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'There are no longer physical visits': New challenges for homeless families during coronavirus outbreak

Homeless services and local councils have been working to prepare for the spread of Covid-19.

Image: Shutterstock/Alex Cimbal

WITH HOTELS LIMITING occupancy to only essential stays because of Covid-19, families and individuals forced into emergency accommodation in hotel rooms face new challenges. 

For weeks, homeless services and local councils have been preparing for the spread of Covid-19. With homeless people particularly vulnerable to illness, coronavirus poses a particular challenge. 

Staff in the sector have echoed the same thing in recent weeks – how do you stay at home if you don’t have a home?

The changes to hotels – which had already seen a major drop-off in tourism – won’t have a major impact on services for homeless families. 

What’s more concerning, housing services say, is how the changes outside – with cafes, shops and restaurants closing – impact families living in hotel rooms. 

One of the most important parts of the coordinated response between the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and homeless services has been to ensure that families in hotels and emergency accommodation are able to get three meals a day. 

“A number of hotels were providing breakfast and evening meals,” Mike Allen from Focus Ireland told TheJournal.ie. “In other cases, hotels weren’t providing any food and people were making their own arrangement.”

The difficulty is trying to organise that when practicing social distancing. ”We shifted from no longer calling on the families. There are no longer physical visits,” says Allen.

“We aren’t involved in putting families at risk by transferring the infection. We think that’s the appropriate public health response.”

There has been some success. “A number of hotels have agreed that they would be providing a wider array of food,” Allen said. In the meantime, Focus Ireland is delivering food to people in emergency accommodation. 

A spokesperson for the Dublin Region Homeless Executive confirmed to TheJournal.ie that work was ongoing for “the provision of food to facilities which do not have cooking facilities available”.

“Where services are already in place, we are working with the service providers to extend meal times in the hotels,” the spokesperson said.

Families

Homeless people in emergency accommodation face a range of experiences. From hubs to hotels to bed and breakfasts, problems don’t go away because of the coronavirus crisis. 

But it also means that all families have differing needs and are facing specific circumstances – something that homeless services are having to rapidly assess and respond to. 

Wayne Stanley from Simon Communities told TheJournal.ie that one thing they’re witnessing is a Christmas-style phenomenon of people taking temporary refuge with extended family.  

“We would expect, for March, the number of people in homeless services to fall,” he said. “For a short period, extended families are able to take people in.”

The charity’s family hubs, he says, have seen some beds vacated – a silver lining when it comes to social distancing in usually crowded spaces. 

As for Dublin Region Homeless Executive, which has been working closely with the government in recent weeks as the scale of the coronavirus became clear, it has secured 160 apartments, 165 ensuite bedrooms in hotels and 300 single-occupancy accommodation in the last two weeks to allow any suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 to self-isolate. 

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“The DRHE is prioritising moves from emergency accommodation into HAP and in some cases of vulnerable or older persons into social housing tenancies,” a spokesperson said. 

Still, no one in the sector says they’re underestimating the impact of Covid-19 on Ireland’s already stretched homeless services. 

“I know that many people and families currently accessing emergency accommodation will be worried for themselves and their families. I want to assure these households that their health and safety is a priority,” housing minister Eoghan Murphy said last week

While no one is understating the scale of the challenge, much of the response so far has drawn praise. ”People are going above and beyond to try to support each other,” says Stanley. 

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