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
However, our members in SMES-Europa have
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
crisis has highlighted the plight of people who
are homeless, and those with a mental illness.
countries, it has also exposed some underlying
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
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
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
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
Social marginalisation has proved
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
can we transform the CRISIS
into OPPORTUNITY for CHANGE
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