Street homeless people must be urgently accommodated in hotels in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to those working to support them.
Charities claimed that forcing homeless people to sleep in shelters in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak means they are “playing roulette” with their lives.
The Glasgow City Mission homeless charity has revealed it is planning to close its winter night shelter on 20 March. It says it reached the difficult conclusion that sleeping in a shelter, where mats on the floor are laid out side-by-side, is not safe.
Along with other charities, the mission is now calling on Glasgow City Council and Scottish Government to act urgently to provide hotel accommodation for vulnerable people, allowing them to isolate themselves safely in line with public health guidelines.
It comes as the Lodging House Mission day centre in Glasgow, which provides meals, company, welfare advice and activities for homeless and vulnerable people, announced it was also forced to close, due to staff and volunteers falling ill. The day centre manager has Covid-19 and a volunteer was sent home yesterday with symptoms.
Director Gus Smeaton said he was desperately worried about the impact of the “horrible” decision which he felt he was forced to take. The average life expectancy of someone who is street homeless is only 43 years.
The Marie Trust, another well-used day centre in the city centre, is now only giving food to people at the door, but is not allowing people into the service.
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Charles Maasz, chief executive of the Glasgow City Mission, said: “I think it’s a matter of public health and safety that vulnerable people aren’t obliged to sleep in close quarters.
“We can’t offer people isolation at the shelter and in the lack of any testing, which is only available in hospitals, we don’t know if people who turn up may be infectious but not yet showing symptoms.
“We are therefore playing a game of roulette with people. It’s hard to say this, but the shelter is potentially the least safe option for people.”
Maasz added: “At this time we are restricting travel and hotel occupancy rates will be plummeting so I would imagine there are spaces in hotels that could be used to accommodate people. We need immediate action on providing a suitable solution.”
The night shelter team is struggling with the enormity of the impact on homeless people, Maasz said. Many were in tears when they were forced to ask people to leave for the streets because the Lodging House Mission (LMH) day centre which hosts the shelter overnight, is no longer running its services.
Gus Smeaton, LHM director, said with the pandemic affecting both staff and volunteers, the centre was unable to deliver its services safely.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “We know this is going to affect people. They won’t go hungry – there are plenty of places giving out food and we have directed them there.
“But many people that come here are lonely and are looking for company, or they have mental health issues and don’t like change. This place allows them to keep a grasp on life.”
Smeaton argued that it was essential that action was taken to ensure homeless people were urgently accommodated. “Authorities need to act,” he added. “Hotels are sure to be empty so it would be possible.”
Paul Sweeney, former Labour MP for Glasgow North East, backed the plan. “We’ve already heard plans from government to requisition hotels as hospitals but this could also be important,” he told The Ferret.
“It’s a big prevention issue – we need to accommodate anyone who might be sleeping rough. It seems like a very reasonable measure and if it was state funded, could help hotels too. It is a common sense approach.”
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The call to use hotels as emergency accommodation was also supported by Peter Krykant, who is planning to launch a safer injecting van, in an attempt to reduce the escalating number of drug deaths.
He said: “The really worrying thing is that services are closing, and there are people sleeping under bridges. The council needs to step up now and get people into hotel rooms.”
Immediate access to methadone and benzodiazepine prescriptions should also be made available for drug users, he added.
A spokeswoman for Glasgow City Council said: “Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership is busy putting in place contingency plans to reduce risk to vulnerable homeless people, many of whom have underlying health conditions.
“This involves working with a range of stakeholders including Police Scotland and those concerned with housing and health, as well as third sector partners like the Simon Community.
“We’re currently identifying temporary furnished flats that would allow people to self-isolate if necessary as well as self- contained spaces within communal accommodation.”
Photo thanks to iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz.