Homelessness and COVID: High infection rates and social marginalisation haunts Paris’ homeless

Just over one year ago, the first few cases of COVID-19 were registered in France. Today, 3.2 million infections and over 70,000 deaths later, the effects of the crisis on the population are still being measured.

Beyond the health impact, there’s the economic consequences of a crisis that has pushed one million French people into poverty. And for those living in the margins, especially the homeless, COVID-19 has proved particularly merciless.

On the streets of Paris, the pandemic is a particularly frightening concept for the homeless. So too is the social exclusion it exacerbates.

Gilles Beulens has been homeless for 3 years.

“Things are worse by the day, people are panicking. And they don’t speak anymore. They are scared so they don’t talk to us. It’s scary.”

He says he is taking all the precautions he can afford to take against the virus. He has bought a medical mask for €4,90.

Government priority?

Charities say there were not enough tests or accommodation provided for France’s estimated 300,000 homeless and they worry these people will once again be left behind.

Pauline Loison, a nurse with SAMU Social, a municipal humanitarian emergency, says they have not heard if any vaccine doses will be made available to the homeless people they help.

“It’s not something we have been informed about so far. I think just like with the PCR and antigenic tests, it will be complicated to vaccinate those in the streets.”

In the city of Paris, when the rate of contamination among the general population was about 12%, it had already reached 40% among those living in the streets.

NGOs further warn that many people pushed into poverty by the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic, could end up on the streets.

Christophe Robert from the Abbé Pierre Foundation, an organisation that acts against poor housing and exclusion, says “The crisis is like a ticking time bomb for all those that see their resources diminish and risk no longer being able to pay their rent – and in time risk being expelled from their accommodation.”

‘Eight million people are currently knocking on the doors of food banks. They are unable to fulfill their most basic needs. So the situation is extremely dangerous.”

All over the world, the coronavirus crisis has laid bare social inequalities and created a cycle of social exclusion that could prove even more daunting than the current pandemic.

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