There’s no way homeless people can isolate in hostels. Families share rooms and beds

Let me take you inside a homelessness hostel so that you can see how exposed homeless people are to any virus:

In recent days, I’ve talked at length with Marsha, a homeless 30-year-old Newham woman who lives with her 6-year-old daughter in a Newham homelessness hostel called Brimstone House. I’ve written about Marsha’s living conditions and housing problems many times in the last year.

Marsha’s housing situation was a disaster long before coronavirus came into the picture. In the hostel, Marsha and her daughter live in one small room together. There’s no bedroom. There’s just one room. All their belongings are piled up in that one room. They share a bed. They can’t open their main window without a key, which they must request. The two have lived in this tiny space for nearly 3 years.

Marsha and her daughter in their one-room temporary homelessness hostel accommodation

Needless to say, isolation is not a starter in this type of arrangement. People actually laugh when you mention it. However – spreading bacteria and viruses IS a starter, to say the very least. Marsha says that last week, her little girl – who has asthma – had a cold. There was no escaping that for Marsha (who also has asthma) – not least because she and her daughter sleep in one bed together on the same mattress:

“You know how kids are – they cough and they don’t put their hands over their mouth…a few times she coughed and I was like, “oh my god.” I just kind of got used to it… there’s no way of escaping it.”

Great, isn’t it? Doubtless there are Tories around who think that Marsha should just learn to hold her breath. My personal view is that high-ranking party members should trade places with Marsha. Boris Johnson should be forced to see out his coronavirus isolation in one of these rooms with Matt Hancock and a few other colleagues who haven’t got covid-19 yet – Thérèse Coffey comes to mind, as does Iain Duncan Smith, who should be made to stay for the entire length of a 6 month lockdown. It is high time that these people went shoulder to shoulder with reality. These hostel rooms drive people out of their minds, even without a killer virus in the mix. With a killer virus in the mix, everyone goes down.

The truth is that there’s no way to escape ANYONE in places like Brimstone House. Several hundred people can live in this building in the cramped rooms (the figures quoted are usually around 210 “units” (flats) with 2 or more people in each tiny flat). Germs don’t have to work to get around. Literally the only way to isolate is to stick your head in a bag. If one building occupant gets so much as a sniffle, everyone gets it – even in so-called good times.

As for ventilation – do me a favour. There’s no fresh air in here. Stairwells are narrow. Corridors are small. There were, post-Grenfell, fire wardens everywhere (they may have gone, although I presume the fire risk hasn’t). Some of the “flats” in the building are really just closed-off corridors: a tiny kitchen at one end, a bed at the other and belongings piled along the walls in between. Here are pictures I took last year of another room in the hostel:


Meanwhile – the scandal of empty flats

Like many Brimstone House residents, Marsha wants Newham council to move her into one of the empty flats on the Carpenters estate. The Carpenters estate flats are empty because residents were moved out of social housing flats on the Carpenters estate to make way for a student campus project that hit the skids. I won’t bore you with the details of that shambles here: it’s just another of a thousand stories about a failed council attempt to cash in with private developers. Carpenters estate flats remained empty, though, as Newham looked for another development partner. The chances of finding such a partner now must be about five-eighths of the proverbial.

Marsha’s only other housing alternative, I guess, is to find a private let somewhere out of London miles away from her mother (who needs help in isolation) and to somehow move to it during lockdown. Going into a private let was Marsha’s only option before coronavirus. Unfortunately, that was a rotten option even then. People in Marsha’s situation have long been reluctant to move to private flats away from their families and support, because they needed to be near parents for free childcare so that they could study and work, and because they could so easily be evicted by private landlords and made homeless again. Now, they need to be near parents to shop for them. Other people have recently been moved into the Carpenters estate, though. Marsha needs to be moved into a flat there as well. Stat.

This topic of half-abandoned council estates such as the Carpenters interests me. It makes you wonder how many boarded-up council estates lie empty across the country – estates that councils emptied for development as private residential and business projects that never happened. God knows I’ve seen boarded-up places across the country in the last ten years. Every council I saw was throwing around plans to turn council estates into commercial-and-private-flat enterprises. This always involved chucking out council tenants first (“decanting” is the word councils use).

Meanwhile, homeless people must carry on in a deadly epidemic, crammed into hostels in their hundreds.

So. Self-isolation from coronavirus is a matter of privilege. You can do it if you have space. If you don’t, I guess you just try and duck.

Update and questions

1) Has anyone seen or heard any more of the government’s proposed plan to safeguard the homeless? It was mentioned in this Guardian article on Saturday 21 March. The article said that some sort of strategy was to be released on Monday 23 March. I’ve been looking since then and can’t see such a thing. This talk of a plan may have just referred to the then-announced proposal to bring hotels into use to house street homeless people. There are other possibilities. I missed the release of something larger. Another explanations is that the whole approach to homeless people during this outbreak is one of those “strategies” that is released bit by bit in knee-jerk format as government flails from one disaster to another (homelessness being a disaster the Tories created, let’s not forget, with benefit caps, growing LHA rent shortfalls, the bedroom tax, Universal Credit delays, hostel closures and other genius aspects of welfare reform). The other option is that no further plans to support homeless people exist.

2) Has government released further funding to councils to house all street homeless people as it insisted council do this weekend? From what I’ve seen and heard to date, extra funds allocated to councils so far will be used for council tax relief. I’ve been covering councils and homelessness for nigh on 10 years now and know for a fact that there’s no way councils could or would finance such an exercise. If the answer is to cram people into hotels and hostels such as the one I’ve described above, we still have a very big problem as far as isolation goes. Hotel accommodation for homeless people is a rotten option at the best of times, which these are not. Remember that there are no food storage (you might get a tiny fridge if you’re lucky) or cooking facilities in hotels, and that rooms are very small. None of that is ideal during a health crisis. People will have to constantly go out for food and medicines, or try and source those in some way.


19 thoughts on “There’s no way homeless people can isolate in hostels. Families share rooms and beds

  1. Another helpful suggestion from you Kate, (and many thanks for continuing to show how these VoT’s live, particularly now). Victim’s of Tories.

    I have already suggested that Boris Johnson give Dominic Cummings a big hug to say hello, but a bag over the head is a better suggestion, -particularly if its plastic;-for those names you came up with-and others.

    My move is suspended. I am in lockdown. And I am in an utter ivory tower compared to so many, and even your reg’s here.
    I hope you all remain well. The ultimate culling for Right Wing scum is to have little regard for fatalities IF they are at the struggling end of the Tories Brave New World.
    The ultimate social engineering.

    I hope when this is over we might have a better attitude to our less well off in society, but I fear not.
    My Christian friend says ‘go forward in faith’. Do that as best you can. Stay safe.

    • I was thinking about other hostels I’ve seen where people share bathroom, toilet and kitchen facilities. The Belgrave Court hostel in Plaistow is one. Doubt chucking a bit of hand sanitiser around helps in those places.

  2. Must be pretty grim ordinarily never mind under the current circumstances. I was self-isolating last week due to developing a dry cough, which lasted a week then suddenly stopped. No idea if it was connected to Corona or not. I didn’t have any other symptoms and am ok now. But my main problem was sheer boredom, had run out of internet data and there’s only so much 60s/70s/ 80s tv a man can watch (Minder, Sweeney, Kojak, The Saint, the Persuaders…etc.) all afternoon ever day. At least I have my own gaff…erm..I mean rented accommodation (too much Minder), and a small one-bedroom flat is plenty big enough for one man and 3 cats. Being stuck in some hostel or B&B must be much worse, more so if you have kids as well.
    I walked through the town centre early this morning, which was pretty much deserted, and I wondered what has happened to all the people that are usually begging on the streets, and the alcoholics who usually gather in the grounds of the Parish church and who hang around outside the Methodist Mission, and who rely on using the Mission caff…cafe…each morning for a free/cheap meal. Where have they all gone and how are they surviving? There’s been a Police presence in the town centre, some on horseback, questioning people and moving people along, but not everyone has somewhere to go.

    • Ah, just got an email bulletin from the Welcome Centre containing some info that answers my questions re homeless people in my area:

      “Additional help for the homeless in Kirklees

      The Kirklees Rough Sleeper Team (Part of the council) Simon On The Streets and One Big Family have worked very hard over the last 2 weeks to ensure that everyone who needed accommodation was offered a B&B or hostel place. There is just one man still out, he is safe and being supported and we hope that he will accept the offer of accommodation soon. We are helping these individuals with appropriate food which is being delivered to them, or in some cases being taken to them by the Rough Sleeper Team or Simon On The Streets.”

      • It’s interesting to find out what’s happening elsewhere Trev. As you say, we are the lucky ones. I was supposed to move on the 7th, but on 23/3 our removalists went into lockdown. The place I was moving to has been put ‘on ice’ at no cost to me, but reality makes me wonder how long it will be before that ice starts to thaw…

        I have to go out for a blood test on the 8th, but it worries me, because a senior consultant said in a newspaper article, that ventilators are in such short supply that they would have to take the decision to take them off older people, to save younger ones.
        Reality says that if any of us seniors are hit hard, then our chances of survival are not that good. That’s why I don’t want to go for my INR. I want a fair chance of making it to my new……gaff!
        Masses of books, masses of DVD’s and Freesat, means I am the lucky one, but I think I’ve exhausted the generosity of the local taxi service in delivering my milk and groceries, so when I run out of milk in two days-ish…..

        What’s even more worrying is reports that the Italians have largely stopping singing on their balconies, and are starting to get angry about inequalities, and here, there is news that prison officers are barely keeping the lid on locked down prisoners who are now smashing up their cells.
        We are a heartbeat away from prison rioting, and our own civil unrest will also build and build.

        This is likely to end VERY badly if it goes on for too long.

        • Well if things do go downhill to that extent and the situation worsens they will put the Military on the streets, and maybe in prisons too. I think so far most people are being incredibly patient though. People are now queuing to get in and out of the supermarkets, I did that yesterday. They’re queuing at Aldi and Tesco but not at Home Bargains, Poundstretcher or B&M. I’m still getting my milk from the corner shop every couple of days, I just use hand sanitizer and wear a face mask then wash my hands again as soon as I get back, and there are plenty of local Asian groceries where I live that are still open so they’re great for fresh veg, all just a 5 min. walk from my house.
          Sorry to hear about your housing situation, hang on in there and it will get sorted eventually when this nightmare is over. Don’t worry about the ventilator situation, they are now manufacturing an alternative apparatus from adapted diving equipment, I saw it on the news.

  3. So Boris is in hospital, but the Government have a plan; footballers can sort out Hospices, apparently. No doubt pop stars or lottery winners will be asked to solve the homelessness crisis. Richard Branson can look after air ambulances and Bob Geldof put in charge of funding foodbanks….

  4. Off topic of housing and homelessness….but regarding the current situation and jobsearch, my JSA is being paid automatically at the moment and for the foreseeable future without need to sign on or attend any appointments, but nothing has been said about the requirement to be actively seeking work during this public health emergency, so I still keep trying to do the odd bit of jobsearch just in case. I just searched on the DWP Find A Job website, searched for all jobs, permanent and temporary, any hours, within 10 miles of my postcode and posted within the last 3 days (excluding jobs I’m not qualified to do, e.g. Driving, Welder, Plumber, Hairdresser, Teacher, Rocket Scientist, Brain Surgeon, etc.) and my search returned just 2 results, both for part-time Cleaners. The job market is cooked. Hope the DWP realise that.

    • Trev, you’ve put up a couple of posts that have really made me laugh in the midst of this bloody horror. Thanks for that!

      • I meant to say “the job market is fooked”, not “cooked”, bloody pre-emptive text!
        It’s hard to keep a sense of humour and perspective with all that’s going on at the moment both internationally, nationally, and personally (one of my cats is on her last legs, I have no money and the PDSA is closed), but we can’t give up, we have to keep going, somehow.

        • Sorry to hear about your cat Trev. Just checked the PDSA website and it seems their hospitals are open for emergencies only. This line taken from their coronavirus advice page sums it up:

          “If your pet has a chronic condition and needs medication, or needs emergency treatment, you can arrange for a phone consultation with us. Just call your usual Pet Hospital number or the number in the table below if your Pet Hospital or Clinic is temporarily closed.”

          As for jobsearch, this is from the Citizen’s Advice website:

          “If you get Jobseeker’s Allowance
          At the moment you don’t have to:

          search for work

          be available for work

          This will continue until at least 29 June 2020. It doesn’t matter what your jobseeker’s agreement says.”

          Hope that helps.

          • Oh right, cheers for that Padi, I won’t bother wasting any more of my time applying for jobs for the sake of it, would have been nice if the DWP/Jobcentre had made that clear to begin with.
            I rang my local PDSA last week and just got a recorded message saying they are completely closed due to coronavirus. I think the cat might have a bit of life left in her, not quite at death’s door just yet but I doubt she’ll make it through this year, probably got a few weeks /months left but not eating much and losing weight. I’ve applied for a Budgeting loan from DWP in case I suddenly have to rush her to a vet at short notice to be euthanized, whenever that happens. Interestingly, it says on the DWP website after you’ve applied that repayments are temporarily suspended and won’t begin until “at least July”, so wonder if that implies that the Jobcentres are not expecting to resume normal activity until then, or who knows maybe longer?

Leave a Reply to trev Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.