Brussels: urgently needed more shelter for vulnerable people during the second wave of COVID-19


Although we have officially entered the second COVID-19 wave and winter is just around the corner, the reception capacity for vulnerable people in the Brussels Region remains saturated and an expansion of the capacity is not on the agenda. On the contrary, the number of reception places is decreasing. There is no place in a reception center for hundreds of vulnerable people, including migrants without permanent residence. Among them, suspected or confirmed cases are COVID-19 patients. Together with Dokters van de Wereld, CIRé, the Civic Platform BxlRefugees and SOS Jeunes, we are raising the alarm.

Less childcare available

The number of places to stay in ‘classic’ accommodations is in free fall. Since the end of September, the reception capacity of Samusocial has been reduced by 80 places, due to renovations to the center on the Poincaré and a decrease in subsidies. The response measures taken by the Brussels authorities during these two waves do not meet current, existing needs. During the first wave, the most deprived people could find 950 beds in 12 hotels and hostels in Brussels. Now only about 570 homeless people will be housed in different hotels, at least until June 30, 2021, as Brussels Health Minister Alain Maron announced last Wednesday. That is 380 places less than in the first wave.

This migrant is one of our patients we are treating in the humanitarian hub in Brussels.  Like hundreds of others, he is on the street during this second VoVID-19 wave.
This migrant is one of our patients we are treating in the humanitarian hub in Brussels. Like hundreds of others, he is on the street during this second COVID-19 wave. © Kristof Vadino

An ambitious relocation policy is needed

“It seems inconceivable, and certainly inhumane, to consider stepping back by sending this population back to the streets. We believe it is necessary to take advantage of the advances we have already made – such as shelter and stabilization of the homeless in a reception structure, psychosocial-medical follow-up and the bond of trust that has been created in that safe environment The importance of good housing for everyone cannot be emphasized enough: it makes a significant contribution to the health of the individual and to public health . ”

Testing and tracing on the street?

“How do you monitor clusters with more people on the street? And how do you set up efficient tracing for people on the street? During this second wave, the care for homeless people and infection prevention is more topical than ever. The COVID-19 crisis has taught us that solutions can always be found in shelter, even temporarily “, the organizations explain. They are calling for solutions to give all vulnerable populations access to testing and tracking, including people housed in places such as squats.

“The administrative barriers that hinder access to health and mental health care are contrary to public health requirements. They must be removed immediately. And an inclusive policy, especially at the level of the CPAS, must be strengthened”, the organizations sue.

“Our teams are increasingly confronted with the consequences of the crisis for the mental and physical health of the most vulnerable groups. The tension is palpable, episodes of decompensation follow each other and unfortunately are increasingly similar. The psychological problems with which we suffer. have become so complex and forbidden together that it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to provide a solid answer.

Relocation, as soon as possible

The organizations are urgently asking for:

  • extending the commissioning of the structures housing homeless people and the means to keep these structures functioning 24 hours a day, while finding solutions for resettlement;
  • relocation, as soon as possible, of the people housed in these structures;
  • shelter for particularly vulnerable minors to provide them with protection and limit the physical and psychological violence of which they are victims.

But also :

  • setting up consultation between different day shifts (day centers, food distribution, hygiene services), in order to work in parallel and thus develop a global strategy;
  • unconditional access to health care, including mental health care, and testing for all vulnerable groups, regardless of housing or non-housing conditions;
  • maximum opening of legal channels to regularize the situation of migrant groups.

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