Ten organisations – including homeless charities Crisis, St Mungo’s and Centrepoint – urged the government to make extra provisions for those living on the streets.
In a letter addressed to Boris Johnson, the charities called on the prime minister to ensure that homeless people are given the means to, at the very least, follow the same social distancing advice as the over-70s, people with underlying health conditions and pregnant women.
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Due to their vulnerabilties, homeless people should be treated the same as those, who, in the coming days, will be asked to ensure they are “largely shielded from social contact” for around 12 weeks, or possibly longer and should have access to safe accommodation so they can self-isolate.
The charities also called for assurances that frontline workers in homeless organisations are recognised as an emergency service during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Matthew Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said “even the government’s basic advice on self-isolation cannot be followed” by rough sleepers on the streets or in communal shelters.
He added: “If you bear in mind the severity of mental health issues, other health issues, this is a population of people where the average age of death is 45 and people die regularly from respiratory problems.
“What we are calling for is extraordinary measures to make sure people don’t die of coronavirus simply because they are homeless, and we are going to see that unless there is a re-categorisation of people who are homeless as vulnerable, and therefore the state organises itself to find those people, do health checks, give emergency medical provision to people or housing.”
The Independent has contacted the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government for comment.
Current estimates suggest around 5,000 people sleep rough, and 40,000 people use shelters or hostels, in the UK on any given night.
The charities’ letter came as Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced £3.2 million of emergency funding will go towards helping rough sleepers self-isolate.
But the organisations said government measures for hostels and day centres “fail to provide the much more comprehensive plan and wide-ranging action needed to ensure that everyone facing homelessness is provided with self-contained accommodation, to ensure that they can self-isolate, and that people experiencing financial hardship are not left facing homelessness as a result of the impact of covid-19″.
The charity sector has come under increasing pressure in recent days, with many organisations struggling to raise funds and fill shifts as people are urged to stay at home and avoid person-to-person contact.
Gemma Sherrington, executive director of fundraising at Save the Children, told The Independent on Tuesday that the closure of high street charity shops was a “realistic possibility”.
“The spread of the coronavirus is a major concern for Save the Children, and for all charities. Our advice to the public is to put your health first, especially in terms of volunteers. We would ask any volunteer who is feeling unwell to stay at home.”
Earlier this week a number of charities launched emergency appeals as funding “vanished overnight”, with one organisation saying it could lose between 40 to 80 per cent of its yearly income.
Child.org, a small international development charity, started a campaign on Wednesday in a bid to raise extra cash.
Ellie Dawes, fundraising and communications manager at Child.org, said: “We’re reaching out urgently to our supporters with this appeal, because we’ve just seen the vast majority of our sustainable income sources vanish overnight.
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Charities that need an extension to their annual tax return deadline due to the coronavirus pandemic can contact the Charity Commission for assistance.
As of Wednesday morning, the total number of people who have died as a result of covid-19 in the UK stands at 71, and it is feared that as many as 55,000 could be infected.
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