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Hostels like living in ‘petri dishes’ as temporary housing hit by coronavirus

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People living in temporary accommodation are facing an “unprecedented crisis’, charities warn

Hundreds of children in Merseyside who are currently in temporary accommodation face living in “petri dishes” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As the coronavirus crisis worsens, hostels for homeless people are looking at an “unprecedented crisis” in trying to house people.

This could mean some of the most vulnerable members of society are unable to self-isolate, should they develop symptoms.

Latest figures available, from September 2019, show there were 460 families, including 366 children, being housed in temporary accommodation in Merseyside.

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The number includes those being housed in B&Bs, hostels and other emergency housing – often with one family in a single room, sharing bathrooms and kitchens with other residents.

The 460 families living in emergency housing in Merseyside as of September 2019 is up from 311 the year before.

Nationally, there were 87,410 families living in temporary accommodation in September – up from 83,430.

The number includes 127,890 children, most of whom will not be able to go to school.

The government has offered £3.2 million in emergency support for rough sleepers during the outbreak, and homelessness hostel workers are now designated as key workers.

This means their children will continue to be cared for at school during the pandemic, and they will have access to public transport in the event of a full lockdown.

However, charities are expressing huge concerns that no extra cash has been offered to help people in temporary accommodation self-isolate should they need to.

Seyi Obakin, chief executive of youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, said: “We are facing an unprecedented homelessness crisis in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Caterer out of a job delivers meals to people isolated because of coronavirus

“The government has acted swiftly to provide measures for rough sleepers but has done nothing to support the thousands of people who live in hostel accommodation.

“Without urgent action the government risks turning homelessness hostels into petri dishes. This will leave some of the country’s most vulnerable people unable to follow the government’s own guidelines and self-isolate.”

Shelter have also called on the government to introduce emergency measures to help safeguard homeless families in shared and one-room temporary accommodation.

Polly Neate, chief executive at Shelter, said: “Thousands of families with children are in this situation, living in cramped emergency B&Bs and hostels.

“It can be more difficult for them to follow NHS isolation guidance when they are sharing kitchens and bathrooms with strangers, living in a single room or even sharing a bed.

“And we don’t know how children will cope being stuck in these conditions when schools close.

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“We need to protect families already experiencing the trauma of homelessness from greater risk of coronavirus.

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Coronavirus: The rough sleepers who can’t self-isolate

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For more than 35 years, The People’s Kitchen in Newcastle has opened its doors to rough sleepers and vulnerable people.

Based in a former church, tables for up to 120 diners sit in-between floor-to-ceiling beams, with a professional kitchen at the back – once the heartbeat of the operation. But today it is all empty.

Instead, the charity’s dedicated volunteers serve hot soup, sandwiches, cakes and pastries from tables in the car park. In the evening, it is hot food from a catering van.

This has become the new reality as coronavirus cases rise across the UK, in an attempt to keep supplying food to the neediest while minimising the risk of spread.

Many soup kitchens in the local area – particularly church-run ones – have already closed.

The People’s Kitchen estimates it has lost up to 30% of its volunteer workforce, with all those over the age of 70 reluctantly asked to stay home.
One woman, Sophie – who says she spends her nights sleeping rough in a shop doorway – describes the service as her lifeline.

“I’m really scared,” she says. “Not many hostels are taking people in because of the virus, and I’ve got nowhere to stay this evening. No family I can turn to.

“I’d love to be put somewhere, anywhere – even a derelict building.
“If this place [The People’s Kitchen] gets closed down, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Sophie has been given baby wipes by the volunteers to help keep herself clean during the day, and is able to shower there too – although the service is limited amid increased cleaning.

She is being regularly supported by the charity’s welfare team, but says the outbreak is taking a toll on her mental health.

“I’m low to start with, and this is making it worse. I can’t sleep at the moment.

“The doctor has given me anti-depressants, but I don’t know what I’d do if the chemist was shut.”

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