A homeless man drinks tea at a roadside tea shop during the COVID-19 outbreak in Kabul.
From the Philippines to Italy, homeless people have faced fines or arrest for failing to comply with coronavirus lockdown restrictions, activists and researchers warned, calling for more support and leniency from authorities.
Governments around the world have been racing to house the estimated 1.8 billion people who are homeless or live in inadequate housing and are uniquely at risk of being infected and infecting others during the pandemic.
Leilani Farha, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, said she had been "appalled" to hear that in countries like France and Nigeria people had been ticketed, arrested, and "treated as criminals".
"This is state behaviour against homeless people that we certainly saw pre pandemic ... But in the time of COVID-19 it can be a death sentence," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.
Worldwide, at least 2.6 million people have been reported to have been infected by the respiratory disease and about 185,000 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
Health experts say the homeless are more likely to contract illnesses such as the coronavirus, in part because of weakened immune systems due to additional stress, and lack of nutrition and sleep..
FINES AND ARRESTS
A spokesman for the interior ministry said that after a somewhat "jumbled" start to the lockdown, it instructed all local authorities to act in a "humane and rational way" when dealing with homeless people.
In the Indian capital of Delhi, homeless people have been prevented from walking outside to get to the "hunger relief centres" that have been set up to feed the needy during lockdown, according to the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN).
The non-profit estimates there are up to 200,000 homeless people in the city.
Kale, the woman living in the Delhi shelter, said "we have heard that homeless people have been rounded up by the police from the streets and aken to camps. Some were beaten, some could not take their belongings".
It has also exposed some homeless people to fines for public urination, he said in a phone interview.
As many U.S. homeless shelters are reducing their capacity to comply with social distancing orders, finding a safe haven has become almost impossible for many homeless people, Tars said.
"In some of the bigger cities, they are trying to address that. But so far, it's been largely through creating new congregate facilities, which are not safe at all," he said, noting that cramped conditions heightened the risk of contagion.
Authorities in India and South Africa have also set up impromptu shelters and camps, sometimes using stadiums and soccer fields.
Homelessness advocates say the situation has improved in some cities as authorities have become more sensitive to the needs of homeless people.
In the Slovak capital Bratislava, early enforcement of social distancing rules by police sent homeless people scattering to hide in places like cemeteries and closed parks, making it hard for activists to help them, charities said.
But a week into the lockdown, the police became more lenient, said Pavol Sabela, manager of Stopa Slovensko, a non-governmental organisation.
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