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    Coronavirus: how to help the homeless

    © Belga

    Four associations have come forth with suggestions on how to help the homeless in light of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic.

    With homeless people’s living conditions being further complicated by coronavirus, the associations SDF Front Commun, Solidarité Bitume, Union Bruxelloise des SDF, and Rom en Rom have put forth ideas including the requisition of hotels for the homeless and putting students to work in so-called ‘social restaurants’, which cater to the homeless. 

    The four associations point to the closing of day shelters and of most showers which offer minor medical care. On top of that, non-profit organisations that run social restaurants, showers and lockers are now in a difficult position as their volunteers are mainly seniors and are thus part of the population that’s particularly vulnerable to coronavirus. Another problem is that fewer and fewer businesses are allowing cash payments, which is often the only way homeless people can pay.

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    The associations suggest that students take the elderly’s place so that some activity can continue, and they ask cashiers in basic services to accept cash payments “when there is no other way.”

    They also suggest to temporarily requisition empty housing “to house the homeless who must be confined,” noting that this is already being done in Charleroi and Brussels. “It would even be preferable to rent, or requisition hotels as is done in Brussels, for many hotels are empty, and this is cheaper than to requisition and furnish empty housing. Furthermore, requisition implies long delays,” the associations pointed out. 

    Finally, they suggested setting up temporary toilets for homeless people to access and, as is the case in Liège, keeping social restaurants open while respecting social distancing rules.

    This news comes after the charity Infirmiers de la Rue (Street Nurses) recently called for active testing of the homeless, as they “run a real risk of infection, and are in danger of becoming a source of contamination of others.” The government’s far-reaching measures on the catering industry also have their consequences for the homeless as the rules also apply to, for example, les Restos du Coeur, who have had to switch to takeaway in order to still cater to the homeless and those struggling to make ends meet.

    Earlier today, it was revealed that a homeless man admitted to hospital on Friday tested positive for coronavirus and a second homeless man is still awaiting results.

    Jason Spinks
    The Brussels Times