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:
More than we’ve heard or seen from the govn.
— Michael Chandler (@mlchandler01) March 13, 2020
The councillor in charge of housing in Islington praised the quick response to the meeting request:
Very proud of all the brilliant orgs in our borough.
At 24 hours notice this pm @our_MoH @streetskitchen @StMungos @SHPcharity @marginsproj @pilion @LGBTIQoutside @SFTSLondon @IslingtonBC & others all came together to discuss how we can help the homeless at this difficult time.
— Diarmaid Ward (@diarmaid_w) March 13, 2020
So far, the council has not said what the task force will do.
The Islington Gazette has also been supporting the initiative:
URGENT: Who has hand sanitiser and soap they can donate to Islington’s fantastic homeless outreach groups to stop #Coronavirus spreading?@streetskitchen @our_MoH@SFTSLondon
— Islington Gazette (@islingtongztte) March 13, 2020
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:
— Streets Kitchen (@streetskitchen) March 13, 2020
But the council and homelessness groups have gone further. They’ve written to the government asking for urgent funding for a hospital:
TODAY we @streetskitchen & @IslingtonBC wrote to @RobertJenrick to request urgent funding for @MildmayUK who stand ready to admit patients experiencing homelessness in London affected by #COVID19
Swift & decisive action is needed.
Full letter here https://t.co/XFq0EyIdjh https://t.co/i41c59d012
— Museum of Homelessness (@our_MoH) March 11, 2020
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.
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.
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