Former Dutch prison offers shelter for homeless amid coronavirus

A homeless man sits in his room in the old Overmaze prison as the existing shelter of the Salvation Army is closed due to the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Maastricht, Netherlands, April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands – In the Dutch city of Maastricht the Salvation Army has converted a former prison into rooms for homeless people who can no longer safely stay at local shelters due to social distancing rules imposed amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Although the site is unusual, residents have welcomed the opportunity as they had been sleeping on bunk beds or in dormitory rooms in hostels, said Salvation Army spokesman Joop Schaffels.

“There’s more privacy, more room and therefore more safety, which they appreciate,” he said.

Around 40 people will be staying at the former Overmaze prison, which was closed in 2013 amid falling incarceration rates in the Netherlands. 

Schaffels said the government had agreed to allow the use of the prison for as long as coronavirus restrictions are in place.

One of the new residents, Hakim Sharif, said he was happy he now had a place “where I can put up photos of my family in Somalia”.

The Netherlands has so far reported 29,214 cases of coronavirus and 3,315 deaths.


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