With Londoners ordered to stay indoors as the coronavirus epidemic spreads, the city’s once bustling streets are now almost empty, with one notable exception – the homeless.
Thousands of people who live on the streets in Britain have little choice but to defy Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s order to stay home to limit the spread of coronavirus.
“Everybody’s very scared, everybody doesn’t want to help everybody. It’s chaos, it’s chaos,” said one Romanian homeless man near London’s Charing Cross station, wiping tears from his eyes.
He was hoping that he could secure a bed through the St Mungo’s charity, which has been coordinating with the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to get the homeless off the streets and sheltered in hotel rooms.
Three hundred rooms in hotels owned by the Intercontinental Hotels Group have been booked for the next 12 weeks, for homeless people to self-isolate in, Khan announced on Saturday (March 21). The exact locations of the hotel or hotels involved have not been made public.
Those working to combat homelessness have welcomed the move.
“The mere provision of single hotel rooms which would allow people to come off the street and self-isolate properly, safely and securely, I think is a tremendous advantage so we really applaud that initiative,” said Jeremy Gray, chief executive of Evolve Housing + Support, a leading homelessness charity in London.
Many more people will need to find places to stay though, and Gray worries that if the epidemic worsens, his charity and many others will struggle to keep their services running.
“The big challenge for us under the circumstances would be even more people going off sick, and even more shifts needing to be filled and the costs racking up,” he added.
Some are already finding services are closed. Mohamed Sisi, originally from Guinea, has been on the streets for a year, sleeping in parks while he tries to find a job. He has already been told by the police to get off the streets.
Sisi told Reuters police officers said he needed to find shelter to comply with the “stay at home” guidelines, suggesting a local homeless shelter as a safe point of refuge.
“I’ve been there but no one was there, and now everything’s closed right now,” he said.
With options dwindling, Sisi says for now he will continue to take his chances on the streets, leaving it up to fate as to whether he gets sick.
(Production: Natalie Thomas)