Like so many before him, João took a bus to Rio de Janeiro in search of the kind of hope and economic opportunity that only big cities promise. "I came looking for something better, then the worst happened," he told a Globo TV crew. The worst was COVID-19.
As deaths skyrocketed in the city and around Brazil, freedom of movement was limited, leaving João (who spoke anonymously with a reporter) stuck, unemployed — and eventually homeless. He spends his days scavenging landfills in search of metal, copper and aluminum to resell. Another recently homeless person told Globo : "We are dumped here, discarded and abandoned."
Such stories are being echoed all over the world.
• Though most evidence is anecdotal, coronavirus has appeared to cause a notable uptick in homelessness in many cities and countries. And the homeless are particularly exposed to the health risks of the pandemic.
• Now, in the face of what appears to be an impending economic depression, finding a solution for the most vulnerable has become more urgent than ever.
Networks collapsing: Speaking to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, anthropologist Luisa Schneider described one homeless girl she's followed. "Before the crisis, she was able to study and wash in cafes or libraries. Neither is possible now." Schneider expects more Germans to sleep on the streets in the coming months. "Many networks have now collapsed. Even homeless people who used to support each other are now losing sight of each other."
Numbers rising: A recent study from Columbia University projects that, unless unemployment levels somehow decline, the rise in the rate homelessness in the U.S. will reach between 40% and 45% by the end of 2020. In Italy, another country particularly hard-hit by the virus, news wire AdnKronos reports that 62% of Italians fear losing their job (often the precursor to homelessness) because of the predicted economic crisis — eight percentage points higher than the worldwide average.
French aid: In France, government authorities and NGOs were able to accommodate 177,600 people with shelter during the lockdown period, reports Le Monde. The government has invested more than 2 billion euros helping those without homes, including requisitioning 13,300 hotel rooms. Yet while this may seem like a bright spot compared to the aforementioned struggling countries, France's emergency phone number for homeless assistance remains overwhelmed, with over 200 calls on average daily and many unable to secure a temporary housing situation. And as the country continues opening up, it is unclear how long the special accommodation period will last.
Busking in Paris — Photo: Ev
British aid: The UK recently allotted an extra 105 million pounds (115,000 euros) to municipal governments to shelter rough sleepers. Dame Louise Casey, chair of the COVID-19 rough sleeping taskforce, called the move an "extraordinary opportunity" to decline homelessness rates in the long term. The money will not only go to adding more temporary accommodation, but providing long-term housing.
Upside down: In Chile, homelessness is being exacerbated by as winter approaches in the Southern Hemisphere, bringing bad weather and the cold and flu season.
• With 250,000 confirmed cases and 4,900 deaths, Chile was already one of Latin America's most COVID-affected countries. It's overburdened healthcare system will be put under further strain as doctors struggle to differentiate diagnoses between the flu, colds and COVID.
• To make matters worse, 35% of Chile's homeless population suffer from chronic diseases, and 43% are over 50 years old — circumstances that increase the danger to their health due to a possible spread of coronavirus.