STATEMEMT Covid 19 Crisis



Concerning COVID-19 CRISIS

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SMES-Europa maintains an active network of health and social workers across more than 15 European countries. Its ethos is that of European solidarity and mutual support. Our members work with people who are homeless, socially marginalised (including undocumented migrants), and have a mental illness. We support training for front-line staff, the development of cross-sectoral services and political advocacy for homeless and vulnerable people.

We welcome the community feeling, social solidarity and mutual self-help that has emerged from the COVID-19 crisis. In many countries, significant resources have been mobilised to house (and provide health care for) homeless people. Infection rates amongst homeless people do not, as yet, appear to be high.

However, our members in SMES-Europa have witnessed:

  • Incidents of self-harm and suicide. These appear to have followed changes in social support, which must now incorporate social distancing and physical protection.

  • COVID services that exclude people with mental health problems.

  • A view that homeless people are a danger to public health because they are a reservoir of infection (which does not seem to be the case).

  • Discussion of compulsory restrictions for homeless people.

  • Stigmatisation of homeless people because they may not have the resources to take precautions, such as wearing masks and gloves in public places.

The crisis has highlighted the plight of people who are homeless, and those with a mental illness.

For some countries, it has also exposed some underlying issues.

  • Homelessness compromises healthcare - especially prevention.
    How can one “stay at home … if there is no home? 
    Social distancing will fail if someone is living on the street, or in over-crowded accommodation, sharing sleeping and living arrangements.
    In addition, homeless people face stigmatisation and bureaucratic barriers when they try to use our health and social systems. The link between housing, health and mental health needs to be incorporated into such systems.

  • Many political and administrative systems have, for decades, turned a blind eye to homeless people.
    They have now found the resources for accommodation – albeit in hotels, and other short term lets.
    It appears that the resources to do this have always been there.
    But the political will has not. Claims that such services are not “affordable” are now harder to believe. Yes, these recent measures are for the “emergency”.
    But homelessness has been a silent emergency in Europe for many decades.
    We urge that such increased commitments should continue.

  • Taking a broader view, the group most affected so far has not been homeless people. It has been older people, living in nursing homes. Cared for – but socially marginalised and under-valued.
    They have been the victims of the lack of provision for testing and protective clothing for their carers.
    Social marginalisation has proved deadly.


This crisis has exposed health and welfare systems that have ignored our socially excluded citizens. It has shown that resources can be mobilised to provide housing, social and health care for vulnerable people. This painful period will end. Let us use this unique situation as an opportunity to express our European values of dignity, freedom and solidarity. We must campaign for better health and social care for all, and greater solidarity with the socially excluded who live on the margins of our societies.

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