HOMELESS AMIDST COVID-19: FIGHTING A BATTLE WITH NO SHIELD NOR ARMOR
The global pandemic COVID-19 has reached alarming numbers in a short period of time. In the UK, 133,499 confirmed cases has been reported as of the day of writing. A cure or vaccine has yet to be perfected. Hence, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for individuals to strictly follow certain protocols to prevent the further spread of this highly infectious disease.
Among these protocols, self-isolation and regular sanitation are crucial. Self-isolation, or social distancing is the act of limiting as much physical interaction with other people as possible. It aims to avoid crowding in public and private spaces, as the transmission is known to be via droplets inhaled into one’s system. Increased care towards sanitation and disinfection is another priority, because it aims to kill the virus before it gets the chance to enter the system.
Shared bathrooms, common areas, borrowed utensils- these are scenarios that raise red flags in the current season. But for people who survive by sharing spaces, what does this mean? It reflects a soldier forced to battle, with neither a shield, nor armor for protection; where the enemy is a ghost, invisible and untraceable.
Housing has already been difficult for the homeless in normal circumstances. But now that people are more wary of admitting more bodies in their abode, how can the homeless find refuge for protection and safety?
Housing and Supplies
Aligned with their priority to protect and support vulnerable groups, the UK government announced that there will be a £3·2 million budget allotted for the homeless. The local governments will be reimbursed as they take on the responsibility of providing their housing needs, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Leaders have reached out to owners of hotels and active parks, to help house the homeless people. However, some business owners expressed their need to close down as they are also being challenged by the current situation. Manpower is down, and business is slow.
Along with them, community baths and other establishments that offer hygiene care for the homeless have also closed down for similar reasons.
There is also the issue of product shortage. Sanitation items on high demand like tissues, disinfectants, sanitary napkins, and the like, are being hoarded. The pandemic is triggering human’s self-preservation skills, and the first instinct is to panic buy. Many households stocked their shelves with groceries good for the next month or two, just in case the quarantine lasts longer than expected. But how can the homeless shop for emergency supplies if they can hardly afford their daily needs?
Women are especially challenged every month. Washing hands, bathing, and brushing teeth are not the only hygienic practices they need to do regularly. Monthly periods would require women to wash at least twice a day, in a private space, with water, or at least some wet wipes. In the current situation, is this a scenario that is readily available for women who do not have the comfort of their own home?
The UK government has been aiming to conduct 100,000 tests a day, but as of April 23, it has only managed to cover up to 51,000. Mass testing has been a challenge to many countries. As such, hierarchies are established. In the UK, registration for the tests are required. Essential workers are given priority, especially if they or anyone from their immediate environment showed symptoms.
Plans to expand the testing to front-liners (transport workers, utilities, communications and financial services staff, among others) has been mentioned.
Following the established protocols by WHO, all countries are striving to identify all the infected individuals via mass testing, to provide care for the patients early, and to identify and reduce transmission from source. As such, the government plans to conduct a study including 20,000 households in UK as a sample.
This raises questions on where the homeless stand. Not all of them have been provided housing, so they are exposed and without protective gear. Many of them are not employed as a regular staff so they cannot pass the test registration requirement. If they are not tested, how can early intervention be given?
COVID-19 first reared its head in China on November 2019. Almost six months later, the numbers are slowing down, but the infection is nowhere near contained. With no clear timeline as to when this pandemic would end, how will the homeless fare after the budget allotted for them has been used up? Where will their resources come from? How will they continue to protect themselves from an invisible and voracious enemy?