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Homeless in the time of Covid-19

Ironically despite there being available spaces from the government and volunteer groups, there are individuals who still prefer to sleep rough

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Singapore—According to a study from last year, there are around 1,000 people living in the streets of Singapore. Homeless people have always been vulnerable, and during the time of a pandemic, when each person is expected to shelter-at-home, there are individuals who still prefer to sleep rough, despite available spaces from the government and volunteer groups.

A recent story from TODAY Online featured several such individuals who are sleeping in the streets during this circuit breaker period. The article quotes Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee as saying recently that there are still 400 available beds in various shelters that answered the call to help house the homeless at this time.

One of the people TODAY talked to had difficulty in finding shelter due to his dependency on alcohol, another was an 80-year-old who actually has employment as a dishwasher but who has gotten used to sleeping rough as he has done this for more than two decades. Yet another homeless man, a cleaner who had been estranged from his wife for over a year, had actually been offered shelter at a church. He turned down the offer out of fear he would be brainwashed.

But perhaps the situation of homeless people in Singapore is still relatively better than in other parts of the world. As community transmissions of the coronavirus have been going down steadily—with the Ministry of Health saying this week it’s down to two per day—the homeless in Singapore have a smaller chance of getting infected.

A report from last month showed that the homeless are being treated as criminals in different countries, something that officials from the United Nations have expressed alarm over.

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The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha, said she was “appalled” upon hearing that this has happened in Nigeria, France, and other countries.

“This is state behaviour against homeless people that we certainly saw pre pandemic … But in the time of COVID-19 it can be a death sentence,” she told Reuters in an email.

There were a series of arrests in the Philippines in the early days of the country’s lockdown, for breaking curfew or other acts of disobedience to authority.

Many of those arrested were the homeless, who suffered a double misfortune, as shelters were shuttered for non-compliance with quarantine rules.

According to FORUM-ASIA’s Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, “Many of those violating the lockdown measures are doing so out of desperation, as they have lost their livelihoods and are still awaiting government assistance.”

In Canada and the US, the lockdown of shelters and community centers has left thousands of homeless lacking in resources. And with people staying home, begging has become nearly impossible.

What is worrisome is that the rate of infection among the homeless in cities like Toronto has gone up.

“Cases of COVID-19 among homeless people are rising dramatically – from 69 to 213 cases between April 17 and April 27. As of May 13, there have been 299 cases in the shelter system. In one Toronto shelter, 75% of the 200 residents have tested positive for COVID-19. The overcrowding of shelters and respites and limited washroom availability in these facilities create the perfect opportunity for the disease to spread,” wrote AJ Withers. -/TISG

Read related: One thousand people homeless in Singapore, study shows

One thousand people homeless in Singapore, study shows

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