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UK

UK homeless face double winter whammy of COVID-19, deep freeze

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain’s rough sleepers face a double winter whammy of freezing weather and deadly coronavirus, advocates said on Thursday, urging the government to resurrect its emergency pandemic measures and put a roof over every head.

FILE PHOTO: A homeless person is seen in London as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 18 charities and organisations called for a repeat of the ‘Everyone In’ scheme that housed almost 15,000 people during the pandemic, as jobless figures rise and evictions loom.

“The ‘Everyone In’ scheme saw unprecedented efforts to protect people, and undoubtedly saved lives – this must be repeated,” said Jon Sparkes, chief executive of homeless charity, Crisis.

At the start of Britain’s lockdown in March, councils in England were given days to house thousands of rough sleepers in self-contained accommodation from hostels to hotels in a bid to slow the spread of the virus.

Now charities want a rerun.

“As we face a second wave of coronavirus, Government must provide somewhere for each and every person sleeping on our streets to live and self-isolate safely,” Sparkes said in a statement.

The government on Thursday launched a scheme under which rail staff will support rough sleepers and log them on an app.

Advocates fear this is not enough, with the number of homeless set to rise as the weather and virus both worsen.

With protections ending for hard-pressed renters and the newly jobless, about 230,000 people are at risk of becoming homeless, according to recent research by charity Shelter.

“This winter is set to be one of the hardest we’ve faced, particularly with the added pressure of COVID-19,” said Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians.

Health experts say the homeless are more at risk of the coronavirus, in part because of weakened immune systems, and a lack of nutrition and sleep.

A report in The Lancet medical journal estimated that lockdown measures - such as specialist hotel accommodation - saved 266 lives and averted about 21,000 extra infections among the homeless population.

Relaxing those measures could lead to 184 deaths and 12,000 new infections, the report found last month.

Reporting by Amber Milne; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org

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