How the pandemic impacts those living on the streets of Prague

30. 11. 2020

How the pandemic impacts those living on the streets of Prague

COVID-19 has taken its toll on all of us, whether it be our health, work or finances. During the first and second lockdowns in the Czech Republic, the advice has been clear, to stay inside where possible and avoid unnecessary travel. But what if you have no home to go to or limited finances? The homeless population doesn’t always have the luxury of being inside.

Often people can turn to support from shelters and charities, doing their best to offer somewhere to stay or some food to eat. But these locations also face issues in terms of investment to make their locations COVID secure and they only have so much space, as social distancing is a key measure in stopping the spread, so space is a premium.

Dr. Jarmila Lomozová is Deputy Director for Public Relations at Arcidiecézní Charita Praha which houses homeless people at their St. Theresa Shelter in Prague 8. She says they have had to adapt to the current situation. “The services are now affected by the coronavirus measures, we distribute face masks to those who don’t have their own and we insist people wear them, we have disinfection available and we even use ozone generators and we have set up an isolation room in the shelter to be used by people who may have tested positive,” she said.

“The miracle so far is that no one has tested positive among our clients. There was one woman who came with fever, we arranged a test and it came back negative, in the meantime she was in the isolation room so we made sure that we prevented any potential spread of the disease if that was the case.”

She continued: “This is what we do. We offer our help and the main trend we see is that people are coming in who never had problems before and they tell us ‘we never thought we would fall so far to the bottom and not have a place to stay’ for example, we had an entrepreneur who supplied hotels and restaurants and now his income has dropped to zero. He didn’t have savings or any family to save him, so he ended up in our shelter.”

There is support currently in place from the government. Some homeless people are allowed to stay in hotels which the government is renting to provide them with shelter. A number of charities and businesses have also stepped in to support people with food or clothing during these difficult times.

Dr. Lomozová says she does not get a sense of fear from the people in their care either. “I spoke to my colleague and they said that homeless people are not scared overall, they don’t always check the news all the time like we do, and also they are not the target group. They aren’t seniors who are 70 or older, although the number of seniors who are homeless has increased, generally people we deal with are younger.”

However, there is one big concern that she has about the impact of the pandemic. “The biggest fear of ours is if our staff would be infected, because they would have to stay home, and we don’t have other people to come in their place. We would have to take in volunteers, but the standard [to do this type of work] is high, and you can’t take anyone without experience working in this service so it would be difficult. If there were many people that tested positive, we wouldn’t be able to handle it.”

With the temperature dropping as we approach winter, the City of Prague is preparing for the impact it could have on people who don’t have a home, with the Central Dispatching Center able to provide social services for homeless people 24 hours a day.

Councillor Milena Johnová, who is focused on ​health care and social policy said: „Field workers for non-profit organizations have strengthened their services since the beginning of the year, to distribute disinfectants, face masks and inform homeless people where they can turn, especially if they need to be isolated due to the virus. Now they will also let people know about additional possibilities day centers or dormitories offer and, if necessary, ensure transport for people to these locations. I thank all who help protect the health of homeless people and thus, the health of all Praguers.”

There will be several low-threshold day centers with extended opening hours, as well as winter dormitories and all-day accommodation.

There is also a facility in operation that is intended for homeless people who may need to go into quarantine or isolation with COVID-19 symptoms but do not need medical care.

Written by Tom Lane,

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