Corbyn’s constituency has a groundbreaking approach to coronavirus

A coronavirus and Jeremy Corbyn
Steve Topple

Islington Borough Council has possibly done a UK-first in dealing with COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus. Because Jeremy Corbyn’s constituency has set up a task force to support homeless people and rough sleepers during the pandemic.

Coronavirus: supporting homeless people

As Lucas Cumiskey reported for the Islington Gazette, on Friday 13 March the council held an emergency meeting. It involved homeless charities, campaign groups, and the council itself. The task force will be “dedicated” to helping homeless people with COVID-19. As Cumiskey wrote:

Representatives from Islington Council, Streets Kitchen, Shelter from the Storm, Museum of Homelessness, The Outside Project and The Margins Project will all attend the summit at the Union Chapel in Compton Terrace.

As the CEO of Union Chapel tweeted, Islington Council’s response is “more than we’ve heard or seen from the” government:

The councillor in charge of housing in Islington praised the quick response to the meeting request:

So far, the council has not said what the task force will do.

The Islington Gazette has also been supporting the initiative:

Meanwhile, grassroots group Streets Kitchen has already been taking steps to support homeless people and rough sleepers. It’s also been actively advising the public on how they can help:

Going further

But the council and homelessness groups have gone further. They’ve written to the government asking for urgent funding for a hospital:

The Mildmay is a specialist hospital for people living with HIV and AIDS. But as the group the Museum of Homelessness wrote, the hospital:

stands ready to admit patients experiencing homelessness for specialist care. We are aware that the Chancellor today pledged ‘whatever extra resources our NHS needs to cope with COVID 19. We strongly believe that this should extend to the Mildmay in London, specifically for the street homeless population. Mildmay is able to deliver highly focused, specialist care and this would relieve pressure on the larger NHS hospitals across the capital as the pandemic inevitably deepens.

The government response?

All this stands in stark contrast to what is happening across the rest of the UK. As the Guardian reported:

More than a quarter of a million vulnerable people including rough sleepers and drug users are missing out on vital advice on how to handle the coronavirus threat…

Charities said people living in unregulated supported housing, homeless hostels and temporary accommodation were not receiving key information from public health authorities.

The report noted how one night shelter turned away a rough sleeper because it thought he may have COVID-19. But so far, the government has only said that:

We’ve announced a £500m hardship fund so local authorities can support economically vulnerable people and households and we will publish further guidance for hostels and day centres shortly.

“They don’t care”

As Streets Kitchen’s Jon Glackin told the Islington Gazette:

I don’t think those in poverty are a priority to this government. Homelessness is still increasing, food bank use is exploding – I really think they don’t care…

The positive is all these local groups are going to meet to get a task force up and running, and the grassroots groups are doing this. We are getting no official guidance, no assistance whatsoever.

So it appears that it’s down to grassroots action to protect and support homeless people and rough sleepers. And with the Tories’ strategy of allowing the most vulnerable in society to take the deadly effects of COVID-19 “on the chin”, Islington’s example of direct intervention is needed more than ever.

Featured image via NIAID – Flickr and Sky News – YouTube 

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