by Mihaela Breabin
Since March 16th, every resident of the Netherlands has been affected by the new measures intended to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19. While authorities urge everyone to stay inside as much as possible, we seem to forget about the groups of people who cannot afford that: the homeless and the undocumented refugees.
On the official website of the Municipality of Amsterdam regarding COVID-19 updates in the region of Amsterdam, up until the weekend there were no informations for the homeless. Calling everyone to stay home is wise but what about those who don’t have a home?
On the Facebook page of the GroenLinks (Green Left) Amsterdam, technically a social responsible party who leads the coalition running the city, wrote a post on March 19 regarding some measures taken at the moment of the crisis. Some of those are: providing more separate compartments, smaller units; 75 extra sleeping spots at a new location (Sports Hall); insulation spots for sick homeless; extension of the winter care until May 1st etc.
Jazie Veldhuyzen, local councillor for the opposition party Bij1, came with a reply to this post on Facebook arguing that some points were inaccurate: there will be no extra 75 places, but in fact the City wull cut down the total number of beds for homeless by 75, Veldhuyzen wrote. “75 beds less than usual, and before then the number was already cut down”, Jazie said to 31mag. “It seems again that those more vulnerable on this consumeristic society, count less before the government when it comes to safeguarding their security and basic rights”. In an article on the Amsterdam daily paper Het Parool, John Paget, senior researcher in infectious diseases and epidemiology, said that government care is focused on regular healthcare and on the elderly, but homeless people are out of the radar.
The winter scale was then downsized from 300 to 150 spots and the new location was only expected to be available to undocumented people. According to the Dutch press, 43 Eastern Europeans will be send back to their country with the aim to create more room in the shelters. However, in Jazie’s view, the deportation of the 43 Eastern European seems to be the only option offered to them.
Dennis Lahey, Director of the MDHG Drug Users Interest Group, told to 31mag.nl, that repatriating the Eastern Europeans it’s an older policy: “it might sound that the government wants to help the migrants but actually, what they really want is to deport them back to their countries. Many of them don’t want to leave as they have spent here 10-15 years already. However, considering many countries have their borders closed, like Poland, the repatriation procedure will not be fast. Until then, unfortunately, those migrants are sleeping on the street.”
The winter shelters last from December 1st to April 1st. Due to the corona emergency, this period will be extended. However, as Dennis Lahey said, it will not be for everyone but just for special groups. That means, just for those who are not considered self sufficient or can proof a bond with the city of Amsterdam. And what about the others? For them, the street looks like the only option available.
At the moment, just like before, the shelters are still sending out people on the street every morning. According to the authorities, the room have to be cleared in the morning to avoid the risk of an outbreak of corona in the shelters. If the homeless might normally spend time in places like The Wereldhuis, that is not an option anymore: the governments measures have also affected daycare shelters.
The streets are empty and despite the early spring, outside is still too cold; in those days, homeless people are feeling more vulnerable and unsafe than usual. The authorities are taking a risk leaving them outside.
Finally, on Saturday the 28th, the municipality moved steps and decided to create more room for homeless people, creating temporary shelters in hostels and 100 of them will be accommodate on a sport hall in Amsterdam West. As Jazie Veldhuyzen mentioned in one of his articles: “Nobody deserves to live on the street out of necessity. Not during this crisis, but also after the crisis. Housing should be a basic right, because everyone deserves a safe place to live”. At the same time, he also believes not enough has being done and it is taking too long for authorities to act.