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Extraordinary efforts across Europe to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19

Extraordinary efforts across Europe to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19

Extraordinary efforts across Europe to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19

Monday, July 13, 2020

Celeste Sangster, Programme Officer at World Habitat's European End Street Homelessness Campaign, has spoken to the Frontline Network about the extraordinary efforts across Europe to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19:

Without question homelessness has always been a public health crisis. But when the full reality of the seriousness of the COVID-19 global pandemic hit – the urgent need for immediate action to provide homes, safety and support for people who are street homeless had never been more critical.

When governments across the world imposed lockdowns and we were all asked to stay indoors as much as possible, those sleeping on the streets simply had no choice and no alternative. Unfortunately, for too many, this is still the case. They have no home to stay safe in – as official guidelines advise – but are also extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, as many people who are street homeless have underlying health conditions. Last year, over 40% of homeless people surveyed in Brighton, and almost half in Barcelona, said they had chronic health problems.

Despite this incredible and unprecedented challenge, we’ve heard from our European End Street Homelessness Campaign partners about the remarkable work that has happened in communities to find people who are street homeless somewhere safe to live, usually  in hotels. In addition, they have also provided essentials like food, medical assistance, personal protection equipment (PPE), and other support – often within just a few days.

What’s been most encouraging - even in these most difficult of times – has been the inspirational action from whole communities organising and working together. This has included NGOs, local authorities, faith groups and local people, all determined to ensure as many people as possible were as safe as possible within just a matter of days. They achieved what had been thought of as impossible for so many years.

Our latest report Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Case Studies from the European End Street Homelessness Campaign illustrates what’s happened across cities who are all part of our European End Street Homelessness Campaign -  a network of local campaigns united by the same mission – to stop managing and start ending street homelessness. While each experiences their own unique local housing context, they have all acted with the same urgency and determination in the face of the COVID-19 public health crisis.

In Brussels, our lead campaign partner Infirmiers de Rue co-ordinated a global call to Protect the Unhoused – focused on testing, screening and re-housing.

Five hundred people were moved off Westminster’s streets and into emergency hotel accommodation.

An advice line was set up for people sleeping on the streets and for concerned members of the public in Barcelona. 

And in Leicester, local homelessness services collaborated with the Local Authority and private university accommodation providers to house 130 people who were sleeping rough – 20 of whom have already been offered permanent accommodation.

These are just a few examples of the inspirational action that has happened in extreme circumstances, to save homeless people’s lives. You can read more about the responses and action here.

This remarkable response to COVID-19 has not only been about providing immediate and emergency support for homeless people – it’s also about guaranteeing sustainable solutions to end street homelessness for good. After all that has happened, the worst thing now would be that people are given no option but to return to the streets.

If you want to find out more about the incredible work taking place to end street homelessness across Europe, you can also sign up to our campaign e-bulletin and read our latest Impact Report to see the progress and successes that our campaign cities have achieved.

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