"Stay at home as much as possible!" - That is the urgent advice that we have been given regarding the spread of the coronavirus. But what do we expect from those who don't have a home?
Homeless people are a very vulnerable group who are often forced to spend their days on the street or are cared for in locations where conditions are anything but ideal. How can you keep up social distance in an overcrowded dorm room? This means that most homeless-shelters are currently places where the risk of contamination is high. It would be better for homeless people, as well as for public health, to accommodate these people in, for example, vacant hotels. By doing so, we limit the health-risks for this already vulnerable group of people and do what is necessary to prevent the virus from spreading even faster.
Research by the NRC newspaper among ten large municipalities in the Netherlands shows that all requested municipalities have adjusted their care for the homeless in the past week. The shelters are being changed and isolation and quarantine spots are being made available. The decision to expand reception capacity in Rotterdam and to keep these locations open during the day is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately, the circumstances are still far from ideal. People now often have to stay in one room with four to sometimes even twelve people. In daycare, the groups that come together are even larger. The spaces are small, the beds are right next to each other, and avoiding contact is made difficult, if not impossible. Something that is very important to prevent the further spread of the virus.
The number of homeless people in the Netherlands has doubled over the past ten years, bringing the total number to more than forty thousand. Rotterdam has been no exception in this doubling: here too, the municipality raised the alarm at the end of last year because of the alarming increase in the number of people without a home, that has reached the limits of the current shelter policy. The coronavirus outbreak is a major problem for this community. We're asked to stay at home, but unfortunately that is not an option for this growing group of people. They have no choice but to go to these shelters.
This is painful to see, especially when several hotels and other public buildings in the city are currently vacant. The possibilities to increase the number of shelter spaces in a safe way are available and we therefore ask the municipality to seriously consider such measures. As a city, we must protect the most vulnerable people.