Coronavirus: Heathrow Airport sheltering '200 homeless people'

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image captionThe airport said it was working with a range of agencies to find alternatives for the rough sleepers

Up to 200 rough sleepers are reportedly using Heathrow Airport as a refuge during the coronavirus lockdown.

It comes despite councils being told to house homeless people, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

Airport bosses did not comment on the numbers involved, but said they were working with agencies to find alternatives for people.

Paul Atherton who regularly beds down at Terminal Five said he had noticed many more rough sleepers.

The 52-year-old who works in Charing Cross said the amenities he relied on in central London had now been forced to close.

Mr Atherton has chronic fatigue syndrome. He said the airport was a safer place to be if his condition worsens.

"Where else do we go? That's the reality, we go to central London there is nothing open," the qualified photographer and film producer said.

"McDonald's, all public lavatories are shut. I use gyms to get showered, all the gyms are closed."

image copyrightDarren Fletcher Photography
image captionPaul Atherton has regularly been sleeping rough at Heathrow airport

A spokesman for Heathrow said the airport's Travel Care Team was assisting in re-housing people.

"It is working in partnership with external outreach organisations, local authorities and government to relocate homeless people already at the airport, only when they are able to offer safe, alternative accommodation," he said.

Outreach workers are also patrolling the airport to engage with and help homeless people.

But Mr Atherton said there had been "complete chaos" in securing hotel rooms despite the travel care team working with charity Thames Reach.

Thames Reach is also working with councils and the Greater London Authority to get the rough sleepers into single room accommodation, but said the numbers of people involved had made it a "complex task".

A volunteer who helps the homeless in Hillingdon said the airport was going "above and beyond" to help rough sleepers.

"We have offered accommodation to all of the rough sleepers in other parts of the borough who we are in contact with," a Hillingdon council spokesperson said.

According to the Mayor of London's office, more than 600 people have been given rooms and more than 1,000 are available working with hotel partners.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, which leads the rehousing efforts at Heathrow, said councils in England had been given £3.2m to help rough sleepers.

An MHCLG spokesperson said: "We have worked with Hillingdon Council and the Greater London Authority to ensure the vast majority of rough sleepers who were previously sleeping in Heathrow Airport have been given offers of safe and suitable accommodation, and will continue working with them to ensure those who remain are also protected from the pandemic."

Mr Atherton has since be re-housed by Westminster City Council.

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