By David Hennessy
The manager of a West London soup kitchen has expressed concern for homeless people who cannot get their usual help because of lockdowns everywhere.
Because they are “invisible and forgotten” they do not show up in statistics or GPs’ surgeries – meaning no-one knows how many of them are infected or how seriously.
Andrew McLeay said Ealing Soup Kitchen which he manages, for instance, has been unable to provide its usual Friday service because the church from which is operates has been locked down.
But the Salvation Army has been allowing their building to be used on Monday nights so the soup kitchen has been open one night a week for a takeaway service with minimal contact.
Ealing Soup Kitchen has been operating an outreach service to get food, clothes, tents, sleeping bags and other essential items to those most in need without putting anyone at risk of infection.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the Greater London authority say they have rented 300 hotel rooms in the capital to temporarily take rough sleepers off the streets in the interests of wider public health.
But, said Mr McLeay, people who use services like his “will be forgotten” because they do not show up in any official statistics.
He told The Irish World: “People are saying they’re going to do stuff but we’re yet to see it.
“Apparently Julian Bell, the leader of the Ealing Council, is supposed to be helping sort out extending night shelters and things like that.
“(But) we’ve actually seen numbers rise and they don’t look like they’re going down.
“It really shouldn’t be so bad here – a posh, west London suburb – that 400 people have to come to a soup kitchen every week.
“If they were getting stuff done then we wouldn’t need to serve as many people – but we do.
“I’m just a little sceptical that they’re going to help the people that are really in most need.
“The government is saying they’re going to requisition hotels, or office spaces, for the homeless.
“(Then) last week they said they were going to do hostels as hospitals.
“Which is it? There’s so many mixed messages.
“What’s going to happen, inevitably, is that the homeless are going to get the short end of the stick because they always do.
“People don’t care about them. They’re not part of any official statistics a lot of the time so they don’t care. If they have to release data, it won’t mention them so it will seem as though they‘ve done a good job.
“It’s a mess.”
With the soup kitchen no longer able to feed people as normal, it also precludes them from carrying out their more important work of finding accommodation for people.
Losing its contact point – the soup kitchen – for their homeless clients means they cannot try to find accommodation for people on the streets, he said.
“The food is the thing that draws people in and it’s from that that we can get them housed and then get them back into society.
“That’s one of the biggest strengths of this charity and that arm’s been taken away because now we’re not able to open to do the housing stuff.
“They are the invisible people and they are the forgotten people. That’s a historical thing but it doesn’t have to be.”
“Homeless people and rough sleepers don’t go to GPs very often, how would they know if they have pre-existing medical conditions? We just don’t know.
“We have to be careful but at the same time we just don’t want to give up.
“It’s got to be trying to mobilise as many people as possible for as long as we can because we all know eventually the game will be up and everyone is going to be in proper isolation, and we won’t be able to leave our homes. I want to be as active as possible while we can be.”