Fears for vulnerable as virus crisis hits lifeline services
Some house-bound disabled people are unable to buy potentially life-saving items, as homeless struggle to find places to self-isolate
20 March, 2020 — By Sam Ferguson
Coronavirus crisis volunteers met outside the Union Chapel on Wednesday
THE borough’s most vulnerable are already suffering from the effects of coronavirus as carers are forced out of action, foodbanks close and homeless people struggle to find places to self-isolate.
And there have been reports of house-bound people with severe disabilities struggling to buy basic and potentially life-saving items from shops and chemists.
It has prompted the council’s housing chief to promise they will “not be left behind”.
Reacting to the escalating crisis on the streets, a grassroots community taskforce has formed to help rough sleepers unable to find businesses that will let them wash their hands, or safe spaces to quarantine themselves.
The Town Hall said it would offer temporary accommodation to them, and it is understood
supplies could now be stockpiled in council-owned buildings.
Alex Doodle, who lives in the south of the borough and suffers from severe disabilities, told the Tribune he had no idea how medication was going to be delivered, or what the back-up plan was, should the vulnerable be left without carers.
“I will die if I get this, I literally have no chance of survival,” he added.
“I have been told there is going to be a problem because people are buying up medical gloves, which my carers need to change pressure sore dressings amongst other things.
“My carers are using gloves much more than usual, and for their sake I need to stay in bed away from them while they are not protected.
“I can’t buy antibacterial wash so carers can keep washing their hands. My chemist is concerned about what happens with my medication deliveries when things get worse.”
Housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward said that, for now, frontline council services were continuing as normal, but added that if they had to prioritise further down the line, they would ensure the most vulnerable residents were taken care of.
“We’re not at the stage yet where we need to prioritise, but if we were we would of course prioritise essential services,” said Cllr Ward.
Ceri Smith, policy chief at disability equality charity Scope, said disabled people across the country are deeply worried about a shortage of carers, and the impact self-isolation could have.
“Many disabled people are concerned about panic-buying leading to a lack of essential supplies and a scarcity of supermarket home-delivery slots,” she added.
“The situation is changing fast, and it’s important that the government takes disabled people’s concerns seriously.”
Meanwhile, homeless charities Streets Kitchen and the Museum of Homelessness (MoH) have been leading the fight to organise protection for rough sleepers in the borough, and have spearheaded a community taskforce made up of volunteers and grassroots groups, including homeless shelters and outreach programmes.
The government this week pledged £3.2million in emergency support for the homeless, but as this could work out at less than £14,000 for Islington, charities say it isn’t enough.
The community taskforce is now preparing to take matters into its own hands, and is collecting details of new volunteers, after an open-air meeting was held outside Union Chapel on Wednesday.
“We’re gathering people’s details so that we can deploy them,” said MoH co-founder Jess Turtle. “But it’s a situation that’s changing hour by hour, so we’re asking people who have signed up to be patient. But there will be a role for volunteers.”
The Islington foodbank has shut its doors amid fears of contamination and low supplies of food. Streets Kitchen founder Jon Glackin said grassroots movements had to be prepared to take up the slack.
“There’s going to be a lot of people hitting our streets,” he added.
“Shelters are closing in other parts of London, and there’s no direction from anybody. The big charities are worried about their shops closing rather than their frontline services. We’re going to need people on the ground. If foodbanks are closed we can open them.”
As care homes go into lockdown, Age UK Islington also moved to reassure the elderly, and announced they were setting up a check-in service after an increase in calls.
The charity also revealed a massive increase in the amount of people offering to help, and said they would work together with mutual aid groups where possible.
• People can join Scope’s online community and share their experiences with other disabled people at https://community.scope.org.uk/
• They can also call the free Scope helpline, where experts are ready to help and advise them, on 0808 800 3333.
• The charity also has a dedicated page on the Scope website with information and updates www.scope.org.uk/coronavirus-information/
• Anyone who is interested in volunteering to help Streets Kitchen and the Museum of Homelessness is asked to sign up at surveymonkey.co.uk/r/VX82QTW