Coronavirus: Homeless groups in Brussels say practical help offered by the European parliament has been a ‘Godsend’

Use of EP buildings, chauffeur service and meal provision and distribution has helped city maintain services for the most vulnerable during the Coronavirus crisis.
credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

23 Apr 2020

Parliament’s authorities made a large building on Square de Meeûs available to the Brussels Capital Region to help the needy. The institution’s canteens are also making up to 1,000 meals a day to be distributed to the city's most vulnerable, some of them in 100 chauffeur-driven cars normally used by MEPs.

The contribution was acknowledged by two of the city’s organisations that help people in need.

They include Pierre d'Angle, a non-profit association for the homeless which offers, throughout the year, accommodation and day care. Cathy Banken, from Pierre d’Angle, told this website, “The initiative of the European Parliament deserves to be highlighted.


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"The current pandemic affects everyone but in particular the most vulnerable in our society. As a shelter for the homeless, we know how much mutual aid and solidarity count, particularly these days.”

Banken added, “We are therefore very pleased with initiatives taken by the European Parliament and want to thank it for helping the homeless public in these times of pandemic.”

Further comment came from a spokesman for Samusocial, a well-known emergency service in Brussels for homeless people.

A spokesman told the Parliament Magazine that the aim was to use the building on Square de Meeûs to house homeless women in Brussels.

He said, “The pandemic affects us all but makes the homeless particularly vulnerable. The current key issue is to keep our help services open and to be able to offer reception conditions, while at the same time limiting as much as possible the risk of spreading the virus within our accommodation facilities.”

“The pandemic affects us all but makes the homeless particularly vulnerable. The current key issue is to keep our help services open and to be able to offer reception conditions, while at the same time limiting as much as possible the risk of spreading the virus within our accommodation facilities” Samusocial spokesman

He added, “The help being provided by the European Parliament is invaluable, a real Godsend. The task is far from easy. Prevention measures are implemented in the centres but the overcrowding in large reception structures sometimes complicates implementation of these measures and their compliance.”

The spokesman said another particular challenge for the charity was “retaining staff who themselves may be sick from the virus.”

“The beauty of the building on Square de Meeûs is that it gives us lots more space which, with the social distancing measures still in place, is very important right now. It makes it easier for the staff that can work, to keep safe distances.”

“There is no doubt though that the assistance being provided is helping us to keep our services going at the present time.”

“It is good to see the EU, in the shape of the European Parliament, taking such positive, proactive action like this. It is directly responding to an emergency and our urgent needs and helping the vulnerable in society.”

Together with other organisations like the Red Cross, it is believed that Samusocial, a private, non profit group that is part of the globally branched Samusocial International, is able to provide up to 2,500 places for the homeless in Brussels.

“It is good to see the EU, in the shape of the European Parliament, taking such positive, proactive action like this. It is directly responding to an emergency and our urgent needs and helping the vulnerable in society”

The parliament’s chauffeur-driven cars are being used, among other things, to deliver home shopping for isolated elderly people.

Parliament's secretary-general, Klaus Welle, added that its canteens are making meals for the city's most vulnerable residents, plus those working in hospitals.

Figures indicate that homelessness in Brussels, a city of about 1.2m people, has almost doubled in recent years and the current number could be even higher than official data.

This reflects an upward trend mirrored across Europe, according to the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless.

Crisis management organisations such as Samusocial and Pierre d’Angle provide emergency beds to the homeless every night, all year round. Some ‘transit’ places are also provided by CPAS, the social services centres run by individual Brussels communes.

Some organisations providing food assistance in the city are seeking healthy volunteers to collect and sort surplus items from supermarkets and deliver this to recipients while UZ Brussel University Hospital wants volunteer babysitters to ease pressure on medical staff with children.

The Belgian Red Cross wants donations to buy protective equipment and disinfectant for its frontline workers while Medicins Sans Frontieres is seeking financial support to continue work with hospitals, care homes and vulnerable members of society.

A spokesman for another similar organisation, “Serve the City”, said, “More than ever we can see the importance and impact of volunteering in our community. We are reminded that we are all equal and that we are stronger together.”

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