Coronavirus and homeless people
Sir, – The nation’s schools, colleges and cultural centres were closed on March 12th because of the risks posed to public health by the corona virus. People were advised to stay indoors, to observe social distancing protocols and, if symptomatic, to self-isolate immediately.
A few days later the State ordered the pubs to shut, and last Monday night the Taoiseach told the nation that to avoid the horrors currently affecting Italy, we would have to pull together as a people, follow health service advice, and do our utmost to “flatten the curve”.
We read that “tens of thousands of lives are at risk” if we don’t heed the official warnings to avoid going out unless absolutely necessary. It’s safe to say that following these developments there is virtually no one in Ireland who is not aware of the catastrophic potential of the outbreak.
Given the situation just described, therefore, it is surely incumbent on the authorities to provide the homeless with a reasonable opportunity to observe all of the guidelines recommended by the health service.
How, then, are the homeless to protect either themselves or the public from the spread of the virus if they’re deprived of shelter on a daily basis?
How is it in the interests of public health to continue with these deprivations?
Take a moment to think about the absurdity of the fact that Dublin city’s homeless service is being forced to evict the homeless during the deadliest pandemic in a century.
Laws have just been enacted to prevent evictions from taking place elsewhere in society. Do those laws apply to the homeless too?
If an exception is being made for them, can the Government explain why?
During the first few days of this crisis the homeless were forced to frequent restaurants, cafes and pubs in order to feed themselves and avail of toilets and bathrooms.
Today almost every business in Dublin is closed and still the homeless roam the streets for hours on end with nowhere to go for toilet facilities and must stand in out of the weather, or cook for themselves.
Many of us believe that by now we must have been exposed to the virus, and it would be surprising if the authorities did not suspect this too.
Yet we circle the city with nothing to do and nowhere to stay, in all likelihood carrying the virus with us, spreading it as we go.
If, in the unlikely event that we haven’t been exposed, we surely will be if we’re forced to remain out of doors, involuntarily, for much longer.
Or, indeed, if we’re forced to return to shelters in which self-isolation is virtually impossible.
It is our understanding from how the virus is transmitted that if one of us becomes unwell, the chances are that all of us – living cheek by jowl – will become unwell too.
How will the health services cope with a wave of the unwell from the homeless community?
Or are we to understand that the appalling selection process in practice in Italy, in which some patients are deprived of medical help in order to save the lives of others, has begun in Ireland already, with at least one group in Irish society effectively left to fend for itself?
The question is not as unfair as it might seem. To evict people during a deadly pandemic in a city of empty hotels is about as morally dubious as exporting food during a famine.
We ask again – given the conditions under which the homeless are forced to live, how are we to protect ourselves from the coronavirus?
Given the probability of infection, how are we to do our moral duty by our fellow countrymen and remain off the streets?
Why, when the Government’s response to the emergency has been so laudable in every other respect, is it so poor in respect of the homeless?
This has been a difficult letter to write, and it is not nearly as comprehensive as it could be.
Our motive in writing has been to draw the public’s attention to a crisis within the crisis.
Like everyone else in the country, the homeless want to contribute to the national effort to minimise the spread of the coronavirus and to prevent the development of Covid-19.
We want to flatten the curve, but we can’t do this without access to 24-hour accommodation and our own cooking facilities.
Everyone is aware of the relevant statistics: of those who catch the virus, 80 per cent will be affected mildly, 15 per cent seriously, and up to 5 per cent critically.
By its actions over the past few days the Government has given almost everyone a fighting chance to reduce those odds.
As members of the homeless community, we appeal to the humanity of the State for a similar chance, and we make no apologies for believing that we deserve one. – Yours, etc,