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Belgian shelter helps homeless cope with coronavirus lockdown

by Reuters
Wednesday, 25 March 2020 18:17 GMT

Homeless people respect social distancing as they queue to collect hygiene supplies at a Belgian Red Cross centre during the coronavirus lockdown imposed by the Belgian government in an attempt to slow down the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Brussels, Belgium March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman

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As people are ordered to stay at home, the homeless are in a particularly vulnerable spot

By Jeremy, Audouard and Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS, March 25 (Reuters) - A Red Cross-run homeless shelter in an abandoned office block in Brussels is helping the city's homeless observe Belgium's lockdown to fight the coronavirus, although some on the streets are wary of confinement.

As governments around the world order citizens to stay at home and avoid social interactions, the homeless have found themselves in a particularly vulnerable spot.

For the 4,000 people sleeping rough in Brussels, sanitary conditions have worsened as the coronavirus crisis has seen many public toilets closed, while self-isolation is near-impossible for those who develop symptoms.

The temporary homeless shelter is usually only open for the winter months. While some others have closed due to the pandemic it remains open and has around 250 people staying to comply with Belgium's coronavirus-induced lockdown.

Those who enter can stay all day, receive meals and do their laundry. A confinement zone has also been set up to offer a place for up to 15 people to stay should they develop symptoms, and the shelter has a small supply of medical equipment such as masks. From April 1. it will house only homeless people with the virus.

Belgium has reported 4,937 coronavirus cases, with 178 deaths.

Some of those sleeping rough however don't want to go into shelters.

"I feel more comfortable outside than confined," said Greg, a 42-year-old man who has been homeless for seven months.

(Writing by Kate Abnett, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

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