For the homeless, vacant hotels pose their own risks during quarantine

Hotel rooms are sitting empty around the world right now, while millions of people experiencing homelessness are unable to safely isolate themselves from others.

As officials and advocates consider ways to help unsheltered people protect themselves from the coronavirus, CityMetric’s Jake Blumgart reports that it’s not as simple as pairing a person with an empty hotel room. For one thing, it’d cost a lot of money that cities don’t have. For another, the people who may get the rooms could have their own reasons for not wanting to stay in them.

“These new hotels they’ve got, a lot of people are sceptical and scared about going up there”, says Latanya Wilson, an unhoused resident of San Francisco. “What I've been hearing, once you get up there you can’t go anywhere. … If people are infected, they are treating them like segregation, and they gotta stay in there all day. No one really wants to come around them because they got the virus”.

Depending on the place, hotels can have strict security and a complex array of rules, from banning pets to only allowing people to leave for 20-minute increments each day. Marshall fears those kinds of restrictions may keep homeless residents out of the hotels, even if they test positive.

Read Jake’s piece about the hurdles of housing the homeless: Why US cities haven't just given every homeless person a hotel room during the pandemic

 
 
 
 

Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.