Rough sleepers living on the street is a typical image in England. A government report states that the number of people sleeping rough on any given night in England in autumn 2019 was 4,266. Among them, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole of the South West area had 72 homeless people on average, who have nowhere to sleep but the street’s pavement.
In the complicated development of the pandemic, people who don’t have somewhere to live, or who are likely to lose their shelters are particularly vulnerable.
The plea to stay at home and practice social distancing from the local government are expected to effectively keep everyone from going out and transmitting the virus. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a number of essential items being much less accessible for rough sleepers than before such as coins, change from buying things on the street, food from local residents, or leftovers from food stores.
In terms of health effect, people living on the street without necessary protection could catch Coronavirus more easily, let alone considering their underlying health condition due to bad living conditions in years. According to a study on the respiratory health over 330 people experiencing homelessness, “64% of participants who had slept rough reporting as having had chest infection”. Finding a relief with cigarettes to get over the coldness as well as psychological strains are considered as reasons for “85% of participants being current smokers”. This has led to a variety of health risks and undiagnosed issues, without proper treatment. Those people, who cannot stay at home and follow the social distancing rules, need to be protected and supported immediately by the government.
Where are the homeless people currently?
First time looking at empty streets around the town square without homeless people has even caught me off guard. Why couldn’t they have done it earlier?”.
Hang Do Thi Minh, Bournemouth University student
Hang Do Thi Minh, an international student who is studying for a master degree of Event Management in Bournemouth University has expressed her surprise: “I have been here in Bournemouth for almost two years; and one thing which has never changed is the presence of homeless people on the street. However, they have all disappeared so quickly since the lockdown. First time looking at empty streets around the town square without homeless people has even caught me off guard. I am just wondering, why couldn’t they have done it earlier?”.
Answering this question, Councillor Kieron Wilson, Portfolio holder for housing of BCP Council, shared: “Since the lockdown, there have been 220 people that have been put into accommodation. We have done a good work previously, but it was not a so rapid, immediate and necessary situation like this”.
With the high risk of the pandemic, “The government required councils to get all rough sleepers inside, and for all shared dormitory style accommodation to be closed. The council has placed many homeless people in hotel temporary accommodation (Airbnb, hotels, etc.). “Separate emergency accommodation has been sourced for those who need to self-isolate and with underlying health conditions”, said the representative of BCP Homelessness reduction board.
Cooperation of local authority and charitable organisations and challenges
Charities and organisations namely St Mungo’s, the YMCA, Faithworks, The Housing options, etc. have coordinated with BCP Council in supporting homeless people with temporary accommodations, foods and other essential needs.
Besides, there are charity which was exclusively set up to provide support for young queer people of the LGBTQ+ community.
However, the challenges have not only come from the external factors, there are a number of homeless people who do not want to receive any help for various reasons. The habit of living outside without any control, or hope for more income with less homeless people on the street, ect. are listed as possible reasons.
“The outreach team do all that they can to persuade people to come in, but you can’t force anyone to do something they don’t want to do”, said Councillor Kieron Wilson.
With people who have been housed, “the police have committed to proactive visits to hotels to help minimise anti-social behaviour and help enforce social distancing and isolation”.
You can’t force anyone to do something they don’t want to do
Councillor Kieron Wilson
Positive signal for future situation?
The current situation of homelessness is hoped to be maintained after the ease of lockdown and even when the pandemic ends.
“It’s an opportunity to complete the ambition of 2027 to end rough sleeping. They can do it this year potentially with the amount of work we have already done”, shared Councillor Kieron Wilson.
It’s an opportunity to complete the ambition of 2027 to end rough sleeping.
Councillor Kieron Wilson
However, a problem that can seriously delay the end of homelessness was mentioned by Cliff, 48, who has lived on the street in Bournemouth for six years: “There are so many people we call them plastic homeless. They have somewhere to live but come out to beg. They don’t work, ever, just sit down, stare at the space and expect things from people”.
According to the BCP Homelessness reduction board, this is not a simple thing to deal with. “Whilst we need to encourage independence in the medium term, this provision in the early few weeks should help people settle into their accommodation and learn skills around feeding themselves through their benefit claims”.
To complete this ambitious goal, a comprehensive plan needs to be carefully taken under consideration – with steps to improve the living condition, to change a passive mindset, and to provide education and occupation opportunities for homeless people.