Prague municipality opens more shelters for the homeless to curb spread of coronavirus

Photo: Michal Záboj / Czech Radio

With the onset of winter weather Prague is preparing to open its shelters for the homeless. The municipality also wants to test homeless people for coronavirus and has special care facilities for those who test positive.

The city of Prague opens shelters for the homeless regularly at this time of year, but this year it has reinforced its capacities. Homeless people will have more options not only where to sleep, but also where to survive the harsh winter weather in the daytime and who to turn to in the event of health problems.

In view of the heightened risk of the spread of coronavirus among the capitals homeless people the authorities have taken measures to get them off the streets as much as possible. Usually the homeless can only spend nights in shelters and have to leave them for cleaning and airing during the daytime. Now the authorities are turning them into hostels, where certain hygiene standards and safety precautions can be maintained against the spread of the virus. Milena Johnová, Prague councillor for social affairs told Czech Radio the aim is to accommodate as many people as possible, especially those who need medical care.

Milena Johnová,  photo: archive of Czech Radio

"We added another dormitory, which we turned into a hostel 24/7. So there will be two hostels this winter for people who need nursing care. We are also opening new day shelters and expanding smaller ones where possible."

According to Martin Šimáček, director of the Centre for Social Services in Prague, which organizes winter facilities for the homeless, the capacity of individual facilities has decreased, but their number has increased. This should help prevent the spread of coronavirus, as fewer people will meet in one place. In total, over 500 beds should be available for the homeless this winter.

For example, a facility in Vyšehrad is already in operation, where people who have been ordered to quarantine or have been diagnosed with coronavirus infection are transported by a special car.

Prague consulted this year's winter measures with the regional hygiene authorities so that the risk of infection would be reduced as much as possible. In addition, health workers will monitor homeless people's health in the facilities provided, as well as testing them for Covid-19 both in shelters and in the field.

Photo: Kristýna Maková

The municipality says that based on experience from previous years the capacities of dormitories and other facilities should be sufficient. Everything will be managed via a central register online which has an up-to-date overview of vacant beds available.

The only problem may be to persuade some of the homeless to make use of the health care and facilities available. Many refuse to do so because of the in-house rules they have to respect there –such as no alcohol – and prefer to remain on the streets, only coming in to get food. For this purpose field workers will be making the rounds, to offer free Covid tests and alert them to the help available. According to the Prague municipality, the extended shelters and care facilities should remain open until March.

Authors: Adam Bejšovec , Daniela Lazarová
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