented 300 hotel rooms for the homeless for the next 12 weeks and asked the administration of the districts of the city to solve the problem of placing the rest.

But you can’t say that it was the perfect solution.

The London borough of Newham, east of central London, has the largest concentration of homeless people. They usually spend the day in the city and come to spend the night in a shopping center near Stretford tube station.

This center serves as a passage to the metro, so it is open around the clock. Dozens, and sometimes hundreds of homeless people, slept here at night in rows.

On April 2, there was only one man, who looked 45 years old, named Damon. “Why should I isolate myself if everyone around is already isolated,” he laughs.

Damon says that he, like everyone else, was offered a place in a hotel, but he refused, because he has been living here for three years, and he likes it. And he does not believe in coronavirus at all.

Newham Mayor Roxanne Fyaz ordered to close the mall for the night, and resettle the homeless, renting them about 70 hotel rooms. But even such decisions are not enough.

Other homeless people came here, having learned that here it is possible to settle in a hotel at the expense of the authorities. There are still few numbers, and most importantly, they are needed not only by them.

The hotels here are also inhabited by doctors who will begin to work in a large hospital, in which they converted the London Excel Exhibition Center. And, obviously, doctors and nurses will have priority.

Moreover, not all hotels in London want such guests - many have heroin or alcohol addiction.

Some, for example, a network of inexpensive Travelodge hotels, first accepted the homeless, and then asked to leave, explaining that they were closing. The authorities demanded that this not be done, but the conflict continues, and there is no solution.

“Has the city offered hotels to the homeless? Where are they, show me them! ” - Swears in an interview with the BBC head of the charity Nishkam SWAT Randip Loll.

A few dozen people usually came to his organization in west London for food and help. “Tuesday was 100, Wednesday 180, I don't know what else to expect,” says Loll.

According to him, there is little help from the authorities, and the police demand from him that the homeless do not gather here in such numbers: "They are crazy, as if I control it."

“Many will not survive this spring. All my experience, all my instinct speaks about it. They will die without waiting for help, ”says Randip Loll.

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Food banks in the United States: where and how to get free food during a pandemic

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